The football fans among you will certainly remember one of the great games from last season. 5th February at St James’s Park: Newcastle 4-4 Arsenal.
Arsenal were 4-0 up after 26 minutes. They were playing magnificently; Newcastle were clueless and at the half-hour mark would happily have taken a 6-0 defeat. Somehow the Magpies survived until half time. Then Arsenal had a player sent off, and one of the great comebacks was underway. Tiote equalised for Newcastle in the 87th minute and when the ref blew the final whistle the Gunners were grateful to escape with a point.
But let’s pretend the ref didn’t blow the final whistle. Let’s assume the teams had the power to blow the whistle and end the game when it suited them.
Would Arsenal have blown the whistle when they went 4-0 up? Probably not: they were on for a hatful. They were still in with a chance of the title – stick 7 or 8 past a non-existent defence and their goal difference would improve significantly. But Newcastle would have blown the whistle after ten minutes when they were three down: bad day at the office – let’s stop before it gets any worse.
By the time Newcastle had stormed back and were only 4-3 down, the situation was completely reversed. The end couldn’t come soon enough for Arsenal: Newcastle wanted the game to go on all afternoon. Even more so when they made it 4-4.
What has all this got to do with business? Simply this. If you’re playing a sport, the game ends at a pre-determined point. A player reaches 9, 15 or 21; an athlete breasts the tape; someone says “checkmate.” Not so in business.
Most of us are running businesses. We all have goals that we want to achieve and which define the success of our business. Quite rightly, many of these goals are monetary.
Now let me ask you a question. Have you ever been up? And have you ever been down? Of course you have: that’s the nature of business. If you imagine up and down as a circle, most people have been round the circle three or four times. Well one day, you’re going to stop going round. And a damn fine place to stop would be at the top: when you’re up. As Sophie Tucker supposedly said, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Believe me, honey; rich is better.”
And that’s the beauty of business. No-one is going to open the door of your office, walk in, blow a whistle and say, “Sorry. Time’s up. The game’s over.” By and large it is your decision when the whistle is blown; all things being equal (and yes, I know I’m assuming perfect health) it’s up to you to say, “That’ll do; enough’s enough.”
So what I’m saying is this; when you’re making your plans for 2012, don’t beat yourself up over time. You might have a desperate ambition to retire to France when you’re 55. But walking into your vineyard at 56 or 57 won’t be a complete disaster.
“Hang on,” I can hear you saying. “You’re always telling us to set ‘timely’ goals, Ed. Have you changed your mind?” No, I haven’t. Goals still need to be timely. ‘Get design for new website done by the end of the month’ is still a hundred times better than ‘Get design for new website done.’ But we are living through conditions which none of us have ever lived through before. No-one has the slightest idea what state the UK (or World) economy will be in 12 months from now. So while short term goals still need to be timely, the current economic climate dictates that long term goals may need some flexibility. However good your business, it will always exist in the wider economy.
But keep focused, be persistent – and the day will come when you’ll be able to put the whistle to your lips, blow the extra-long blast and say, “That’s it. Game over. I win.”