Product Manager, Solution Architect, Amateur Historian
It’s launch day, and there isn’t a water metaphor in the world that could describe the sweat about to come out of your forehead. Your self-talk reaches the level of demonic, and you now have the local Jesuit exorcist on speed dial just in case. The product is on the tarmac; you start the countdown timer and sign off on the pre-flight checklist — you can barely keep the pen steady. After all, you own this launch.
At the same time, perhaps in 30-second intervals, you’ve recently discovered that your letter to Hogwarts has come and that you’ve had fantastic powers your whole life. You pulled this off through some long-form summoning of an elemental, guiding you unconsciously like a puppet. You even start mumbling terse Latin to encourage naysayers among your ranks. You are about to launch your product (one day people will read about it in your humble obituary), but you’ve walked into a battlefield constructed from your memories and foundations — you are of two minds.
Tim Gallwey, a country club tennis pro in the 1970s, made an observation when coaching and discovered what you hypothetically experienced above. The more he directed people, the more he caused them to get into their own head, distracted them from achieving satisfactory performance on the court. He called this battle of competing thoughts, the inner game, in comparison to the outer game — the actual opponents, tactics, and techniques of the game.
According to an excerpt from his 1970’s book, The Inner Game of Tennis, the inner game:
…is the game that takes place in the mind of the player, and it is played against such obstacles as lapses in concentration, nervousness, self-doubt and self-condemnation. In short, it is played to overcome all habits of mind which inhibit excellence in performance. We often wonder why we play so well one day and so poorly the next, or why we clutch during competition, or blow easy shots. And why does it take so long to break a bad habit and learn a new one?
Victories in the inner game may provide no additions to the trophy case, but they bring valuable rewards which are more permanent and which can contribute significantly to one’s success, off the court as well as on. The player of the inner game comes to value the art of relaxed concentration above all other skills; he discovers a true basis for self-confidence; and he learns that the secret to winning any game lies in not trying too hard.”
Picture yourself back on launch day; you’re in front of a crowd of 28 Days Later-style zombies trying to break through the fence and devour your new idea. You’re at bat the entire day; there is no second batter or designated hitter. You’re staring at the ball coming your way, and it’s a knuckleball, opening serve, and Hail Mary pass all in one. What are you thinking? What voice is in your head? Are you judging your every action, or are you a wizard, Harry?
I’ll leave you with a Zen koan. I start a lecture every year with this little piece of wisdom at the University of Amsterdam Business School. The talk is called “The Innovator’s Eye: The Art of Seeing and Being in a Modern Organization”:
A student said to Master Ichu, “Please write for me something of great wisdom.”
Master Ichu picked up his brush and wrote one
The student said, “Is that all?”
The master wrote, “Attention. Attention.”
The student became irritable. “That doesn’t seem profound or subtle to me.”
In response, Master Ichu wrote simply, “Attention. Attention. Attention.”
In frustration, the student demanded, “What does this word ‘attention’ mean?”
Master Ichu replied, “Attention means attention.”
It’s invaluable to have a coach but ask him or her to coach you on the inner game, and the results will correlate to your life’s outer game. Practice the inner game, with attention, attention, attention.
Previously published here.