Should you hit singles or home runs?

Photo by Josh Hemsley on Unsplash

Two of my mentors are ex-McKinsey consultants. If you’ve never heard of McKinsey, it hires some of the brightest people on the planet and trains them to solve clients’ strategic challenges.

I speak to them regularly and am always fascinated by how they break down problems to first principles and come up with practical, effective responses. Pay attention and you can almost see their thought processes, like watching the pistons of an engine firing.

Some time ago I searched ‘McKinsey lessons’, keen to learn more about their training and came across The McKinsey Way. It’s an easy-to-digest look at how the consultants operate, and gives some tips you can apply to your own working life.

One that stuck with me was the idea that “It’s much better to get to first base consistently than to try to hit a home run-and strike out 9 times out of 10”

What does this mean for you?

You can apply this lens to different parts of your life.

At work

  • You’ll build a better reputation by giving your customers a consistent level of quality, than you will if you occasionally deliver on big projects but fail on the others (in reality, you won’t get many opportunities to start the big projects if you fail on the others)
  • Communicate regularly for maximum effect, rather than making your updates once a month/quarter
  • Give less, but more often

At home

  • Do you want to be there for your family daily, eat with your kids at the table and speak to your parents regularly on the phone? Or are you just about the grand gestures at birthdays and Christmas?
  • Do you want to be easy to be around all the time, or be a nightmare to live with most of the time, and occasionally super awesome?

With friends

  • Do you want to be the person your friends can count on when the sh*t hits the fan, or the person who’s only around when there’s a party and the right people are invited?

People want to know they can count on you. If you bought a car that broke down every other day, how long would you keep it?

And don’t forget the flip side of this is – if you actually make the home run, that may set expectations that you’ll keep doing it.

Not very ambitious?

This all sounds very well, but overlooks one very obvious point. Sometimes you want to go for the home run, try for the big hairy audacious goal. Glory beckons and you want to seize the day.

After all, most people play safe, so there’s less competition for the big targets. Should you overlook this for the sake of consistency?

And depending on what you’re aiming at, succeeding 1 in 10 times on something out of this world might have the payoff you’re looking for (this is the approximate success rate of a funded VC funded company, according to the Corporate Finance Institute)

How do you choose?

So what strategy should you employ? If you were to ask a Major League Baseball player this question, I expect the answer would be: it depends. It depends on the scores of the teams, on the strength of the pitcher, on the stage of the season. Sometimes it’s the singles, sometimes you feel it in your bones and you put it into the stands.

Deliver consistently, but stand out by landing the occasional big initiative.

Be there for your family, but give that lavish gift from time to time.

Do both. It’s extra work, but your life will be far richer for it.

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