Published on: July 19, 2016by Michael Sansolo
When Serena Williams recently won yet another Wimbledon Championship it probably got almost none of you thinking about the parallels with modern business challenges. But it should have. In many ways, Williams represents a reality we all face.
Competition somehow only manages to get tougher.
in the Washington Post, sports columnist Sally Jenkins interviewed tennis legends Chris Evert and Billie Jean King about Williams, and through those interviews we see how technology and competitive realities continually alter the status quo. Specifically, their insights provide a stark reminder that what once was good enough to win championships, may today (and certainly tomorrow) be barely sufficient to compete. Again, the parallels to modern business challenges are clear.
Start with technological change. Evert and King both talked about how the game they dominated at various points has evolved thanks to technology. Any reader above a certain age can remember a time when tennis racquets had a hitting area that is fraction of today’s racquets.
Modern racquets enable Williams to hit regular (non-serve) shots at 70 to 95 miles an hour, three times the speed that Evert said many shots were hit in her era. What’s more, even the playing surface has changed, which also alters the game. King said she tailored her entire game at Wimbledon around the reality that the grass courts were inconsistent.
The technological changes for the retail food business are equally dramatic. Operating today without social media or ignoring the realities of e-commerce would be just as ineffective as using a 40-year-old wooden racquet in today’s game. You simply cannot compete without recognizing the impact of how technology is changing the game.
And that means constantly challenging yourself to understand how emerging technologies will shift whatever comes next. You and I might have no idea why so many millions of people have overnight embraced Pokémon Go, but it is certainly something we cannot ignore.
If that’s what delights and enthralls consumers, we need to understand why and determine if it matters to us.
But competing in the modern era also means taking your own game to a new level. Another wonderful lesson came when Chris Evert talked about how conditioning has completely changed the athleticism of her sport.
Evert recalled how she and long-time rival Martina Navratilova “would practice for the final and then have lunch together and travel to the next tournament. We practiced for two hours on the court and did nothing else."
It was only after watching Olympians train that both women recognized the need to improve their training and fitness. Tennis fans from that era will recall the physical transformation both Evert and Navratilova made as they raised their fitness and the level of their games and then dominated their sport.
What Evert learned is something all businesses must face. You need to benchmark yourself against a far wider range of competitors than ever - not just those you see across the net.
In today’s climate, you compete against every channel and at times against businesses you never considered a foe. Today’s shopper is expecting you to raise the level of your game to equal whatever they experience, whether it’s on Amazon, at the Apple store, CarMax, Victoria’s Secret, Southwest Airlines and more.
Whatever was once good enough for you and your customers simply isn’t enough today. You’ve got to find a way to be even better.
And like Evert you have to be honest with yourself.
Asked how well she would have fared against Williams if somehow all things could be equal, Evert said, “I would have a much better chance in our day with her using a wood racket than I would in this era. No matter how great I could have been in this era, I think (Williams) would just overpower me.”
Compete, we like to say, is a verb. The competition is a moving target.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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