Resilience: Sometimes it just IS cricket

May 8, 2013

 

The legendary Australian fast bowler, Jeff Thomson, had a great way of putting things. 'Tommo', who alongside the equally fearsome Dennis Lillee spearheaded one of the most infamous fast bowling attacks that the planet has ever seen, isn't really one for management speak. "Pushing the envelope" or "touching base" are not really his style. Tommo liked to ply his trade the direct way:

 

"The sound of the ball hitting the batsman's skull was music to my ears"

 

This famous quote starts off this seasonally inspired post. In the spring time the passions of all true men turn to that noblest of sports - cricket. All across this noble isle dreams of smashing centuries at Lord's come creeping into the minds of men of a certain age as they attempt to reconnect with their youth by squeezing their increasingly rotund frames into their musty old cricket whites and puffing their red faces around the village green. Think of the village cricket match and your minds eye will fill with images of the quintessential English experience. Cucumber sandwiches, deckchairs, polite applause and cries of "Well played, sir!". 

 

Hardly the place for a blog post on resilience. Or is it...?

 

You see, Jeff Thomson, with his pithy style, allows us to use the story of the fast bowler and the targeted batsman as a metaphor for organisational resilience.

 

The world is a brutal place. We may sit around 'the boundary' applauding politely, but we don't see the fear in the eyes of a new batsman on his way out to face Mr Thomson. You see, the dreaded 'Tommo' represents a remarkable test for any batsman much in the same way that a critical incident - or period of supreme uncertainty - might test a business.

 

Let me clarify. Suppose our 'batsman' is an organisation. Suppose the esteemed Mr Thomson is a critical moment, one of those events that threatens to bowl over your business. Get my drift?

 

You wouldn't want to bat against Mr Thomson without adequate preparation. Sure, you may have faced fast bowlers before, but when you walk in to face Tommo you know that you are going to be in for a rough ride. He's going to give you a working over, and whilst you don't know for sure exactly where each ball is going to be headed, you have a fair anticipation that, if it hits you, it's going to hurt. In fact, it could end your career. A pretty scary prospect, especially if this is nothing like you've ever faced before.

 

So what do you do? Well, you knuckle down. You try to look confident and not let anyone  - especially Mr Thomson and his cronies - know that you are out of your depth. You might make statements of bravado but deep inside you are questioning whether you can keep your fear in check. You might try to play calm, looking round to where the fielders are positioned. You never know, if you are lucky enough to deflect his best efforts then there could be runs to be made. You look to your training. Why didn't you train more for this? You look to your preparation. Why don't you feel prepared? Why didn't you stay longer at that net session when you could have had more practice against the bowling machine? You try to remember those things your coach told you, but it was so long ago, and facing Thompson was such an unlikely prospect then. Your mind whizzes away frantically to analyse every piece of data that comes your way, comparing each against the fragments you can piece together from your learning. What might his posture tell you about the next ball? How is the holding the ball? Does it look like you're about to get a booming inswinger, or does he nod his head like that when his about to let slip the big, bonce-ripping bouncer? You swallow hard. There's a storm a-coming...

 

Here he comes, he's at the steaming in. He's got you in his sights and no mistake. By crikey, there's nothing in your head right now apart from imagining the calamity that is coming to strike you down.  You grip the bat even tighter. Your feet, normally so agile, now feel like lead weights. Your eyes, normally so dependable, seem misty and useless. Part of you tries to remember where those fielders are, but the data is just turned to gobble-de-gook by the situation. Your heart feels like it is pounding out through the top of your ribcage. You are in a state of extreme stress. You are in crisis. In this condition you have no hope of co-ordinating any defence against the mighty sand-shoe crusher. In a  moment of intense agony all is gone. You hear the death rattle of the ball smashing into the stumps. Another one bites the dust. Tommo stands triumphant.

 

Batting against Thompson is a pretty torrid experience. Batsman who are unprepared are unlikely to score. In our metaphor of course these unfortunates are companies that are ill prepared for the oncoming crisis. Once Tommo fires up he'll be ripping through them like a whistle blowing letter that rips a company apart. He is the PR disaster, the pandemic flu outbreak

 

But what about the opposite situation? What happens when the gritty batsman appears that stands up to Tommo? What happens when irresistible force meets unmoveable object. When this batsman is at the crease the story is different. Tommo is still as bruisingly dangerous as before, but this time the batsman has the tools to cope. He reads the field (he knows his market), he respects and admires Tommo, but he is not scared. He is not scared because he knows Tommo. Maybe he's faced him before. Maybe he has studied endless video of him. Maybe he has practiced again and again in late night sessions against a bowling machine set to reproduce Tommo's most lively bouncer. Maybe he stayed on in the nets to practice long after his team mates had gone home. Maybe he's studied the other aspects of his game and worked on his fitness to ensure that he can remain fleet of foot and ready to react at the faster pace that he know will be expected of him. And when he comes into face Tommo his fear does not get the better of him. He channels his focus, drawing on his experience and training. At his peak he is not only able to survive against Tommo but, as he becomes more capable, his improved anticipation and ability to coindinate his actions means he can start to wrestle the initiative. Tommo can still dash in, heaving the ball at the batsman's skull with every sinew of his Aussie outback torso, but this time our man simply steps inside the line and smashes the ball to the boundary with aplomb. 

 

That's what it is like to be resilient.

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