Home Runs or Singles–Succeeding with Your Career Ideas

Yankee baseball legend Mickey Mantle stood third on the all time home run list when he retired, having hit 536 pre-steroid era home runs as the key player on a frequent World Series winning team. Unfortunately, he also had a prodigious number of strikeouts (15th on the all time list now and first when he retired).

After he ended his baseball career, he claimed every time at bat he was looking to hit a home run. Although I’d take this with a grain of salt, his big hit “strategy” worked quite well overall, in spite of the big whiff failures.

Outside baseball, we also hear about the same big hit strategy all the time. In fact, it was in the news recently in the field of medicine and bioengineering.

Doris Taylor, Director of the Center for Cardiovascular Repair at the University of Minnesota and her team stripped cells from a rat heart and replaced them with baby rat stem cells, getting them to grow into a “bioartificial” heart. The potential for “growing” parts of damaged organs or even entire organs customized to the individual is enormous. Other researchers are hitting themselves in the head (or so they’ve reported) for not thinking of the relatively simple idea that was used.

In a radio interview, Taylor noted that from the start she was going for a home run. She said that she didn’t want to wait 20 years to accurately understand step by step all the science underlying the procedure to know if it would work and why it might work or not. She wanted bold ideas to try out and then see what happened.

So should we all be inspired in our lives by this home run approach? Should we try out bold ideas and watch the results? Does this idea apply to our careers and problems? Or is it just something to read about after the fact for the lucky few who succeed?

I’d suggest the question is not whether to have a home run strategy or not, but when to use one. If a single is all that’s needed, if in your career all you want is a raise in pay or respect from your boss, go for that—not for a new career or job. That may seem obvious, but it’s not. I’ve had people in my classes come in for new career ideas and new dreams when their old ones were just fine. They had already hit a home run in determining and educating themselves for their career. They only needed a single right now to make their particular job better or to land a better job, but their frustration had confused them about the best strategy—about which of the 4 foundation questions (see http://beardavenue.com/store.html) they needed to answer.

You can also be confused if you have been told or learned that trying for what you really want is naïve—if you’ve learned that all you should ever do is go for singles. That’s an even more common problem I see in coaching clients and class participants. One time to use the home run metaphor and strategy is when you are first determining your main career idea—going for the biggest and most satisfying career, one you really would love to have.  Your authentic or true career. If you don’t, you will be putting a lot of energy into better-than-nothing (BTN) careers and jobs—careers that have some value but not enough to fully engage and challenge you or feel meaningful and satisfying enough.

If you are thinking about strategies for achieving that authentic career vision, you may want to at least include home run plans along with more careful ones. That means including options that involve more risk and more unknowns along with more cautious and known step-by-step processes. (Certainly the heart researchers were moving meticulously in their experiment once they decided on the big experimental concept). If you can do a mix of these single and home run approaches, you will truly be an all-around career “hitter.”


Let me
leave the final words to home run hitter who was named greatest athlete of all time in 1999 by Sporting News and athlete of the century by the AP that same year.

“How to hit home runs: I swing as hard as I can . . . I swing big, with everything I’ve got. I hit big or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can.” Babe Ruth

© 2008 Leonard Lang. All rights reserved

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