Given that baseball season is now in full swing, it seems appropriate for a business book with a common baseball metaphor at its center to appear: How to Hit a Curveball: Confront and Overcome the Unexpected in Business by Scott R. Singer with Mark Levine (Portfolio, 2010).
We’ve all had our share of curveballs even if we’ve never held a Louisville Slugger: unexpected events and issues that we have to deal with, generally something of an unpleasant nature. And in that regard, Singer is just like the rest of us. While you might expect that he might have some particular inside-baseball position or point of view, that’s not the case. Rather, he is simply a fan, and not seemingly a baseball fanatic.
And like some of us, he has had his share of curveballs. It is personal experience that gives rise to this book. This is not some sort of academic or theoretical study. In fact, Singer opens the book by describing his life in the early 2000s—wife, kids, apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, weekend home in Connecticut, job as investment banker with Bear Stearns—and his life afterwards: divorced, out of a job, financially rocky. How he dealt with these circumstances is the basis of the book. He’s had more than a little skin in the game, so there is certainly some authenticity here. Even if you have zero interest in or knowledge of baseball, the book still works.
And fundamentally, Singer counsels that it comes down to personal responsibility: “What separates the great curveball hitters—whether in business or life—from the rest of us is what they think, feel, and do after that shock and surprise.”
He points out that all too often, what most people do is find something or someone (including one’s self) to assign blame: “It’s the search for someone or something to blame that’s problematic, not the search for a cause. Initially thinking that someone or something is at fault for the curveball will generate destructive feelings.” And the last thing that anyone needs when reeling from a job loss or other curveball are destructive feelings. It may be common. But it isn’t beneficial.
Singer suggests that dwelling, brooding or otherwise stewing about what has happened isn’t going to advance you around the bases. Rather, he recommends, “the thought you need to begin with, the question you need to ask yourself is, ‘What should I do?’” By determining the next step you can move forward. This doesn’t mean that the problem will just go away, but by focusing on what you should do it becomes about action, not about blaming. “You need to focus on what you still have, not what you think you’ve lost.” He says that it is important to zero in on that next step because “The more specific you paint the obstacle in your mind, the easier it will be to surmount.”
Singer has had plenty of experience in overcoming obstacles. As he puts it near the close of the book “while I was knee-deep in the writing of this book” he got a call from his boss. “Yes, you guessed it. I was let go. Fired. Canned. Whacked.”
But clearly, he kept swinging.—GSV