Peter Brand: Billy, Pena is an All Star. Okay? And if you dump him and this Hatteberg thing doesn’t work out the way that we want it to, you know, this is … this is the kind of decision that gets you fired. It is!
Billy Beane: Yes, you’re right. I may lose my job, in which case I’m a forty-four-year-old guy with a high school diploma and a daughter I’d like to be able to send to college. You’re twenty-five years old with a degree from Yale and a pretty impressive apprenticeship. I don’t think we’re asking the right question. I think the question we should be asking is: ‘Do you believe in this thing or not?’
Peter Brand: I do.
Billy Beane: It’s a problem you think we need to explain ourselves. Don’t. To anyone.
Peter Brand: Okay.
(Scene from Moneyball, 2011)
I played three hours of sports every day throughout high school. My favourite sport was basketball, which I played between the ages of seven and eighteen. South San Francisco High School tended to have strong basketball teams, but I remember one game in particular because we were losing so badly. As the bell sounded to end the first half, I looked at the scoreboard, saw 53 to 5, and felt my heart sink. It would be very hard to come back from this. What was wrong? How had this happened?
At the team huddle, our coach – Mark ‘Salty’ Sultana – took me aside, looked deep into my eyes, and asked, ‘Do you want to lose? I know you can play better than this.’ From then on, everything he said was about how we were still going to win. Everyone on the team was demoralised, and half our supporters in the bleachers had already walked out. Our losing seemed to be a foregone conclusion, but Salty acted as if I had merely made winning just a bit more difficult to achieve.
His words shook me up. They flipped a switch in my mind and I started to believe. ‘It’s not over yet. This game can be won. I know we’re behind, but we’re a good team. Julie, you are a winner. We will win.’
And we did. We scored an immediate basket straight from the jump at the start of the second half, then robbed our opponents of every shot for the next twenty minutes. As we hit basket after basket without reply, we started feeling much better. We remembered how our strategy was supposed to work and played some of the best basketball we had ever played. Success bred success; we were on a roll. I felt like I was in a zone of automatic play. Before too long, the crowd was roaring its approval as we drew ever closer to our opponents. They went absolutely nuts when we won by two points.
I thought long and very hard about that game for many years. I still think about it today, whenever I have a goal that I think may be extremely tough to achieve. Life is a mental game. At that basketball match, I was the same relatively good but by no means great player in the second half as I had been in the first, but I had decided to win at half time. That match gave me an insight into the difference that belief can make, irrespective of talent and circumstance. I promised myself I would never forget it, and I never have.
Belief is a self-fulfilling phenomenon. In my experience, we don’t believe that we can achieve the impossible; there is a natural self-policing element to all of our dreams. But most people could achieve much more than they think is possible if they had faith in themselves. Rational analysis and projections on spreadsheets get us only so far.
As a non-Brit living and working in the UK, I can’t help but notice how much belief – be it religious or secular, in the form of optimism – is showered with disapproval in this country. Nowadays, the UK is a hyper-rational nation and seems to want to shunt all forms of belief into the drawer. Yet this country’s ultimate hero is Winston Churchill, a man who believed that Britain could win the Second World War against all the odds. Had he not maintained his belief in himself and his country, the Americans would certainly not have joined in the fight against Nazi Germany. I always find it odd that this nation was saved by a man with unshakeable belief, yet today the average Brit tends to view any kind of belief with nothing but scorn.
‘For myself, I am an optimist – it does not seem to be much use being anything else.’
(Sir Winston Churchill, speech to the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, London, 1954)
Great entrepreneurs have a self-fulfilling belief in their products and their business. One of the greatest of them all, Steve Jobs, believed that Apple was uniquely destined to bring great products to life:
‘Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes … the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules … You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things … They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do.’
In 2004, when I first met Alastair Lukies, the CEO of Monitise, he said that ‘all’ he had to do was get the four biggest banks and the four biggest mobile carriers to sign up to his company’s technology platform. He said this without a trace of irony, and then set about making it happen. He has publicly itemised the top ten things that people said he wouldn’t be able to achieve with Monitise, and has gleefully kept records of the dates when the Monitise team achieved each and every one of them. He now runs a $500 million market capitalisation company.
Also in 2004, when the young team at Skype started to execute their idea for revolutionising the communications industry, you could see belief written all over their faces. They believed in Niklas Zennstrom’s vision, and they believed that the traditional telecoms industry was about to go into freefall. Four of the Ariadne Capital team who worked with Skype in those early stages subsequently became employees of the company. For them, Skype wasn’t just a job. It was a mission.
