Playing a Bigger Game

Commitment to being more ambitious at every turn is a simple and powerful way to success.

The Football Association’s all-England knock-out competition, better known as the FA Cup, sometimes sees hitherto unheard of teams getting a chance to pit themselves against giants like Chelsea on their home ground. A few weeks ago, Bradford City was that hitherto unheard of team that blasted four goals into the net to become the giant killers of the week. They did not win from a fluke last-minute goal, nor from a lucky penalty shoot-out—Bradford City that night were indeed, playing a bigger game.

Playing a bigger game is a simple, yet powerful approach to business success, and a few months ago, I resolved to do the same. My business has already begun reaping the benefits. Our bookings for paid work in the coming month are the highest in 15 years, as are our year-on-year revenues—up by 20 per cent. Yet nothing substantive has changed in our offering, marketing spend, or market approach. We are just playing a bigger game.

Very simply, this is how it’s done

Commit to a stance where at every turn, proposal produced or received, client encounter and negotiation, you commit to being more ambitious.

Resolve to negotiate more creatively, be courageous in saying “no” to things that don’t help you build a bigger business, garner higher revenue streams, or waste your time. Develop the psychology of feeling a deep, deep sense that you and your business can be so much more.

Commit to tackling the big projects this year—move beyond being simply an ‘order taker’ in your business, be it instructions from the CEO, or working on improving sales by largely getting renewals from existing clients. All my multinational client sales leaders bemoan the fact that so many of their team look out for the low–hanging fruit and wring their hands when this is gone. Resolve to be like a top notch mountaineer or explorer. Look into what areas of your expertise are not being fully developed. Look at new ways to work a market.

Look at new ways to gain better efficiencies from the latest in Cloud or Big Data, saving or gaining your company millions.

Almost all the amateur mountaineers I have met in the big mountains, on routes on which you won’t find the typical recreational climber, are of a certain type. These are people seeking to climb harder routes up the same mountain which has an ‘easier’ path up on the other side; and always curious about expanding their abilities. They are committed to keeping insanely fit to better perform at work and at play. Perhaps for some of you, playing a bigger game will be losing that bulge on your tummy.

One of the most underrated aspects of goal-getting and goal-setting is the actual habits that will support it. Are your staff habitually thinking of how something won’t work, versus figuring out how it will work? Improve processes and habits that support a goal. I sometimes share a story from my 1998 Everest climb where we wanted to create a satellite communication systems centered around a Macintosh system, using laptops. Singapore Telecommunications said it would not work as all the supporting SATCOM infrastructure was built around Windows-based operating systems.

The largest TV station in Singapore said the same thing, as did engineers of Nera Telecommunications, the satellite telephone makers. After six months of trial and error, two unpaid undergraduates from a local university (neither from a pure sciences background) created a solution that worked beautifully. By having nothing to lose, the team was motivated to raise its game, and to show the “experts” how wrong they were. Develop processes and habits that will support this effort at a higher level.

Anchor the processes to a specific ritual. In the field of cognitive psychology, we can develop, deliberately or accidentally, specific anchors that can help or hinder us. For example, when I complete a particularly profitable agreement, I imagine clenching my fist and saying to myself in elation: “Yes-sss!” By repeating this process, just imagining the action elevates my mood and helps me commit the same level of effort to a specific task. Similarly, a negative anchor can pull you down; for example, mentally revisiting a failure in a highly self-critical way repeatedly can trigger waves of despair and feelings of uselessness by just the mention of that incident or event.

Reward your brain. Oxytocin is a natural chemical that is produced when your brain rewards itself, it stimulates the pleasure centres and its production can be triggered in a number of ways. One way, is to be in a group that produces a strong sensation of elation and achievement. The “great teamwork” effect of Bradford City’s efforts fed into this cycle or loop, reinforcing the enthusiasm and commitment to beat Chelsea. So, in what way do you surround yourself with people who help produce this effect in you?

We’ve succeeded, as did Bradford City, by simply resolving to play a bigger game on every front. Will you do the same?

About the author: David Lim is Asia’s Leadership Coach, and best known for leading the 1st Singapore Mt Everest Expedition. Since 1999, he has helped organizations build teams and grow leaders. Send him a note today at to subscribe to a no-cost leadership e-newsletter.

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