Over the weekend, Floyd Mayweather fought what he claimed would be his last fight. Whether or not you know boxing, there is something instructive in what Mayweather has done. Unfortunately, it’s not about being great. Mayweather is retiring with an unblemished record in the ring: 49-0. This ties Rocky Marciano‘s unbeaten record, but there is a huge difference between the two. That difference makes a great business point as well.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For the last few years, Mayweather was fighting what are called in boxing “tomato cans.” Boxers either of far lesser skill or once great boxers past their prime. He has done so with one notion in mind: not to lose and keep his record clean. In so doing he can do something greats such as Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard couldn’t: retire unbeaten. That record, though, is criticized for how he hand-picked his opponents rather than fighting the best opponents available, something other great fighters rarely did. He was more focused on not losing than on beating the best. It’s a shame, and that’s the business point.
No one likes to lose. That said, what kind of victory is it when we know we’re not being pushed to be our best? In my mind, the lessons one learns from a tough loss are more important than those learned from an easy victory, mostly because in the unsatisfying walkover there really aren’t any lessons to be learned. That’s not to say we need to accept losing, but it does mean that we can’t compromise our greatness to avoid the possibility. The best business lessons often come when we’re on the short end of a decision, and we need to embrace the value of those losses even as we hate losing itself.
I suspect that Mayweather will fight again. His main focus has always been on making more money in the ring than any fighter in history (something he’s already accomplished) and he’ll win the fight easily because his opponent will be a joke (this last one lost his last three fights previous to fighting Mayweather). His bank account will shine; his reputation will be further tarnished. Unlike Marciano who fought everyone both good and bad in his weight class, Mayweather may be undefeated but he’s been beaten, in my book. Yours?
You might be a fan of the sweet science or you might think it’s barbaric. In either case, there’s something to be learned from the big fight that took place over the weekend. I mean the Manny Pacquiao – Timothy Bradley bout that ended with Bradley winning in a split decision. From the minute the result was announced there have been calls for an investigation. There is an excellent article summarizing the issues in USA Today which also looks at 9 other bouts that had controversial decisions rendered by the judges. Of course, the issue isn’t really with the judgement – it’s with the entire system of a judged sport.
Gymnastics, diving, figure skating, freestyle skiing – there’s a pretty long list of sports in which winners are decided not by a clock or a scoreboard but by a human being’s impression. Boxing is a hybrid – in theory a knockout or other stoppage negates the need for judges at all (although we could argue the referee’s judgement about when someone is incapable of defending themselves plays a role too). What does any of that have to do with your business?
Think about how often we insert our own judgement in decision-making when we don’t have to. Which version of an ad is more effective? Which page design is better? What packaging will attract more customers? What types of content increase engagement? Often we look to the HiPPO involved – the highest paid person’s opinion – when it’s very possible to conduct simple A/B tests or spend a few hours looking at existing data. We ignore the scoreboard and go to the judges. We’re generally not making art – we’re conducting commerce. Because of that, what I happen to like is less important than which customer-facing experience yield the best return.
In the digital world, its pretty easy to test, adjust, and re-test ad infinitum. In the non-digital world, product tests, packing tests, etc. are the norm (I’m often disappointed to find that some great product I’ve found is just a test and disappears). We all need to abandon our egos and learn to love our data a bit more. Otherwise, we might end up like Manny – on the wrong end of a bad decision.
Image via Wikipedia
Growing up, I used to follow boxing. It was pretty easy to be a fan – there weren’t a lot of weight classes, there was a single sanctioning body that mattered so there was only one champion in each weight class, and it was on free TV (although pay TV didn’t exist yet) every week. In short, it was simple and fan friendly. A high-quality product was made available each week and promoters and TV networks did everything they could to get me to watch.
What does this have to do with the broadband (and wireless for that matter) business? Continue reading