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As I was reading the sports section with my breakfast this morning, a couple of articles caught my attention. How they were written and how the topics were covered popped a business thought into my head and I’d like to share it.

If you’ve ever read the screed before, it’s no secret to you that I am sort of obsessed with golf. Naturally, I read the reports of the weekend’s events. The men’s tour was near Washington, DC., and the man winning the tournament was a bit of a surprise. He was a first-time winner, has an interesting back story, and fought off some of the best players on the Tour for the win. 80% of the article, however, had nothing to do with him. It was all about Tiger Woods, currently ranked #266 in the world, and a blow-by-blow of his rounds. We got none of that about the winner. I get it: Tiger’s performance, or lack thereof of late, is always THE story in golf. More about this in a second.

On the women’s side, the Women’s British Open was won by Inbee Park, who completed the career grand slam (winning every major at least once) at the ripe old age of 27. It has only been done a handful of times previously. The story received all of maybe a hundred words.

The article about the men’s tour was half a page, and the focus was not on the real news. After all, many other players finished ahead of Tiger or scored as well. The biggest golf news of the weekend was that one woman, who has captured six of the last fourteen majors the women have played, won again. My point isn’t that the women aren’t getting any respect either.

The business point is that we must always remember that when we get news and information from any source, it is generally filtered to reflect someone’s point of view. The editors decided Tiger’s ok weekend is more interesting than a first-time win or a huge achievement by a woman. You may be getting weekly reports of sales, opportunities, personnel, etc. that bury the real story.  It’s incumbent on us as businesspeople to ask questions about everything we read.  Is this research biased?  What’s the self-interest of someone who shares some news?  What isn’t in a report I’m reading?

The information we get is only as good as the editor chooses to make it.  Giving a ton of golf coverage to a guy who finished in a tie for 18th may distract you from the real story.  In business, our job is to find those stories and edit them into the narrative.  Agreed?

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The Ryder Cup’s Lessons

The Ryder Cup 2012

The Ryder Cup 2012 (Photo credit: proforged)

I said to myelf late last week I wasn’t going to do it.

The notion popped into my head to discuss The Ryder Cup but I said “no, it’s really a business blog and you’re spending way too much time on golf even if it does relate to business.”  Then, of course, The Ryder Cup actually took place and the final day was one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever seen in sport (even the Mrs. sat down and watched which generally requires it to be The Olympics or some sport set to music).

There are some great business points we can take away from the competition, no matter how you feel about the outcome.  The European side made a historic comeback on the last day – equalling the one made by the U.S. side in 1999.  The Americans didn’t lose this thing – the Europeans won it.  That’s a big difference.  When your opponent makes three long (over 25 feet) putts in a row to win the last three holes, you were beaten, you didn’t lose.  I wrote about that a few months ago and that will suffice.

Another thing you might hear about today was how badly a few members of the U.S. team performed throughout.  Tiger Woods earned 1/2 a point in 4 tries.  Steve Stricker, who was put on the team as a Captain’s pick mostly because Tiger likes to play with Steve as his partner, didn’t earn a single point.  Lesson: you can’t count on a high performer who is in a slump to break out of that slump as a strategy.  While Tiger has demonstrated that his game can be what it once was in VERY limited doses (one or two rounds out of a four round tournament), he is far from the consistently dominating player he was 10 years ago.  Counting on any great performer who is off form is not a sound strategy (and Tiger has never played well in Ryder Cup!).

Lesson 2: changing your business strategy to honor the wishes of someone who isn’t a key to the plan (Stricker on the team to benefit Tiger), is nuts.  Even though Steve is a top player, there were other players left off the team who have been playing better the last few months and might have been better choices.   As the CEO (or team captain in this case), you do what’s right for the overall strategy.

Lesson 3:  the power of strong motivation.  The Europeans were playing the first Cup since the death of Ryder Cup legend, Spaniard Seve Ballesteros.  He was a mentor to many of the golfers on the team and the team literally wore Seve on their bags and shirts.   This team would not quit and was highly motivated to honor his memory.  As leaders, it’s our job to foster this sort of passion.

Finally, we learn the lesson of working as a team.  Golf is a solitary sport yet The Ryder Cup forces golfers to play matches as a team two of the three days.  The Captain needs to send out singles matches with the overall team’s play in mind on the third day.  For whatever reason, The European golfers seem to be able to subordinate their own egos and style of play to that of the team while the Americans have more difficulty   Something to think about when hiring and something to stress to your team.  It’s a different game working as a unit.  Not everyone can adjust.

This was great drama and a massive display of skill and passion by the Euros.  Like Seve, who often made impossible shots look routine, they were inspired by their Captain to “believe” (his word) that they could do the impossible and come back.  They did believe, they did come back.  Can you get your team to that same sort of belief in themselves?

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Taking Your Medicine

JOHNS CREEK, GA - AUGUST 13:  Rory McIlroy (R)...

Image by Getty Images

You just knew there would be some sort of post about golf this morning.  After all, PGA Championship, the season’s final major finished up yesterday and of course I watched almost every minute.  I took a few things away  from watching over the last four days.  It would be fun to write about Tiger‘s troubles (I always wanted to play like him and after watching him hitting into the trees, the sand, and the water, I think I can!) but I think I’ll save that post.  Instead, I want to write about a decision another golfer made that illustrates a great business point. Continue reading

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