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Playing Offense: Business Lessons from the Big Game

“The best defense is a good offense.” – Jack Dempsey

I grew up in Kansas amidst a very competitive collegiate sports environment with KU and Kansas State being the most significant contenders. We loved hating on the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Oklahoma Sooners. And don’t even get me started on Mizzou!

So, when I moved to Chicagoland, I was somewhat taken aback by how little people cared about their college teams. I had moved to a part of the country where I was living amongst modern day giants. Men who played for the Blackhawks, the Bulls, the Bears, the White Sox and of course, the lovable Cubs. Chicago was the big time! But the questions on everyone’s lips, depending on the time of year, was rather single-minded, “Are you a Bears fan or a Packers fan?” “Are you a Cubs fan or White Sox?”

Despite the pressure to take up one mantle or the other, my answer then and now has always been, “the Kansas City Chiefs.” Or, “I’m a Royals fan.” People looked at me as if I’d just told them I carried the coronavirus – the implication being – ‘ok, whatever. You’re no longer part of this conversation.’

No problem, I’m happy playing my own game, supporting my own teams.

So, as I sat preparing to watch my Kansas City Chiefs take on the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, I was reminded of a little advice I like to prompt clients on from time to time – play your own game! Don’t get too caught up in everything your competition is doing in their business. Sure, you need to have a good defense in business. But the only way you’re going to win big is by having a great offense and using it to your advantage, in every way possible.

There are probably not very many of you out there who have discovered the joys of having a Blue Ocean product or service. That being the case, most of us have competitors. It’s always good to know what your competitors are up to. We certainly shouldn’t ignore them.

But it’s even better when you set your own objectives, define your own messaging, determine your own point of difference, and then apply your own tactics to reach your objectives versus allowing your competition to set the agenda for how you run your business.

I’ve seen a lot of companies spend a lot of time and energy worrying about what their competition is doing, and how they “answer” the competition’s offensive maneuvers. For example, Company X is going to be exhibiting at a tradeshow. Lots of handwringing then ensues about whether or not they should be exhibiting at the same tradeshow, who they’ll take, what they’ll show, how little they can spend to “defend” against their competitor’s moves. Or, how about this: Company X is advertising in ABC magazine. “We should be there too!”

Really? Why? Just because your competitor is there? Now, don’t get me wrong. There may be excellent reasons for you to be at that tradeshow or advertising in the same magazine. But occasionally, what I hear is that we should be there because our competition is there. 


That’s simply not the way to look at the problem. Instead, let me paraphrase hockey legend Wayne Gretsky, “skate to where the puck is going to be.”

You need to play your own offense. Figure out where your customers are going to be – what they need to hear from you – and go there. Give them your best version of you by solving their problems. Find out what keeps them up at night, what their pain points are, and provide them a solution. Who knows, do that successfully enough, and you may have people spending their valuable time and resources defending themselves against you.

Now, that’s playing offense! When you end up playing follow the leader, and you’re not the leader, the view tends to get old after a while. 

I am not advocating burying your head in the sand when it comes to what your competitors are doing. I’m simply suggesting you probably didn’t get into business so you could chase your competitors around. When you have a perfectly good product or service that fills a need, sell it. Spend less time playing defense and more time crafting a killer offense. Your employees will thank you. Your shareholders will thank you. And your customers will thank you.

And thank goodness for Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense. They had what it took to get the job done and fill a 50-year void, becoming Super Bowl Champions. Do I root for the Bears or the Packers? No. After 30 years of living in Chicagoland, I’m still a diehard Chiefs fan. Good luck creating your own winning offense in 2020!

– musings from the T-Suite

@ 45.9697° N, 89.8921° W