It’s Not Failure, It’s Feedback – Lessons from Tennis Legend Billie Jean King

By Breanna Banford, Social Marketing Specialist, Xerox Enterprise Business Group

With 12 Grand Slam singles titles, 16 Grand Slam women’s doubles titles, and 11 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles, it’s clear that Billie Jean King knows how to take control on the tennis court.  She is also the founder of the Women’s Tennis Association and the Women’s Sports Foundation. It was amazing to be in her presence knowing how much she advocates for women’s empowerment. Her contribution to our culture goes beyond “tennis legend.”

As Kevin Warren, president of United States Client Operations for Xerox, said before Billie stepped in front of the crowd of attentive Xerox customers, “She personifies innovation and impact.” She led the way for women in sports and beyond. Billie Jean King entered to a standing ovation in a room of people who understood her influence on the evolution and advancement of the game of tennis. She spoke to the group about the importance of innovation no matter the industry – whether it’s in the game of tennis or a company like Xerox. She called Ursula Burns one of her “sheros” (female hero) for her contribution and accomplishments in business.

Billie Jean King Breanna Banford Focus Forward US Open
Breanna Banford (left) and Billie Jean King (right).

Speaking candidly, Billie explained the major changes that took place during the 1970s, stating it was a “tumultuous time.” She said the tennis players then were part of a transition generation. She also reminded the group that in tennis in the ‘70s there were no trainers, no massage or physical therapists and definitely no instant replays. A lot has changed since then – even the rackets are completely transformed. Today, tennis rackets are super lightweight, have a bigger sweet spot to hit the ball and many tennis players care most about the strings (the thinner, the better). All these changes were necessary to improve and advance the sport.

Similar to the game of tennis, any person and any organization must recognize the importance of evolution. Billie said failure is a bad word; rather look at it on the flip side – it’s feedback. With a positive outlook, ask: what can you do differently? How do you adjust and learn from your mistake?

As Billie said, “Champions keep playing until they get it right.” It’s important to learn from the past and take risks. Without risk, you may not be pushing the limits to reach or exceed the expectations you set for yourself. In business and in life, sometimes failure is a necessity on the path to success.

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  1. Dinesh Srirangpatna September 12, 2012 -

    Bille Jean is truly an inspiration..and her words of wisdom are true. My engineering manager used to often quote Thomas Edison in our projects, ” “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

  2. Breanna Banford (Xerox employee) September 13, 2012 -

    Thanks, Dinesh – It was great to hear Billie’s advice. She is an inspiration for continued success and perseverance. I love that Edison quote too – learning from mistakes is an important part of the process in whatever you may be working on.

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