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Yogi Berraís
Business Wisdom

by Rob Spiegel

Yogi Berra was one of the great ballplayers. As well as a top Yankee hitter and catcher, he also spent years as a successful team manager. Yet Yogi will also go down in history for his odd comments. He once picked up a carry-out pizza. The clerk asked if he wanted the pizza sliced into six or eight pieces. Yogi replied, "Better make it six, Iím not that hungry."

Most of his comments were not that idiotic. In fact, Yogiís witticisms are actually clever, full of hard-won insight. Yogiís wisdom contains kernels of philosophy that apply to business. Here some examples of Yogiís observations that are helpful in management.

"If you donít know where youíre going, you wind up someplace else." This is a great argument for planning. If you are not going in a fixed direction, you will inevitably drift. A plan may or may not keep your enterprise on track, but if you have a plan, at least youíll know when youíre off track. That knowledge increases your chances of making adjustments before itís too late.

"Never answer an anonymous letter." The comment certainly sounds ridiculous, but Yogiís meaning is clear Ė I think. You donít have to answer to criticism coming from those who are not willing to stand up and identify themselves. When you take a leadership position, youíll get potshots, and youíll have to answer for your actions and decisions. But you donít have to answer to those who wonít stand up to make their comments.

"I usually take a two-hour nap from one to four." I included this because I believe fiercely in the benefit of naps. You may have a good eight to 10 hours of creative work in you during the day. Those hours may be most effective when theyíre broken up by a nap. The fun part of Yogiís sentence is that heís talking about a time range in which he fits his two-hour nap. But it sounds like he means a three-hour nap while stating a two-hour nap. Oh, forget about it. Just take naps.

"When you come to a fork in the road, take it." Yogi is giving directions on how to get to his home. He lived at one end of a large circular road. No matter what direction you took the fork, it led to Yogiís house. From a management point of view, it simply means that a clear decision is better than no decision. So when you come to a place where you need to make a decision, donít hesitate. He who hesitates is lost. Is that a Yogi comment?

"You can observe a lot by watching." Certainly this is true. But what does he mean? You have to switch around some words to get the meaning. How about, "You can learn a lot from observing." Or, "You can perceive a lot by watching." The real meaning here is that you need to study the environment in which youíre managing. That could mean your market. It may mean your customersí needs. The lesson here is to pay attention. Watch. Listen. Get feedback. Business owners stumble when they make assumptions about their customersí needs. Instead, study your customers, and their needs will become apparent.

"The future ainít what it used to be." Yes, the future changes. That is, our notion of the future changes. As our assumptions change, our possibilities change. The more you can imagine, the bigger your potential future. Hopefully, a changed future is a future with greater challenges and accomplishments.

"It ainít over till itís over." Sounds dumb, but itís not. Yogi spent his career in baseball. Itís one of the few games that does not depend on a clock. The game isnít over after a ring of a bell. Itís over when the last play had been played, and until then, anything can happen. In business, as long as you havenít given up, you have a chance to make it. No matter how difficult your road, youíre not out of play until youíre out of play.

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Copyright © 1997 by Rob Spiegel, author of Net Strategy (Dearborn) and The Shoestring Entrepreneurís Guide to Internet Start-ups (St. Martin's Press).

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