A Little Book About Choosing to Play Big

Author Terri Sjodin reappropriates the term for today’s businesspeople.

In an iconic scene from the pilot episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” is this exchange between gruff TV news producer Lou Grant and bright-faced job applicant Mary Richards:

Lou: You know what? You’ve got spunk.
Mary: Well, yes…
Lou: I hate spunk.

Like “spunk,” “scrappiness” used to be one of those diminutive terms applied to women in business when traits such as perseverance and grit were considered unladylike. But in her new book Scrappy, Terri Sjodin reappropriates the term for today’s businesspeople. Using case study research, interviews and personal experience, Sjodin identifies the habits that define scrappiness in business and professional life. To her, scrappiness means cultivating your best ideas, recovering from mistakes and creating a culture that values good ideas and perseverance.

Sjodin, a public speaking and sales training consultant who is a sought-after speaker in her own right, breaks down scrappiness into three elements — attitude, strategy and execution — and organizes the book accordingly. Having a scrappy attitude means forging ahead when facing unforeseen obstacles that would make lesser souls quit. This can-do attitude is balanced by well-thought-out strategy and agile execution, which often open up new paths to the same goal.

As the word suggests, there is something lighthearted and joyful about scrappiness that differentiates it from sterner vocabulary for similar traits, such as resiliency or resolution. This comes across particularly in the chapter on risks, mistakes and failures. You can put scrappiness into practice:

Define your risk tolerance. Sjodin defines risk tolerance emotionally (there’s no use taking a risk if it makes you a nervous wreck) and literally in the sense of how much money, reputation or other assets you are willing and able to put on the line. The ideal definition encompasses both.

Stay true to your brand and personality. As Sjodin explains it, every action you take, whether personal or professional, is another piece in the jigsaw puzzle of how others see you. Both Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift are scrappy, she explains, but in completely different ways.

Beware the pitfalls. While Sjodin encourages boundless creative thinking, she draws the line at foolish, inappropriate or unethical behavior. Scrappy strategy is realistic, while scrappy execution is based in common sense.

Consider the consequences. Finally, Sjodin recommends looking before you leap by conducting a “premortem” before any project to anticipate possible failures and take steps to reduce their likelihood or mitigate their effects.

If you want to bring more energy, foresight and boldness to your business and personal life, it may be time to get “Scrappy” — the book and the attitude.

Scrappy – A Little Book About Choosing to Play Big,” Terri Sjodin. ©2016 Portfolio/Penguin.

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