Yogi Berra's Business Wisdom

by Rob Spiegel

As well as a top Yankee hitter and catcher, Yogi Berra also spent years as a  successful team manager. Yet Yogi will also go down in history for his odd  comments. In fact, Yogi’s witticisms are actually clever, full of hard-won insight.

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, I’m not that hungry.”

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

“If you don’t know where you’re 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 you’ll know when you’re off track. That knowledge increases your chances of making adjustments before it’s too late.

“Never answer an anonymous letter.” The comment certainly sounds ridiculous, but Yogi’s meaning is clear – I think. You don’t have to answer to criticism coming from those who are not willing to stand up and identify themselves. When you take a leadership position, you’ll get potshots, and you’ll have to answer for your actions and decisions. But you don’t have to answer to those who won’t 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 they’re broken up by a nap. The fun part of Yogi’s sentence is that he’s 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 Yogi’s 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, don’t 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 you’re managing. That could mean your market. It may mean your customers’ needs. The lesson here is to pay attention. Watch. Listen. Get feedback. Business owners stumble when they make assumptions about their customers’ needs. Instead, study your customers, and their needs will become apparent.

“The future ain’t 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 ain’t over till it’s over.” Sounds dumb, but it’s not. Yogi spent his career in baseball. It’s one of the few games that does not depend on a clock. The game isn’t over after a ring of a bell. It’s over when the last play had been played, and until then, anything can happen. In business, as long as you haven’t given up, you have a chance to make it. No matter how difficult your road, you’re not out of play until you’re out of play.

Rob Spiegel is the author of Net Strategy (Dearborn) and The Shoestring Entrepreneur’s Guide to Internet Start-ups (St. Martin's Press). You can reach Rob at robspiegel@comcast.net

 
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