An Agile Lesson from Rafael Nadal

Sometimes you have to lose a bit to know how to win.

At the 2017 US Open, Rafael Nadal won his 3rd Open championship and his 16th Major. He decisively beat his long-time big serving friend Kevin Anderson 6–3, 6–3, 6–4 in 2hr 27min.

Rafa had a fairly comfortable run through the 2017 Open draw, not meeting any player ranked in the top 20. However, there was one player, Juan Martín del Potro, who could have ended Nadal’s run. Del Potro had already taken out Federer in the previous quarter-final round and seemed to be hitting his tournament peak at just the right time.

Nadal’s strategy going into the match was to keep hitting to Del Potro’s backhand as that was his weak spot. If your opponent has a flaw then exploiting that seems like a logical strategy. Nadal lost the first set 4–6.

Sometimes you have to lose a bit to know how to win. I changed my plan because it was very obvious and that is what made the difference — Rafael Nadal

In the case of brand strategy and web development, instead of looking at it as ‘losing’ before you ‘win’, we need to look at research/strategy/design/development as the process of learning. Not something that is embedded in concrete. Outlining a clear goal is critical at the beginning of a project but how you get to the end needs to be flexible and agile. You come up with a plan based on what you know, set it in motion, learn from it and adjust it.

Although testing and retesting a strategy in a tennis match might be easier as the results are near immediate, we should apply the same approach to project strategy and scope. This is more difficult especially when there are timelines, scoping and budget already assessed. However, lifting our heads and confirming that a strategy is still working during a project cycle is much easier than seeing a project through with an outdated strategy and trying to fix it at the end.

Rafa ended up winning against Del Potro, 4–6, 6–0, 6–3, 6–2. That’s a winning strategy.

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