PRIORITY ONE: Advance The Ball
Out on the links one morning I was agonizing over just how to hit my next shot. I was trying to figure out whether to risk a shot at the pin or go safely for the middle of the green.
“Dredd, can I ask you something?” Sweeper Boy asked me from the cart, he was my playing partner that day.
“Sure,” wondering why he was interrupting my deliberations.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to figure out whether to play it safe or not.” I replied.
“OK,” Sweep said, and paused. “But let me ask you this, what percentage of the time would you say you hit the ball squarely over the course of a round?”
“I guess about 70% of the time,” I responded.
“Well,” Sweep said, “I think you’re a little high there, so let me ask it differently. How many times a round are you putting for birdie?”
“I guess about seven,” I said, knowing that was probably high too. It was probably more like three.
“OK, can I tell you something then?” He asked. Reluctantly, I said he could.
“You’re not nearly good enough to be worrying about where on the green you’re going to hit the ball. In fact, you shouldn’t even be thinking about hitting the green at all because you aren’t good enough to do it consistently.” Sweep said.
“What should I thinking about then?” I asked, perplexed.
“The only thing you should be thinking about is advancing the ball. Don’t try to hit a perfect shot. Heck, don’t even try to hit a good shot. It doesn’t matter what kind of shot you hit as long as you advance the ball toward the pin. Golf is about counting the number of strokes it takes to get the ball in the hole, not about how you look doing it. It’s really a very simple game Dredd.”
I didn’t like that advice at the time, but I (eventually) took it. And I’m glad I did, because it made me a marginally better golfer and a much happy player.
Now I don’t even think about the dozens of things I used to worry about before I took my swing. All I do is look for the biggest part of the hole that isn’t covered by sand or water and advance the ball in that direction. My only objective is to end up closer to the hole than I started.
For me, in golf, Priority One is to advance the ball, and there is no Priority Two.
Over time, I’ve come to look at Persuasion in much the same way. When I am trying to convince someone of a particular point—whether in court or on Twitter—I don’t try to be perfect or even good, because the eloquence of my words is no more important to the result than a perfect swing is to my ultimate score in golf. I’m just not good enough in either venue to worry about such things.
Instead, I just do what I do on the golf course. I block everything else out and make advancing the ball Priority One. As long as I am making progress toward the intellectual pin I count that as success, no matter how I look doing it.
As with golf, Priority One is to advance the ball. There is no Priority Two.