Bowling is the best analogy for business

Bowling is the best sport for business analogies and yet it’s one of the least often used, likely because most people don’t understand the game at the highest levels. 

  1. Oil Pattern – The Market. No idea what it’s like on first shot. Good players generally make 3 adjustments to line up.
  2. Ball Selection and lane play – Business Strategy. Goal is clearly a strike. Spares keep you in the game.
  3. Physical Execution – Execution of business plan. How consistent is the shot? Even with consistency, oil will move and adjustments are required even after things have been working for a while. The best players start to notice the patterns in the moves and stay with them, but it can also lead to jumping too far ahead. 

I would love to take a team of executives to the lanes one day for a lesson on how things change and move, and how every decision shifts the market slightly. If I trained them well enough, I would bet the following would happen:

  • The newly hired CEO would be guessing what kind of ball he should be using and where on the lane he should throw for the best line to a strike. He’s worried entirely about strategy, not understanding his physical capabilities or the oil pattern yet.
  • The underperforming CEO would be blaming the oil pattern. He’s not worried about how well he’s throwing the ball, and as a result, can’t make great decisions on balls and lane play.
  • The successful CEO would be the best successfully executing shots consistently. As a result, he sees the changes in the oil pattern, adjusting continuously and putting up high scores. Every once in a while, he’ll make a bad ball and lane play choice, but generally, his other factors outweigh that.

I’m just kidding, that’s how their personalities would translate into bowling, but nothing to do with their actual bowling skills. Still, I’d love to teach a class like this some day. I’m someone who constantly thinks about the future, and bowling has been an analogy in my life for the last 20 years. Every time I think something too radical, I ask myself, will the oil pattern let me play there? I’ve failed in multiple bowling tournaments trying to make adjustments earlier than everyone else, when the pattern hadn’t developed for it yet.

It’s great to be an innovator, it’s terrible to be unable to communicate value coherently because the market hasn’t caught up to you.