I played (badly) in a golf tournament over the weekend and on the heels of that I saw an article that triggered some business thinking.
The piece was from last week and was on ABC News’ site. It is about a paper written, as it turns out, in 2010 by a professor at the Kellogg School of Management and concerns what the author called the “Tiger Woods Effect” (you knew it would relate to golf, didn’t you?). The author – Jennifer Brown – explained it this way to the Wall Street Journal:
Ms. Brown argues that the superstar effect is not just relevant on the golf course. Instead, she suggests that the presence of superstars can be “de-motivating” in a wide variety of competitions, from the sales office to the law firm. “Most people assume that competing against an elite performer makes everyone else step up their game and perform better,” Ms. Brown says. “But the Tiger Woods data demonstrate that the opposite can also occur. It doesn’t matter if the superstar is an athlete or a corporate vice president. After all, why should we invest a lot of energy in a tournament that we’re probably going to lose?”
Do we set ourselves up for failure by surveying the competitive landscape and recognizing the presence of some superstars in our competitive area or is that motivation to beat them? I always make the distinction between losing and being beaten. The latter is easier to swallow in my book – you did your best and someone was better that day. Losing, however, stings – we know we were capable of so much more and didn’t perform.
It’s an easy out to discount your chances due to the presence of a superstar brand or firm or individual. Mike Tyson used to win a lot of his fights without throwing a punch because his opponents would see him across the ring and a look of fear would cross their faces. Pre-game trash talking is, in my mind, as much about bringing the opponent down to your level as it is false bravado.
We need to be fearless. Even superstars have a bad day. Once Tiger’s veil of invulnerability was lifted due to him being beaten on the course and his troubles off of it, the rest of the field recognized that they could win no matter what he did. That was the case all along, by the way – they just stopped beating themselves.
What will it be? The choice is yours.