Of all the sport-related analogies in business, the one that is missing most often is practice time.

By practice, I don't mean training or courses, but working to improve without risk. The opposite of this is performance, which is when people need to perform at their best and show results.

The issue is that companies believe they should always be in performance mode. It's unrealistic and leaves little room for what drives results and innovation.

Just like basketball players who practice their shots and teamwork before any game, businesses need their practice courts, but where are they? No matter how talented an athlete or team is, they cannot win without practice.

Over the years, I have encouraged a few effective things for practice:

  • Let people wander for a while with a big problem in mind
  • Create space for experimentation and play for no particular project
  • Opportunities for personal passions to seep in
  • Space for deep team conversations about the nature of the work and their craft
  • Having a set percentage of projects that fail

All of these things may seem like a waste of time or a lack of focus – and make any leader instantly nervous. But no great innovation was born out of knowing everything upfront. For any company that wants to innovate, creating space for practice is essential. It is where the shots become more consistent, teamwork improves, and ingenious ideas on how to win form.

The best players practice a thousand times before they show up to a big game. Let's help people everywhere else do the same.