By Will Carlin

In 2007 I was working for a client with a very cool technology platform. NeighborhoodScout had built an incredibly comprehensive database of over 600 characteristics that they used to create a neighborhood profile for every single address in the United States.

While you could simply search the database for any criteria (school quality, housing costs, crime rates, the density of buildings, the proportion of families with children, home price appreciation and hundreds more), the platform had something much more powerful: the ability to match all the characteristics of one neighborhood to any location in the U.S.

Imagine, for example, that you loved Cambridge, Massachusetts, but you were relocating to Seattle, Washington. The platform allowed you to see what neighborhoods near Seattle were most like Cambridge. You didn’t have to select criteria, and you didn’t have to understand the interplay of the 600 characteristics that made Cambridge what it was. You merely clicked “Match it,” and the results returned immediately.

What most people did, however, was think mostly about what they wanted in a home: a large outdoor lawn, two floors, at least two bedrooms and the like. They found one that seemed perfect. And then they moved.

Let’s say the house turned out to be everything they hoped for, but it turned out that they liked to walk around town, and now the nearest town was miles away. By car. And it was not really suited for walking. In their old neighborhood, there were lots of things nearby: museums, theaters, local shops and lots and lots of local restaurants. The area around their new home had none of these, and the couple wasn’t happy.

When NeighborhoodScout returned its results, it gave each location a percentage match to your ideal neighborhood. I thought the platform was innovative and informative, and I believed it was a potential game-changer for the entire real estate industry. And for our imaginary couple, it turned out that their perfect house was in an area that was only a 19% match to their ideal neighborhood, while just a few miles away was a pretty good house (though not perfect) in a community that was almost a 70% match. They surely would have been happier if they had chosen neighborhood before house.

That triggered my marketing idea: a national campaign showing the silliness of doing things out of order.

Step one: plan your wedding. Step two: go on your first date.

Step one: jump out of a plane. Step two: put on your parachute.

Step one: brush your teeth; Step two: put toothpaste on your toothbrush.

From the mundane to the profound, the examples would use humor to make clear the importance of correct sequencing… including, of course, finding the perfect neighborhood before looking for the right home.

And I loved our tagline: “The right order is everything.”

Sometimes, though, that order isn’t immediately apparent.

If, for example, I were to ask you the proper sequence to move to a squash ball and hit it. You might say something like move to the ball, prepare your racquet, hit the ball and recover. Seems reasonable.

In fact, that was pretty much my answer when squash coach, Richard Millman, asked me that question. “In your four steps, there are two errors,” he said. “Do you know what they are?”

With only four steps, it wasn’t hard to put racquet preparation ahead of moving, but then I was stumped; was there truly another error? I couldn’t see it.

“You are right about racquet prep coming first,” he said. “The other issue is when you start to recover.”

Huh? I didn’t get it. Was he saying that I should recover before hitting the ball? Really?

“Yes,” Millman said, answering my silent question. “With your racquet prepared, you should move to the ball. Then you should start your recovery, and while moving away, hit the ball.”

He went on to explain that the best movers in the world appear so fast because they understand the importance of being ready for the next shot—so they begin leaving before they start swinging. The timing is fractional, but it makes all the difference.

I have to admit I was skeptical. It took only five minutes, however, to convince the best mover the U.S. has ever produced, Mark Talbott. Richard introduced the sequence when Mark worked with Millman before the 1995 Pan Am Games. After puzzling over it in his head and asking a question or two, Mark gave it a go. Executing it almost flawlessly from the start, Talbott became giddy with excitement. Already renowned for his defense, he realized he could be even better, and his court positioning immediately improved.

Many years later, my court position also improved (though it took me a heckuva lot longer than five minutes), and when I recognized it, my belief in Millman’s sequence became entrenched.

In the fall of 2018, I happened to be on the same flight as Ali Farag the day after he won the Oracle NetSuite Open in San Francisco. We began talking about coaching, and eventually, I brought up Millman’s sequence. At first, Ali looked doubtful. “I don’t understand,” he said. “How would that work?”

Oblivious to the other passengers in the waiting area, I jumped up, grabbed a racquet and did my best to demonstrate (very aware, mind you, that my audience was the future No. 1 player in the world).

“I do that!” Farag said, his face lighting up. “But I think of it as flow. I don’t ever want to be static, so I try to flow in and out of a shot.” So cool. Different words, same idea.

Not everyone buys it.

The NeighborhoodScout team didn’t like my advertising concept, either. I kept hoping they would try it (stubbornly, I still think it would have gone viral), just as I hope you might try leaving before striking. Regardless, there is the same underlying truth.

The right order is everything.