Sunday, June 27, 2010
Business, Judo, Life
This was on my voice mail recently:
"Are you dead? Did you quit judo? Do you hate me? Why haven't I heard from you?"
I am not dead, I haven't quit judo and I don't hate my friend who left the message. I have been working an enormous amount lately. I am a consultant on staff at the university. Just for the heck of it I am taking a graduate course in data mining. I'm doing consulting work for my clients. On top of all of that, to prove that I am clinically insane, recently I put in bids on two contracts. If you've never bid on a federal contract, you have had a charmed life. The most recent document we submitted was about 200 pages and it has to be 200 pages of research design, analysis, qualifications - not just s#@t you made up. We won't know if we got it for a while but, win or lose, I am enormously proud of the work we did and of my team that put it together. Of course, I would prefer to win, since it will mean a fair amount of money for us.
So... this all got me to thinking about the very different attitude I have taken about winning and losing in business and in judo. As part of one contract we needed a section on "past performance". This is a summary of the similar work you have done. Putting this together, I came up with a list of 22 contracts we had completed, and I know this wasn't the full list but it was most of them over the past 20 years. Most of our contracts are from 2- 5 years, so that is a good amount of work. I recalled as I went through the list a few we had bid on and did not get. The really odd thing is, every loss I had in judo took me years to get over. I would go lock myself in a room and cry for hours. Sometimes days. I would be upset about it every time I thought about it.
Oddly, I never cried over any work we lost out on. In fact, once, when we had a grant that was not funded and I asked the first author for the reviews and he admitted he had been mad we didn't get it and thrown the reviews away, I was shocked. To me, those reviews are my chance to see what I did wrong and correct it for the next time. This is really odd because, unlike judo, when I don't get the contract or grant, I lose money and, if I can't get enough funded, people lose their jobs.
Why are losses in sports so much more personal?
I'm not sure, but two reasons I can think of are:
Opportunities in business are continuous. I have an idea of how much work is reasonable for our company to do, the rate we want to grow, and we are often booked a year or two in advance. There isn't a week that goes by that some possibility doesn't come up where we can submit a proposal. When we are looking for more work, we'll usually let two or three pass by before we find the right one. Sometimes we'll even start on a bid only to drop it a week later when something more promising comes across my desk. Just imagine if the Olympics came every week.
There is more of a time lag between when you put out all of the effort and when you find out the decision. In competition, yes, you have trained for years, but the real time of competition, you fight your hardest and right then are told if you win or lose. Usually, I will put in a proposal and not find out if we won it or not for another two to three months, sometimes as much as seven months later. By then I've done a lot of other work, been paid for a lot of the work I did in the past. Imagine if judo was like that - if you competed, and then you went home. A few weeks later, you'd get a letter telling you not that you won that tournament, but that you won one two months earlier. The next month, your medal would come in the mail.
That disconnect takes some of the emotion out of it. Maybe that is why people were interested in watching me fight but no one is interested in coming to my office and watching me create diagrams of a designs for a data warehouse. Okay, well, maybe that's not the ONLY reason.