Phillies baseball player Brandon Marsh’s approach to batting has me thinking about the importance of embracing your constraints when you’re faced with a challenge. Marsh’s job at bat is not unlike our leadership positions. In both cases, working within your sphere of control helps you work the problem or the opportunity in new ways.
Marsh’s at-bat discipline on home plate has allowed him to contribute even when he’s in a slump. How? He’s creating more chances to reach first base by focusing on his own emotions and technique. Rather than get distracted by what the pitcher is doing, “I’m really just trying to control the at-bat instead of being controlled,” Marsh said.
This mindset has turned him into a valuable player, even when he’s not getting to first base in a traditional fashion. In short, Marsh is swinging less but also striking out less. “I love walks. I love them. Because I feel like it’s harder to walk than to get a hit sometimes,” said Marsh. There are no rules that say the only way to first base is by running there, and Marsh is capitalizing on that strategy.
Facing the pitcher and his 95-mile-per-hour pitch can be an intimidating prospect, but Marsh has used that confining moment to his benefit. Research tells us that when our options are narrowed or restricted to a tighter scope, we often perform better within those restrictions.
Necessity becomes the mother of invention, and we work within the parameters we have. In a Harvard Business Review article, “Why Constraints Are Good for Innovation,” new research suggests that managers can innovate better by embracing constraints.
Marsh is making the most of the seventeen-inch square of white rubber while he’s at bat. Specifically, he’s using his legs more, moving his head less, and allowing more time to see the ball. He’s also controlling his aggression by using that emotion strategically. All of these nuanced adjustments add up to better stats and better play.
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Here are three strategies to keep in mind if you’d like to channel Marsh’s results:
Ask yourself where you truly have control
In many cases, people assume they have barriers to performance that don’t actually exist when they stop to consider them. Dig deeply into your perceived areas of control and question what’s possible. With the help of a coach, Marsh broke down his swing and started to rebuild it one movement at a time. Marsh’s domain actually increased when he explored all the possibilities within a narrow scope.
Look at traditional paths to success and consider the opposites
Think like a contrarian and examine the differences between tradition, what’s always been believed, and what a different path might look like. Adopt the mindset of “Why not?” instead of “Why me?” Become curious; a curious mind opens up new ways of thinking. Marsh always wanted to knock it out of the park, but once he took an opposing view, he saw new ways to improve his stats.
Give yourself permission to iterate and fail forward
If everyone on your team is working hard to find the perfect solution, that can be a limiting mindset. Instead, give your team permission to make mistakes. Encourage them to fail and iterate if it helps loosen their minds. Just like a batter’s swing, there’s a lot that happens between the moment the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand and arrives at the catcher’s mitt. Break your process down into “still shots” like you would game film and evaluate what’s happening in every moment.
Enjoy the spring season for all that it has to offer—especially when players like Marsh can inspire you to embrace the controllable versus being controlled. “In reality, I just need to get to first,” Marsh said. “Just keep it simple.” Great advice on and off the diamond.