Not everyone is – or even has the potential to be – a ‘believer’. But Davids always are. If we want more global leading firms, we have to encourage Davids to believe in themselves.
I am an early believer. I’m comfortable in the white spaces before a product or a company is completely fleshed out. The potential of a market opportunity and the strategy for seizing it fascinate me. When you are working with Davids in a sea of sceptics, you see how much they rely on little more than belief in the early days. Day in, day out, they have to deal with the rest of society telling them, ‘It can’t be done.’
Early believers can be found almost anywhere. They aren’t exclusively in start-ups. You will always find champions inside existing companies who not only have a strong radar for the next big thing but are optimistic that they will be a part of it. These people – I call them intrapreneurs – are vital for transmitting the ‘belief virus’ within companies. Whether you are a secretary, a driver, a marketing manager, a CFO or an operations director,
• You can be a believer.
• You can go to entrepreneurcountry.
• You can become a David.
• You can help to create a culture of belief and positivity that generates new opportunities.
Playing sports taught me the difference between being the best player and being the captain of the team. I knew I wasn’t the best player, but I was always the captain. My talent lay in fostering the belief that encourages the most gifted players to join the team and allows them to reach their full potential. You know when you are in the presence of a leader because you feel safe.
At the World Economic Forum, 2002, Colin Powell, the former Secretary of State of the US, said, ‘Leaders are those people who create the conditions of trust so that great things can happen.’
Creating an environment of trust in a company can be exhausting, but it is certainly worth the effort. If belief in a mission separates the great companies from those that are merely trading, then creating an environment of trust helps to deepen that greatness.
As I built the First Tuesday network of City Leaders across Europe over the summer of 1999, we didn’t have a long licensing agreement that would protect us from each other. I told everyone who signed up that ‘trust was efficient’, and that we must trust each other if we were going to achieve something really great. The City Leaders overwhelmingly signed up to this ethos, and created huge followings in their respective cities, with more than 500,000 people attending First Tuesday events every month at the peak. We were able to move as fast as we did and capture the zeitgeist because of the trust we shared.
Ever since, ‘trust is efficient‘ has remained my mantra for building great businesses.
David is a pathfinder, and pathfinders attract snipers. But belief strengthens the bonds that bind entrepreneurial teams together and enables them to withstand the attacks as they set about creating the future. Early believers are on a mission to prove their ideas in the market place, whereupon later believers join them. When their missions are finally understood, widely believed and validated, they become accepted as common knowledge. For instance, when Lloyd Dorfman founded Travelex, the idea that you should be able to send money around the world was unfathomable to many people. But Dorfman believed in his concept and worked hard to convince others that it was possible. Today, we all accept international money transfer as a simple fact of life. Because of Dorfman’s efforts, we don’t have to ‘believe’ in it any more.
‘Never lose your faith and hope. Never give up. Many people thought the rescue was impossible and advised me not to get involved, to keep my distance. I decided to take full responsibility without any political consideration … We made a commitment to look for the miners as if they were our sons.’
(President Sebastian Pinera of Chile, discussing the rescue of thirty-three miners, 2011)
I calculated recently that out of all the major deals I’ve done in my career, 80 per cent initially met with a ‘no’. I had to keep pushing, restating, trying another angle to convert that into a ‘yes’. In some cases, I had to move a hostile party to neutral ground before securing a positive answer. If I hadn’t genuinely believed that the deals were worth doing, and I was the right person to do them, I could have never have converted all of those ‘noes’ into ‘yesses’. I don’t engage with any David unless I spot his self-belief and feel that I can share it. When I do, I will fight to the finish for and with him.
If we are serious about systematically building great businesses, then we have to acknowledge the importance of belief as a key ingredient in business building. If you are serious about your business, measure your own belief quotient, for it is inextricably linked to trust, and together these are the new currencies of the world in which we live.
David’s defeat of Goliath is not obvious or predictable. There’s no scientific, analytical formula for his victory. He wins because he believes he will win.
• Life is a mental game.
• Believe that you can be successful and the chances aer that you will be.
• Wear your optimism like a protective cloak every day.
• Be a resigned optimist if that’s the best you can do, but be an optimist.
• Trust is efficient.
The article was written by Julie Meyer