‘Skate to where the puck is going, not to where it has been’

Wayne Gretzky

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Yet another famous quote from the greatest hockey player of all time – Wayne Gretzky.   Okay, but what does skating and a puck have to do with anything you do in business?  Perhaps you don’t play or understand hockey so why would you even care about such a quote.

“I am a busy  _______ (insert your title here), I don’t think such an obscure reference to a sport played by grown men with metal blades attached to their shoes, carrying long thin wooden sticks around, and trying to hit a black disc on an ice surface has any thing to do with my life”

In response to that, I say look at the iphone. The Gretzky Quote has been reference by Steve Jobs “I skate to where the puck is going to be not where it has been and we have always tried to do that at Apple”.  They always tried to do that at Apple eh?

Hmmmm, with a stock that has increased in value by more than 10,000% in less than 20 years, maybe Steve Jobs was on to something. Perhaps we have to do more than simply chase a puck -we need to read the play of the game and predict where it is going to go.

But is just reading the play enough?   Is that all they did at Apple?  It sounds very simple, just watch the game, understand the game, read the play of the game and interpret where things are going to go in the game.  Is doing that the formula I need to become the superstar in my chosen field or industry?  Apple and Wayne Gretzky did it so why not my company ; why not me?

Well, let’s take a step back to the context of hockey.   What if I learned the basics of playing hockey in a beer league for a couple of years in Minnesota, Michigan, or Massachusetts, and what if I watched hundreds upon hundreds of hockey games on NHL .TV?     After that I would have learned the basic of a sport I enjoy and I would have definitely learned how to read the play from watching it.  So what next ?  Should I just lace up my skates and automatically be the next star of the Edmonton Oilers (where Wayne Gretzky won his four Stanely Cups)?  Probably not…..

Hard work has to be put in even before that.   Most hockey players started playing hockey when they were five or six years of age or even possibly younger.   In fact, Wayne Gretzky started skating before he was even three.   Apple has been around since April Fool’s day in 1976, that is more than 40 years ago.  Success was not instant, it came years and years later.   There may have been signs of greatness early on, for example, Gretzky had success in minor hockey long before he reached the NHL and Apple had successful products in its early years long before the introduction of the iPod, iPad, and IPhone.

So, whatever your chosen field, you first need a foundation and some early successes.   Then you need to commit to being better than the others you are competing with. The big question is how can you be better?  Gretzky did it by scoring more goals than other players, Apple did it by consistently outselling the competition on phones and tablets. There can be many ways to be better than others in business.   You could offer a product or service of the highest quality, or you could offer a product or services of good quality at a great price.   The key is you and your organization need to strategically look at what skills and ultimately what outputs and characteristics are going to get you to that place.

You need to pick the right mix for you and your organization to reach the top. I am personally involved in several practice areas; Sales Performance Management, Energy Trading, Project and accounting and I must, for our clients and stakeholders, think in each case where I need to be to stay ahead of the competition.

Coming back to ice hockey as a close, a general observation is that we must be observant when it comes to our clients and their market, because as their clients and their market changes it also changes where the puck is actually going to go.   When that change happens it makes it harder and harder to keep getting to where the puck is going before it actually gets there.

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