All Professionals Have Playbooks, Not Just Sports Teams

A playbook is a collection of patterns. A playbook says how to line up, how to proceed, where we expect the opposition to be, and how to handle them. All professional teams have playbooks. So should all professionals.

John Chambers, the legendary CEO of Cisco, told Patrick O’Shaughnessy he’s a huge fan of playbooks and pattern recognition. When building out business lines or making acquisitions in particular, he was always on the lookout for what could and should be replicated. Every good outcome had a process behind it. His job, as CEO, was to constantly collect, dissect, and map them out.

In our roles, we can look out for who does what, where, why, when, and how. We can think about plays we run internally, and plays we run externally (basically with or without client-facing pressure). We can consider our offensive and defensive setups. By thinking in terms of plays and positions, we can better communicate roles, set expectations, and troubleshoot problems.

If we’re not in a leadership role, we can use the playbook mental model to breakdown what is going on around us. If we’re on a solo mission, we can still think about who else is involved, what their positioning is, and how we’ll interact on the field.

John Chambers knew that once he found even the slightest amount of success he thought could be replicated, it was time to make a playbook. We won’t understand every pattern and process we come across. That’s ok. But when we do, once we know it can be done more than once, we can capture the idea and try running the play again.

That’s the power of the playbook. If it works once and we understand why, we know how to try it again. If it works twice, great. If it works 10, 100, 1,000 times? Lightning in a bottle.

Listen to John Chambers interview on the Founder’s Field Guide Podcast, ep. 6.

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