How Do You Keep Score?

Dan Sullivan
Hero image

Entrepreneurs are great at many things, but one thing a lot of us are bad at is keeping score. I’ve coined a term for this issue, which we deal with in depth at Strategic Coach, and I call it “The Gap.” The Gap is the permanent distance between you and your ideals. Your ideals can be really useful for stretching yourself and identifying goals, but falling into The Gap can have destructive, demotivating effects. When this happens, you’re playing a game that’s impossible to win.

Your confidence and capability depends on what’s happening inside your head. That’s why we do a lot of work on how you’re keeping score in the game you’re playing. Of course, most people aren’t even conscious of the criteria they score themselves by, which makes it impossible to win the game. And, really, winning is what matters here.

So what game are you playing, and what kind of score do you need to win?

If your game is based on a vague ideal, you can’t know if you’re making any progress. So the first step is to determine some real criteria for what would constitute progress. Two indisputable measures you could use are a number in the future that’s bigger than the number you have now, or an event outside yourself that others can observe and take part in.

What if you have an existing goal and you’re just not making any progress on it? Switch that goal for one you can make progress on!

People are surprised when I say this. “You can just do that?” they ask. Hey, it’s your game. Take responsibility for it. If your own rules are doing you in, change them. I don’t like ending up on the losing side of the scorecard of a game I created.

To be clear, I don’t mean that you hit the “eject” button any time things get difficult. I mean that you work within a reality that’s tangible and quantifiable. As soon as you take action, the world responds, and there are great lessons in that feedback. Rules are only useful insofar as they help you learn, adapt, and make progress.

So rules are valuable—as a starting point. But not for the journey, and not for the end result, because they’re usually a description of what happened in the past. They help by giving you a mode for getting from one place to another, but as long as you can create better rules, then none of the existing ones apply to you any more.

Breaking rules to be rebellious is simply destructive. This is a creative activity—the constant development of better, more relevant, more productive structures to support your progress and growth.

Take Picasso, for instance. At just fourteen or fifteen years old, he was a master with the brush and could paint as well as Rembrandt. He was a great naturalistic painter, and he fully absorbed what constituted great artwork. Then he departed from it completely. The great artists don’t reject anything; they simply use it as their starting point.

So if you’re playing to win, don’t focus on the rules, on the problems. Instead, focus on growth. Going for growth solves an incredible number of problems. It’s a game about the future that can evolve, respond, and transform any situation.