Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

by Steve McKee

Guess who? - Arnold PalmerWho said this:

“Did I behave irresponsibly? Not totally, because I had something in mind I wanted to do. Am I sorry for what I did? Yes, I am. Would I do it differently? Probably not. It’s the way I was, and that’s something I have to live with today.”

Sounds like a corporate creep who got caught with his hand in the till, doesn’t it? But it’s not. It’s Arnold Palmer, one of golf’s all-time greats, reflecting on a decision he made in the 1966 U.S. Open. Palmer had a seven-stroke lead on the final day but ended up losing in a playoff. Why? Because he had the opportunity to break the Open scoring record, and he went for it rather than playing it safe.

That day, Arnold Palmer lost. But today he’s recognized as a sports icon because he played the game to win. He lost his share, but he was a fierce competitor whose career speaks for itself. Sometimes in business–especially when growth stalls–we play not to lose rather than going for the win. There’s evidence of it in every industry, including my own–some big advertisers fear running any ad that hasn’t been vetted to the extreme (despite the fact that the “science” of ad pre-testing is unsophisticated and unreliable).

Instead of trying to be sure of everything before we risk anything, how about adopting Palmer’s attitude and simply going for it? I’m not talking about being irresponsible–Arnold Palmer was neither unprepared nor foolish; he simply believed that his natural abilities, hours of practice and years of judgment equipped him to take qualified risks.

Allow for the fact that some ideas are going to work better than others. Recognize that the arc of progress is much more important than any point along it. Try stuff. It’s a good strategy–in good times and bad.


Steve McKeeSteve McKee is a BusinessWeek.com columnist, marketing consultant, and author of “When Growth Stalls: How it Happens, Why You’re Stuck, and What To Do About It.” Learn more about him at www.WhenGrowthStalls.com and at https://twitter.com/whengrowthstall.

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