Career lessons from playing hockey

December 11, 2018 by

The connection between ice hockey and marketing is sort of like the link between “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” [Enter me, Shawn Murphy, a marketing PM working in the Microsoft Office division and avid ice hockey player since I was a boy in Michigan.]

Much like marketing, hockey is a game of stamina and finesse that requires a great deal of practice and dedication to perfect. But perfection is a myth. It’s all about the journey. After years of playing hockey, here are some things I learned from the sport that directly apply to business.

Different players have different styles, but you learn them and adapt

Just as you must anticipate the change-of-pace move from the guy with the puck, you must anticipate and adapt to the work styles of your colleagues. Some people are overwhelmed and could use a hand. Others struggle with communicating but are exceptional planners. Just plan to hit the poor communicator with several clarification questions and an inordinate number of emails. Under no circumstances deliver a body check to anyone in the hallway.

There’s always someone better

Yes, indeed, there is always someone better than you on the ice and in the office. Do not be discouraged, be inspired. You can learn from better players and co-workers by emulating their work styles and their moves. Today, I am extremely detail-oriented when it comes to planning and communications, but I had to hone that skill after working for an exceptionally detail-oriented boss.

Leverage your strengths

On the ice, I have always been fast. Although I wanted to be the guy who could stick-handle his way around five players and score a goal, it took a teammate to tell me, “Hey, you’re the fastest one out there, why not just blow past them,” duh. At work, I have relied on my writing ability. That’s what landed me in technology marketing in the first place. However, you must pick up other things to have a full toolkit, like attention to detail.

Some players are good at everything—thank God they’re in the NHL

There are those rare ducks that are just as adept at writing code as writing a marketing piece or orchestrating a trade show and talking to customers. I have worked with only one of them, and he was the founder of the company. When they speak, my advice is to listen.

There’s natural ability and there’s practice

Now this one is tough to admit, but on the continuum of raw talent vs. acquired skills, I would say I am something around 60/40 in both hockey and marketing. Conditioning helps a lot. Practice makes perfect and that axiom is just as relevant in the workplace. I have learned a great deal since I began my marketing career in various domains. Technology is always changing, and you must learn new things almost daily—things like delayed detonation as a function of email security, or Exchange Server’s built-in archiving capabilities.

Turns out, all that time on the ice not only made me a better hockey player, it also made me better at my job.