By Frank J. Rich
When focused on the completion of a skillful act, Allen Iverson of NBA fame watched every shot attempt to the very end of its flight, as though an electronic guidance system were directing its course. Tennis champions patiently approach their shots with the concentration of a cat after prey, riveted on the small spherical missile headed their way, calculating the backswing that will measure pace, distance, trajectory, placement, and spin, while watching the ball into and through the racket. Decision leaders carefully consider the views and experience of others, the moment’s dynamics, and the ROI in decision making with the focus and aplomb of the uniquely self-assured.
Finish is defined as the effective completion of something—and which most often contributes to a planned result. Though very similar to the definition of success—the achievement of a planned goal—the finish (in all things) is that moment of accomplishment that meets the goal, apart from all else that is going on around it.
Inexorably tied to focus, the finish requires concentration on something until it is done. This applies most to accomplishments achieved in short moments—the accurate shooting of a basketball, summarizing the views of many to reduce the ardor in re-examining each in detail, evenly slicing bread, or managing the ingredients of a recipe coming together. Longer-reach accomplishments are best achieved after several breaks to refresh the mind and clarify base understandings such as task goals and the motivation in achieving them.
The finish is so uniquely qualifying that the success of a task is largely dependent on it. One may spend hours on a project that is late against its deadline only to discover that the direction of the initiative has changed without benefit of that work. Every writer must come to a conclusion that both restates the theme and summarizes the meaning in the work. Airline passengers don’t applaud a successful flight, but rather, a successful landing. Rewards follow the finish, which is why when asked if he was happy with the scoring of 40 points in a game, Allen Iverson would typically say that he missed too many shots.
Perhaps the greatest obstacle to finishing what we start is ultimately us—our fears, anxieties, and doubts. This does not count the pause to consider one’s experience or the approach of others known for successful behavior. It isn’t about making it the best that it can be. It is most often our fears that keep us from the finish line.
We learn most from our failures—this, largely because judgment suffers most when we succeed at something, when the adulation of others washes us with an overactive sense of ourselves. Success seldom reveals improvements. It too often suggests that we have no growth to achieve. This seldom is the case for any endeavor. There is always more to learn. Even a perfect score on a test can be undone by questions of historicity—how we know what we know. In the end, the longer it takes us to get to the finish of things, the longer it takes us to improve and to move the indicative along.
A fundamental part of the finish is giving one’s work over to another. This most often grows perspective on the work and its approach, nuance, clarity, and completeness. Every writer needs an editor, as the saying goes. This fundamental adds accountability and a deeper sense of commitment to the work, usually an interdependent collaborative. Giving the work over to review aids a better result. It eases the fear of exposure by valuing others. This most often increases the desire for team members to be helpful, and less competitive. Ultimately, review reduces risks and criticism, replacing it with encouragement and constructive alternative views.
Many are known for their ideation ways; more still believe this is the contribution necessary to organizational endeavors. The well-known TV commercial about how consultants pop in, drop their ideas, then disappear, leaving the work to others, rings true, though not the method of serious consultants. Nonetheless, we are too often the victims of a low self-esteem, grasping at “home run” models, while others do the plodding. The best practice hard and perfect the finish.
When things don’t work out we feel it, especially if we prepared hard and invested heavily in the outcome, only to have failed to deliver on the promise. This reality encourages a drive-by ethic that hits hard but stays little. Clearly, it’s easier to come up with ideas than to finish what we start, but the results are seldom equally rewarded, at least in real terms. This is why our real identity needs a secure foundation before tying it to one thing alone, such as our roles. When the goal eludes us we are best to consider the elements of the next try, and not our self-worth. Allen Iverson never stopped believing in himself, that he could make every shot he took. He did not think of himself as less for failing to achieve that goal despite his failure to do so. Very few NBA players shoot better than 50 percent.
In the end, we mean to make a difference, however small. Remember, the definition of success is the accomplishment of a planned goal. At times it requires that we go at it again and again. We might all be reading by candlelight had not Thomas Edison performed 10,000 experiments before his light bulb succeeded.