Gretzky, Corcoran and Greatness

When asked what made him so good, Wayne Gretzky once said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.”

A simple enough quotation from hockey’s “Great One,” but it isn’t easy anticipating the best point at which to intercept opportunity. However, the great ones always seem to have a sense of what’s happening just around the corner. Gretzky had great instincts for the game of hockey and was a master of his craft. In our day-to-day life, is it possible to create a system for anticipating opportunities? How do we “skate” to where our opportunities are going to be?

This brings me to the next word in the title of this post: Corcoran. Barbara Corcoran has been highly successful in real estate, is now a “shark” on Shark Tank and has posted some interesting blogs on entrepreneurship and success in the pursuit of opportunities. Two of her recent posts, Expand Before You’re Ready and The Best Entrepreneurs Don’t Know When to Quit give great advice to anyone seeking to achieve their dreams. Simply put, these two posts tell us to push ourselves to grow before we think we’re ready and that resilience is critical to success. Take risks and don’t quit. Once again, sage advice that is not easy to put into practice. How do we know when it’s the right time to “expand” or push ourselves in uncomfortable ways and what really determines our resilience? In other words, how do we know how much we can take?

Looking at these two totally unrelated achievers gives us a model for greatness. Mastering the art of anticipating opportunities and coupling it with the nerve to push our limits sets us in motion. Following up with the determination to “never quit” carries us through to the promised land. But how?

Wayne Gretzky was effective at anticipating the movement of the puck for three key reasons:

  1. Preparation — hours and hours and hours of practice and play made Gretzky truly competent in his craft. Malcolm Gladwell has said that we become expert at 10,000 hours of practice – Gretzky must have blown that number away.
  2. Positioning — Gretzky was successful at positioning himself for opportunities. Early-on, he pushed to play at the professional level but ran into age restrictions. He found an opportunity with the Indianapolis Racers and used it as a springboard. During play, “Gretzky’s Office” was a position he leveraged behind his opponent’s net that enabled him to score more goals than any other hockey player — ever.
  3. Smarter not Harder — at a height of 6 feet and weight of 185 pounds, Gretzky was not the strongest or most athletic hockey player. However, he was a very intelligent player and focused on out-thinking his opponents rather than out-muscling them. He was adept at avoiding body-checks and built his game around finesse and strategy. He took his game to a higher mental level and it enabled him to anticipate the puck.

My post, The Art of Pushing Your Limits, talks about the nature of risk and ways we can balance our risk tolerance with our desire to achieve our dreams. Barbara Corcoran tells us several stories of entrepreneurs (including herself) expanding before they were ready. In her case, she hired talented sales reps before she had a place to put them. She deliberately pushed past her “readiness zone” by focusing on her dream, the goal of building her business. She did not wait — she knew if she did, all of “the best turf would be claimed by the time I got there.” Courage is feeling fear and jumping in anyway. Corcoran challenges us to be courageous when it comes to pursuing our dreams.

And finally, resilience. In The Best Entrepreneurs Don’t Know When to Quit, Corcoran tells us that on Shark Tank, she looks for entrepreneurs who have shown the ability to overcome adversity. Resilience is what she looks for when someone is pitching an idea. How can we assess our own level of resilience and use it effectively when confronting obstacles? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. How badly do you want it? Resilience is often tied to desire – we are best able to endure when we are driven passionately toward an objective. A key element of desire is the reward attached to attaining it — is it worth the price we have to pay.
  2. How much pain is too much? We all have a breaking point – the point after which the goal is not worth the price. This will be tied to our desire but also to our own personal threshold of pain.
  3. What happens if we quit? This question cuts both ways. There are ramifications to staying the course and ramifications to quitting. Resilience is about pushing through. Sometimes thinking clearly about the impact of quitting will provide clear motivation. On the flip side, you may decide that pushing through makes no sense because you are on the wrong path. This is what Corcoran is looking for in her entrepreneurs — a sense for whether or not they’ll stay the course with the idea they are pitching when things get rough.

Gretzky, Corcoran and Greatness. A curious combination providing us with an interesting recipe for achieving our dreams. Maybe preparing for opportunity, positioning for opportunity, leaping before you’re ready and never quitting is just the right combination for you. I think I’ll give it a try.

Showing 2 comments
  • Cuz

    Two great examples of people who have intelligence and use it the right way. I agree that much of their success boils down to resilience. The longer I teach, the more I wonder if this is what I want to do(forever). Is this profession for me? Should I stick with it? Or, should I venture into my world of passions and try to build something from my love of dancing and fitness? I can feel a boiling inside me that itches for change, but the stability and confidence I have in my current profession keeps me complacent. I predict that my resilience will be tested soon enough.

    • philb

      Great thoughts Cuz! I’m certain you’ll find a way to blend the path you’ve traveled with new opportunities and old dreams. Be patient, trust your instincts, and follow the signs! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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