The seam of the tennis ball, Draupadi's swayamwar and the Universal truth of life


After my last post on Tennis, I was recommended by at least two people to read The Inner Game of Tennis. When I did a quick Google search, what really intrigued me about it was the fact that this book was used by coaches in different sports like Tennis and hand-egg. Usually, when a book has applicability and relevance in different domains or areas, it means that the book is talking about something more fundamental and higher-level. This book is considered the Bible of tennis coaching and the author, Timothy Gallwey has apparently written more books and is now an acclaimed business coach as well.I bought the book on Kindle immediately and started reading it. The book talked about what I go through on a daily basis – the trouble with concentration, the one great winner that I manage to hit once in a blue moon and call it ‘patchy’ form. The big equation to come out of the book is

Performance = Potential – Interference

Where Interference is the instructions you try to give yourself to hit a shot in a particular way or what the coach is asking you to focus on or what you think the situation demands. If you can minimize the Interference, then the performance can actually be as good as your potential. And it all boils down to focus. So what I've been doing all this while is sledging myself!! The idea is to figure out what works best for you – and this starts with understanding yourself and becoming more self-aware. You try out different approaches without being judgmental about the results and then once you do what's working enough number of times, you get into the groove i.e. you can do it exactly in the same way every time. Thinking complicated skills like walking, writing, driving!  There is always the risk of regressing to old habits because your ego needs the satisfaction of being in control and wants to ‘drive’ you towards great results. And that’s when you need to have practiced ‘how to get your focus back’.

This is a great equation because it’s a very fundamental equation. It’s applicable in every sphere of work and life. All the great saints, teachers, leaders have said something on similar lines – keep things simple; maintain razor-sharp focus and try to achieve the Zen state in whatever you are doing. Whether it is spiritual readings or self-help books or books on leadership/ behavior science or a bootcamp on hypnosis (and I’m speaking from personal experience), the ultimate message that you bring it down to is the same – keep it simple, focus, you have to figure out what works for you on your own and once you find that, rinse and repeat. And it’s always a system! Targets can be deceptively detrimental.

Uplevelling @ Choose To Thinq

This framework is something we follow at work. At Choose To Thinq, we uplevel growth-minded leaders to beat the status quo for themselves and their teams. The nature of problems can be quite varied. We have worked on challenges like –

  • My customers are smart. I can’t be doing the same standard thing to engage with them. What can I do differently?
  • The people coming to this Sales conference have probably got bored of seeing the same kind of demos and presentations. How do I convey my message more convincingly?
  • I want to engage better with this group of employees and develop these channels of communication. Skip-level meetings can’t be the solution!
  • I want to develop a culture of intrapreneurship in my company. How do I do this?

These business problems are from domains as varied as marketing, sales, traditional HR and organization development. The framework that we typically apply is –

  • Work with the leader to help them discover a destination to aim for.
  • Help the leader to creatively engage, persuade and recruit allies and equip them with new knowledge, skills and tools required.
  • Help shape the environment and build habits and culture for the quest to succeed.
  • Help sustain the change.

Some typical attributes of our approach are

  • Keep it simple and maintain focus.
  • Try out different approaches first to figure out what is working in your situation. (There’s no guarantee that what worked in another company similar to yours will work for you)
  • Something not working the way you wanted it to is part of the process.
  • Observe what’s working and amplify it.

We came up with this approach based on multiple philosophies and frameworks like design thinking, lean startup, systems thinking, B J Fogg's behavior design and books like Influence, Switch, Decisive, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Flow, The Power of Habit etc. Above all, we use a lot of common sense instead of being dogmatic about any one framework/philosophy. It’s our own version of Din-i-Ilahi, the religion that Akbar founded based on the best things from different religions.


It all boils down to the same universal truth –

  • Keep it simple.
  • Focus.
  • Figure out what works for yourself – it could be very different from the ‘recommended best practices’.
  • Rinse, repeat to make a system out of it.

A simple trick Timothy Gallwey talks about for maintaining focus is to try and watch the seams of the ball and nothing else. Then the ball seems bigger and it even slows down for you to play your shots at ease. How different is it from Arjuna hitting the eye of the fish in the swayamwar to win Draupadi's hand in marriage?

Harish is co-founder, Choose To Thinq and Thinq2Win