Leadership | Management / Strategy

Stop playing by their rules. Make them play by yours.

Matt Adams is a slugging first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals, and when he comes to the plate, most opposing defenses will call for “The Shift” — they’ll stack their infielders heavily on the right side of the infield. They’re thinking, “Adams usually pulls the ball to the right. Let’s put more defenders there and increase our odds of getting him out.”

That strategy works with most pull hitters, but Adams isn’t your average pull hitter.

When he comes to the plate, he’s not intimidated by all of the defenders on the right side of the field. He’s looking at all of the open space on the left … and he’s gotten really good at hitting the ball through those open spaces.

Case in point: During a recent game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, the Cardinals were tied with the Pittsburgh Pirates 1-1 in the bottom of the 10th inning. The Cards loaded the bases with two outs, and up to the plate came Adams.

Two things happened next:

  1. The Pirates called for The Shift to the right, and ...
  2. Adams ripped a single through the gaping hole where the third baseman would normally be playing to win the game.

That’s innovation. That’s how we’ll succeed in a changing and complex world.

We’ve built our businesses by doing certain things really well — pulling the ball hard to the right, for instance. Sooner or later, though, the competition catches up and takes away that competitive advantage.

So what do we do? The same thing we’ve always done? That’s insane. No, successful folks will change their approach and move in a new direction.

Baseball legend “Wee Willie” Keeler summed up that strategy this way: “Keep your eye clear, and hit ’em where they ain’t.”

Matt Adams would agree. Rita McGrath would agree. Anyone who’s trying to navigate this chaotic world would agree.

Stop playing by their rules. Make them play by yours.


William D. Sheridan