Life is a Game of Inches

This weekend two great football teams play each other in the 55th Super Bowl. Whatever you think of these teams, you cannot deny that they are playing football at the highest level, each representing the pinnacle of excellence in their conferences.  

Both teams fought their way through one of the most challenging seasons in American football history, with COVID-19 making it dangerous even to set foot on the field. Game by game, they fought to make it to the playoffs and win their division and conference championships. Now they stand ready to fight their way through four more quarters, yard-by-yard, inch-by-inch to the championship. 

I am reminded of a great scene in the film Any Given Sunday. Al Pacino stars as the football coach Tony D’Amato. He delivers an inspiring speech to his players before one of the biggest games of their careers. Tony’s team is like all teams — a disparate group of different people from all walks of life, with varying points of view and other beliefs — but they have to come together and fight as a team to win. 

“Life is just a game of inches,” Tony says, “So is football. Because in either game — life or football — the margin for error is so small. I mean, one half step too late or too early, you don't quite make it. One-half second too slow or too fast, and you don't quite catch it.” 

My own time as a high school football player taught me this is true. Every game is a fight, and the guy willing to go the extra yard, run the extra lap, do the extra weights in the gym is the guy who is going to build that extra muscle to claw his way down those extra inches on the football field to win the game.  

A lot of the people I played football with were very different from me. They came from different walks of life, had different personalities, and different accents. None of that mattered. Football is the ultimate equalizer. On the football field there is equal opportunity for success. The football field does not care where you grew up, how much money you have, whether your parents loved you, or what you ate for breakfast. 

Can you score? Can you tackle? Can you kick? Are you motivated? If so, you might get that extra inch. You might win that fight. You might win the game.  

Business is a lot like playing football. The waste and recycling business I operate in is arguably the toughest business in the world. Tough players, tough logistics, tough margins. The business did not care that we had Silicon Valley engineers. It did not care that I came from Kentucky, from a working-class family. The business did not care how much money we had raised. Can we fight? Can Rubicon, the company I founded, go toe-to-toe with the incumbent waste companies to win the customers, the businesses, the routes? 

At Rubicon, we had to be scrappers. We had to fight, inch-by-inch, to break into this business. Each initial victory was not a big victory, but we built on them to achieve big things one after the other. We have "inched" our way to a company with more than 300 people operating in 20 countries with a market valuation well in excess of $1 billion. 

At Rubicon, like in Any Given Sunday, we looked around at the people next to us and saw people willing to go the extra inch, and we formed a team ready to scrap its way to the top of this business. Like Tampa Bay and Kansas City on their way to the Super Bowl. 

This Sunday, we will see which of those two teams is willing to go the extra inch. Which team has what it takes to give more, play harder, score more points. One team will win, and the other will lose, and the difference will be a matter of inches. 

In business, you are well served to see every day as your Super Bowl. Every day, fight for a new goal, look for more in the tank, and claw the extra inch. That is what will set you apart from the competition and how you will succeed — inch-by-inch.

More blogs