The 'Inner Game" of Selling

Agent and Brokers Commentary: March 2023

Tennis Rackets

When I played tennis in high school, my bible was "The Inner Game of Tennis," by Tim Gallwey—a book that I see Bill Gates recently listed as one of his five all-time favorites. Many years later, I had the distinct pleasure of working with Tim for several years when I was a partner at Diamond Management & Technology Consultants and he was a fellow. He had already extended his Inner Game thinking to golf and skiing and, drawing on his work with Diamond, published "The Inner Game of Work" in 2001. So, I was intrigued when I recently met a longtime associate of Tim's, Jeffrey Lipsius, who has been developing the Inner Game of Sales for many years and who has some insights for agents and brokers.

The Inner Game has lots of subtleties, but my simplified version goes like this:

We all have two brains (what Tim calls "selves"). Brain 2 operates at a subconscious level and is the brain that is actually learning stuff, like how to swing a tennis racquet, how to get the timing right, how to adjust for wind and so on. Brain 2 is playing the Inner Game. Brain 1 plays the Outer Game. It provides the conscious structure for, say, tennis lessons and processes information from books and videos. It also kibitzes. It's what's telling you that you'll never learn, that there sure is a lot riding on this service game, that you're looking silly, that you really need to get your hips turned on your backhand, that your dad really wants your match to end so he can get on with his day and so on and on and on. 

I happen to have a very well-developed Brain 2

So, I was fascinated to watch how Tim would help people learn by basically giving Brain 1 a job to do to distract it so it wouldn't get in the way of Brain 2 as it did the serious job of the actual improvement. For instance, he once addressed an all hands meeting at Diamond and began by gently tossing an apple to people in the front row as he took the stage, then having them throw it back. When a woman nervously bobbled the apple three or four times, before dropping it on the floor, Tim said, "You'll do," and invited her up on stage. 

She wasn't too excited about whatever was about to happen in front of 1,000 people, but she was a good sport, and Tim quickly began to calm her Brain 1 by telling her he wasn't going to try to teach her how to catch an apple or anything else. Instead, he was just going to ask her some questions. He tossed the apple to her, and she dropped it. He said, "Okay, this time, I just want you to tell me whether I'm tossing the ball higher or lower than I did the first time." She dropped the apple again but correctly told him he'd tossed it higher. Tim repeated the exercise 10 or 15 times, giving Brain 1 a conscious task while Brain 2 got a sense of how to measure speed based on whether the arc of the apple was higher or lower and started to track location. Without even seeming to realize it, she began catching the apple, and with increasing confidence. Tim switched to a new question: "Is the apple spinning more or less than the previous time?" Brain 1 stayed distracted while Brain 2 learned about another key variable. In less than two minutes, she had learned so much and gained so much confidence that Tim started tossing the apple harder, then switched to throwing it overhand, with increasing pace, and she caught it every time.

Tim didn't TEACH her anything about catching that apple -- but she LEARNED how to do it, in an environment he created. He says that's the key distinction, and it's the main one that his colleague Jeffrey Lipsius offers for agents and brokers. They often see themselves as TEACHING clients and prospects about insurance, while looking for openings to make a pitch, which is the Outer Game approach. He suggests that agents and brokers employ the Inner Game, focusing clients and prospects on key variables (as Tim did with the height and spin of the apple) and giving them the opportunity to LEARN, first, what their needs are, and then how insurance can address those needs.

But I've oversimplified and likely garbled the thinking a bit, so I'll let Jeffrey explain at length in this month's interview.

P.S. Here are the six articles I'd like to highlight this month for agents and brokers:


The "customer-centric" concept isn't wrong, but anything “centric” requires a balance. Has the pendulum swung past the point of effectiveness? 


An effective tech leader has experience in insurance systems and processes but also understands organizations and the need to focus on efficiencies.


The industry should come together to conduct a wide-scale campaign to improve its reputation. The campaign would work. It has truth on its side. 


In developing technology solutions, one of the most overlooked and critical elements of delivering value to end users is empathy -- truly understanding their pain points. 


The next generation of insurers must look beyond traditional attributes and embrace new forms of data and analytics, including contextual, behavioral and motivational data.


Self-service automation is the next step in the insurance industry. The right solution can be a win-win for insurers and customers, while the wrong solution can irritate customers and ruin a carrier’s reputation.

Paul Carroll

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Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll is the editor-in-chief of Insurance Thought Leadership.

He is also co-author of A Brief History of a Perfect Future: Inventing the Future We Can Proudly Leave Our Kids by 2050 and Billion Dollar Lessons: What You Can Learn From the Most Inexcusable Business Failures of the Last 25 Years and the author of a best-seller on IBM, published in 1993.

Carroll spent 17 years at the Wall Street Journal as an editor and reporter; he was nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize. He later was a finalist for a National Magazine Award.


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