business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

There’s probably not a thing I do in life as well as Phil Mickelson plays golf, so it’s hard or me to criticize an athlete with his level of skills. But every now and again, athletes say and do things that just remind all of us in business of the thin line between good and great or victory and defeat.

Unless you have been living on Mars for the past week, you are probably aware that Tiger Woods just won another major golf tournament. It wasn’t so much that he won it; it was how he did it. Grimacing in pain after many shots thanks to recent knee surgery, Tiger managed to win when it was clear he was struggling to play his best.

Even if you hate golf, you owe it to yourself to watch Tiger.

And along the way, you have to watch Phil Mickelson. Mickelson is arguably the second best golfer on the planet, which is no small feat. He makes shots that others can’t even imagine and plays with a level of excellence and flair way beyond nearly all his peers and far beyond us mere mortals.

So it struck me that at the beginning of this recent tournament he reviewed the golf course by predicting no player would get a score close to even par. (For the non-golfers out there, par is the score you get if you play the course exactly as designed. Playing below par is golf is a good thing because you took fewer shots.)

Much as he predicted, Michelson struggled to get close to even par. Had his prediction been correct, he might have won the tournament. Instead he finished 19th. Golf fans might blame it on specific bad choices he made on the course, but the bottom line is this: he performed exactly to the level he predicted it would take to win. And he lost.

Tiger (and one other golfer) shot better than par. I don’t recall any predictions from Tiger. His predictions are usually pretty limited and his results are anything but. For Tiger, the impossible always seems possible. No doubt it has a great deal to do with training, discipline, practice and unnatural person gifts. And no doubt, Mickelson has all these same traits. He probably practices and trains just as hard.

It’s highly unlikely that Mickelson actually lived up to his prediction, but then again, that’s what self-fulfilling prophecies are all about. How often in business do we approach problems by carefully measuring all the things we know can’t happen? How often do we start out with diminished expectations of success? And then, how often do we achieve exactly what we expected?

I was reminded of this by a pretty bright operator recently, who was bemoaning a discussion he had with some fellow retailers. These other retailers, he said, have basically given up, deciding they no longer can compete with today’s competitors or keep pace with the rush of challenges they have each day. Instead, they are just playing out the string instead of trying to improve.

In short, they are beaten before they start. They’ve looked at the odds and determined that they will lose.

Whatever criticism you could have a Phil Mickelson, he never plays to lose. In fact he usually plays great. It’s just sometimes he seems to forget what he’s up against.

It makes you wonder if the same can be said for all of us. To paraphrase the ads for one major consultant: ask yourself, are you a Tiger…or a Phil?

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .
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