What Creative Businesses Can Learn From Ping Pong


Oh, ping pong.  What a strange game.  Two people, holding tiny rubber paddles, hit a small hollow ball at each other across a miniature raised tennis court.  How could it relate to anything that you do as a business leader and project manager?  Well, there are six main ways:

1.  Feedback, feedback, feedback.

Ping pong is all about back and forth, just like your relationship with your client.  The ball switches courts every time someone hits it with their paddle.  You have to try to hit the ball so that it bounces on your opponent’s side of the table.  If you don’t, you’ll lose the game or just make a fool of yourself.

So it goes for business!  You want to cater to your client, always throwing the ball on their side of the table.  You want to deliver great service.  But how do you know if you’re succeeding?  Well, your client will bounce the ball right back to you.

Feedback.  How the ball comes back at you will tell you exactly how good of a job you’re doing, and exactly how good of a client your “opponent” is.  If the ball falls short of the net, your client may be too selfish, wanting his or her way with things instead of compromising.  They’ll be demanding that you conform to all of their needs, even if they may be impossible or they go against your prior agreements.  If it falls off the table, that may mean that your client has no idea what they’re doing and doesn’t know exactly what to ask of you.  They may spout serious nonsense about what they need you to do, and may be confused or ignorant about how much to pay you.  If it lands perfectly on your side of the table, you have a good working relationship, with a perfect balance of compromise and a good sense of the project’s requirements on both sides.  Of course, account for speed and spin…they may be asking too much of you at times, or they may be frustrated with how you are doing your job.

The key here is good communication.  Ask for suggestions.  Ask if there is anything else that they want done.  Ask if your services have met or exceeded their expectations, and if not, how they could improve.  Oh, and be sure to give them feedback, too.

2.  Never drop the ball.

When first starting to play ping pong, it’s difficult.  The ball flies all over the place, and it seems impossible to hit it just the right way.  It falls off the table, bouncing away with surprising speed.  This game though, with your client, can’t go that way.  You cannot let the ball bounce away, watching with a slight wince as it goes (also, do not chase after it flailing;  nothing more cringe-worthy than that).

So don’t drop the ball.  Keep the game going.  Even if there’s a setback, work through it.  There is nothing worse that a business can do for a client than let a project go to the wayside.  Manage your time and priorities well, then make sure you make deadlines.  Don’t forget that you are being paid to do something that is of the utmost importance for your client.  Make sure the project means that much for you too.

3.  It’s not interesting to focus on winning.

If you focused on simply finishing a project, calling it done, and cashing it in, it’d be a lot like a game of table tennis where one party just smashes the ball at the other, and the other doesn’t ever get a chance to hit back.  Boring.  We don’t want to watch how good you are at being quick and shoddy with your work.  We want to see a game where you take deliberate, graceful movements, and there is a good amount of back and forth.  As said before, this particular game is important for your client.  Don’t ruin it simply because you wanted payday to come yesterday.  There isn’t any satisfaction or pride in a quick score.

4.  Be flexible and creative.

Come into the project with a flexible mind.  Ping pong moves quickly, so you have to keep your mind free to focus on hitting the ball back correctly.  The state that many table tennis athletes enter is very similar to the creative flow of artists.  Let that energy guide you through your projects, and they are sure to go more smoothly.

5.  Don’t get discouraged.

The ball is going to fall off the table.  That’s okay.  Pick it up and try again.  Not every project is going to go smoothly.  In these situations, it’s easy to get discouraged.  Realize that not everything can go perfectly every time, and try to pick out lessons from the situation and point out exactly where things went awry.  Then, for your next project, avoid making those mistakes.

6.  Have fun!

The most important reason that anyone has ever played ping pong is that it’s fun.  Even when you have a bad game, or when you have a sore wrist for a couple days afterward, it was great just to have the experience.  There’s no reason that work should be any different.  If you aren’t enjoying seeing the progress and completion of a project, you may be in the wrong business.  Take pride in what you do and have a good time as well.


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And be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments!


Sara Border is a guest author who loves researching business management and is passionate about cultivating creativity while managing time to be efficient and productive.   She also likes to play ping pong, but she’s not very good at it yet.