business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

By now, most of you know that Michael Sansolo and I co-wrote a book a number of years ago, entitled "The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies."  (If you didn't know, you do now … and, FYI, the book is available on Amazon.)

I mention this a) because I like to try to sell a book or two whenever I can, and b) because there was a terrific story in the New York Times the other day about how Ajla Tomljanovic actually used a movie as inspiration when she played - and defeated - Serena Williams last week in the US Open.

The Times points out that Tomljanovic wasn't just playing Williams, who had announced that she would be retiring - actually, "evolving" out of professional tennis - after the US Open.  She also was playing the 24,000 spectators at Arthur Ashe Stadium who were rooting for Williams to earn one last championship.

The Times writes that "Tomljanovic was nervous, and for good reason. Williams was her idol, and Tomljanovic had never played her before. She had never played in Ashe. In fact, she had never even practiced on that court. She had asked tournament organizers if they could find a time for her to hit some balls in the largest tennis stadium in the world at least once, but nothing was available.

"Then there was the matter of her playing the role of villain, of facing down nearly 24,000 fans, virtually all of them screaming for Williams to win, and millions more watching on television. It would make anyone a tad edgy."

Her father, Ratko Tomljanovic (who is a retired professional handball player), offered a motivational tool:

"He mentioned one of his favorite movies, 'For Love of the Game,' in which a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, played by Kevin Costner, reflects on his life and career in the midst of a perfect game … In the film, he told her, the pitcher focuses explicitly on the catcher’s glove and ignores everything else in the stadium. Ajla understood, and she followed the advice with her own unique resolve.

"She blocked out all the noise, the roars for Williams, the indecorous cheers when Tomljanovic missed a serve, all the celebrities in the stands, the video tributes to Williams and her own childhood adulation for Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam champion standing across the net and playing as well as she had in years. But Tomljanovic was better."

"Clear the mechanism" is how Costner's character puts it in the movie:

"For Love of the Game" isn't my favorite Kevin Costner baseball movie.  It comes in third out of three - "Bull Durham" and "Field of Dreams" are much better.

But "clear the mechanism" is a useful and Eye-Opening business metaphor and lesson.  In business, it is critical sometimes to have absolute focus on the task at hand, to be able to cut through distractions and pay attention to delivering the best possible customer experience in synch with the g=brand's value proposition.  Sometimes, everything else is just noise.

(A short postscript.  Tomljanovic, who was seeded 48th, is now out of the US Open, having lost yesterday in straight sets (6-4, 7-6) during her quarterfinal match against F=fifth-seeded Ons Jabeur, who now becomes the first African woman to make the U.S. Open semis in the Open Era. I was there with Mrs. Content Guy, and I can report that Tomljanovic very much had the crowd on her side, largely because she was a clear underdog who was playing well, though above her weight class.)