The Inner Game of Business

July 1, 2008
Stop criticizing your next move, and proceed with gusto!

The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey first hit the bookshelves in 1974. It struck a nerve so deep that the Inner Game principles were extended to books about golf, music and, in 1999, business, with The Inner Game of Work. In describing the inner game, Gallwey explains that “every game is composed of two parts, an outer game and an inner game,” and that the inner game “is played to overcome all habits of mind that inhibit excellence in performance.”

During a presentation at a tennis club in Camarillo, Calif., I heard Gallwey brilliantly apply these ideas to business. Some might challenge the idea that building a body shop business is a “game,” but consider Gallwey’s definition: an activity involving at least one player, a goal, some obstacle between the player and his goal, a field (physical or mental) on which the game is played, and a motive for playing.

“The skilled player in any game studies the competition. What tricks and tactics do they employ in the field of play? What are their strengths and weaknesses?”

In the body shop game, the goal is generally to maximize profits. The obstacles are many: the competition, government regulations, insurance company efforts to minimize costs and to direct where customers go for repairs, and of course, the economic conditions that affect how much money people have to spend.


Keeping in mind Gallwey’s perspective about poor, limiting habits of mind, what are the inner obstacles to effectively growing a body shop?

One is a negative attitude. If the owner does not believe she can improve her business by innovating and offering more for potential customers, then she has already lost the inner game.

Another obstacle is poor power of observation. The skilled player in any game studies the competition. What tricks and tactics do they employ in the field of play? What are their strengths and weaknesses? In any body shop’s market, there are strong and weak competitors. Ask yourself, who are the strongest competitors in your market area? What growth tactics do they employ? What tactics seem to be working for them?

The professional athlete studies video of fellow contenders. How can you obtain more detailed information on your body shop competition? Very often all you need to do is a little networking when you get together with your peers at your local association meeting or regional trade show. Many shop owners like to brag about their victories. You can gain valuable information by sharpening both your questioning and listening skills.


Gallwey says that the most destructive habit of mind is negative “self-talk.” He notes that amateurs sabotage their game with a continuous stream of inner comments to themselves, like: “you hit that ball too high, you’ll never get it right” and “damn you, you hit the ball too soon again.” He points out that top competitors instead focus their attention on the seams of the ball, the position of the racket and the field of play. They have no time for inner dialogue. Amateurs remain amateurs partly because of this self-defeating inner conversation habit.

Many shop owners tell me they want more insurance business, yet the only effort they make to communicate with insurance people is to mail a few brochures or to make an occasional superficial call on some local company office.

Like novice athletes approaching an unfamiliar game, many shop owners approach the task of growing their shop with a great deal of self-doubt, uncertainty and even pessimism. Perhaps they’re already buying into that negative self-talk. Gallwey would have them plunge into playing the game without the burden of negative self-talk or concern for what critics might be saying. He would have them put total concentration on the elements of the game rather than on winning or losing.


At one point in his career, Gallwey argued against a completely competitive, out-to-win attitude. But that changed when he realized that a worthy opponent gave him the opportunity to strive for greater excellence. He now champions the value of having competitors and many difficult obstacles to overcome, seeing them as motivation to surpass your limits. How many shop owners would rejoice at having a new competitor down the block? Gallwey would say that to win the game, you must plunge into the outer arena of play without yielding to the inner self-talk.

If you can approach the inner and outer skills of growing your business with the same determination that you have put into delivering a high quality autobody repair product, chances are you will emerge victorious.

Tom Franklin, author of Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth, has been a sales and marketing consultant for more than 40 years.

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