Monday, August 10th, 2009
competitive keys

At the beginning of the year, it was possible to hope that Tiger Woods would be arriving at Hazeltine National Golf Club this week with the opportunity to capture the elusive calendar Grand Slam and also tie Jack Nicklaus for the most professional major championships ever won.  Alas, it was not to be.Much to my chagrin, since I am the chair of Hazeltine’s Heritage Committee.

Golf is under a lot of pressure these days, with rounds played down and equipment sales down and corporations somewhat afraid to attach their names to tournaments — even though such support is usually effective brand advertising and local charities benefit greatly as a result of a successful event.  This posting, however, is not a “state of golf” one, but a reflection on the dynamics of the game, which has never suffered for a shortage of analogies to life itself.  Others have commented that the quality of the literature about a sport varies inversely with the size of the ball used, and there is much for writers of all kinds to plumb in golf.the research puzzle | I took a crack at it once before, counseling investors and firms to consider what to do when they are “out of position.”

Similarly, Accenture has used Woods in a string of clever advertisements that explore the human elements of the game in ways that define the nature of play on the course and in business.Accenture | The campaign has evolved somewhat recently, with the inclusion of “economic adversity advertising.”  This link is a gateway to all of the ads referenced. They are presented as simple percentages of two important competitive attributes making up a whole, so one could spend a lot of time quibbling about the numbers.  For example, is golfing really 75% thinking about reward and 25% thinking about risk?  I know that at Hazeltine you generally need a healthier respect for what can go wrong than that, and that’s probably true in the markets as well, as we have discovered.

Many of the word pairings in the campaign are reflective of themes that I have written about since starting this blog, like agility versus stability, information and interpretation, right brain and left brain, and “what you did” as quite unimportant compared to “what you do next.”  A couple of the Accenture ads seem appropriate to golf and fit with the campaign, but are not as transferable to business.  Lining up a putt is more than just heart and nerve (there’s slope and grain and even wind to consider — and the feel of the green through your feet), and while there are certain business tasks that come down to those two factors, most don’t.Still, I like that ad, and think that the pounding of the heart and the calming of the nerves provide nice imagery and do fit in some circumstances.  Imagine the moment of stepping up to a podium to give a speech.

Of all of the messages, this is the one that seems most important to me (at least now):


Finding that balance is so important.  Many business opportunities and investment ideas are studied to the nth degree, with each piece of additional minutiae examined with a microscope — even though there may be a very simple factor that is all that really matters in the end.  Conversely, an observer of the markets is confronted by lots of electronic chatter these days that indicates that many make trades based upon only the scantest of information, with “a whim and a prayer” the apparent analytical approach.

Is 50/50 about right?  As always, it depends on the situation, but that seems a good starting point.  Having a healthy balance between macro and micro perspectives — and a willingness to see the wisdom of either approach — is as important in business as it is in golf.  Sometimes you get to hit a booming drive to a wide fairway and at other times you must tap the ball five feet with a perfect combination of pace and target or you will miss a shot that looked easy but wasn’t.

Those with a complete game tend to win.