In sports, as in life, it doesn’t matter if you can shoot. It only matters if you can get your shot.
The late, great sportswriter Ralph Wiley wrote this sentence around 20 years ago (the exact phrasing is lost in ESPN’s archives). I think about it often because, like he said, it’s about life as much as sport.
What does it mean?
Loosely, the sentence means there are people who are comfortable shooting hoops alone in a gym, or practicing their golf swing at the range, or talking strategy at business forums, as we at CFO were able to listen in on last week.
But being alone in the gym, putting in your office, or talking shop over dinner at a conference isn’t the game. It certainly can help with the game, but you never really know what you’re capable of until you’re in an actual competitive environment, and I think that is true whether you’re talking about sitting in a pitch meeting, having to restructure your finance department to improve workflow, or having to face investors and reporters during a down-quarter earnings call. It is those moments when you can evaluate how well your training has prepared you.
“Getting your shot” means that when you’re facing suboptimal scenarios and a gray, stormy ocean that reveals few pathways to sail into, you know how to maneuver your team, your chances, and yourself into a chance for progress.
Professional sports is littered with players who knew how to “shoot,” but didn’t know how to “get their shot.” They are extensive footnotes.
And I think there’s a lesson there for finance leaders because, as you’ve had to deal with economic headwinds, inflation, and business risk over the past year, you continue to strategize to find a pathway forward for your organizations. And that was our interpretation of last week’s Mainnet Conference around blockchain. Being able to “shoot” means you know how to build the technology that has real potential. But “getting your shot” means that you know how to calibrate the technology to meet actual business needs, including, as reporter Adam Zaki wrote, “cross-border payments, the recording and tracking of business assets, tax and accounting management, and organizational modernization around cybersecurity.”
Personally, I’m a lifelong alone-in-the-gym shooter. And I never understood why it never really translated to in-game performance.
Meanwhile, my 12-year-old daughter was in a fencing tournament this past weekend, and even though she’s only been fencing for about 18 months, she had the number one seed on the ropes. She was executing a brilliant game plan to counteract the more experienced fencer’s approach, and with only a minute remaining, held a substantial lead. She had created her shot to win.
Now, my heart would swell up with pride if I could say that she closed the deal, but she didn’t. The number one seed adjusted her approach to something my child hadn’t seen before and chipped away at the deficit in startling efficiency to eventually tie and take the win.
Even as I felt sadness that my kid wasn’t able to close the deal, I thought back to Wiley’s comment — she got her shot. That’s the hard part.
As Sysdig’s CFO Karen Walker said, “I love to build and create a vision for the team. In my experience ... bringing the team into the process of building the vision really motivates people and builds a stronger and more cohesive team that is connected to the mission.”
That is creating the shot, and then allowing others to execute in the success of the mission.