Take the Fork in the Road
If you’re like me, Yogi Berra’s passing on Tuesday prompted a bittersweet Google down memory lane, as I perused the familiar Yogi-isms and thought about their application to our business lives.
“Baseball is 90 percent mental the other half is physical.”
Yeah, that pretty much sums up the fact that it takes way more than 100 percent of our effort to succeed at something that matters.
“We made too many wrong mistakes.”
Reminiscent of our post-mortem conference room sulks when we discover we had not only dug ourselves into a hole, but had kept digging.
And my favorite: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
This may contain the most difficult of lessons of our age. Through the power of technology and metrics, the massive and diverse input that goes into our decision-making can be positively paralyzing, particularly in the face of all those “wrong mistakes” we might be making! How do you venture forth when “if you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else”? Nevertheless, we have to pick a road and go, delay often being as deadly as a wrong decision.
What about Yogi as a baseball great? Did his career accomplishments give him a silver tongue with which to convey the secrets of greatness? Well, any (baseball) card-carrying American boy knows Yogi was a three-time MVP, won more World Series than anyone in history, and played on 18 all-star teams. He was also a great guy, a square guy with high moral standards, a guy who would give the shirt off his back to a teammate, or a stranger. But he wasn’t vocal about the secrets of his success. About his first two years as a catcher, he said “I wasn’t very good.” He got better.
What can we learn from his later career? Yogi spent 18 years coaching the Yankees, Mets and Astros, as well as seven years as the Yankees’ manager, years peppered with enough success to warrant reflection on the elements of great leadership. But when asked what makes a good manager of a baseball team, Yogi simply quipped, “A good ball club.” We were not to get a straight answer from this guy.
Like many greats of his generation, Yogi wasn’t prone to self-analysis, to intellectual ponderings on the meaning of life or even the meaning of the game he so loved. His pearls of wisdom about life were to remain elusive, cryptic, non-serious – his was more a case of leading by example. Perhaps his most poignant message to us was not through words at all, but through his famous leap into Don Larsen’s arms after that “perfect game” in 1956. When it all comes together, when the magic of teamwork exceeds what is realistically possible, the best thing to do may be to shut your mouth, abandon all decorum and … embrace.
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