Tiger Woods and the Winner-Takes-All Effect

What Tiger did in golf, you may need to do in your industry.

Where is Tiger Woods?

His name was missing from the Master’s Tournament Leaderboard today.

And as it turns out, he’s still injured and so isn’t actually playing this tournament, but the fact is, his was the first name I checked. And this is ridiculous given that:

- He hasn’t played competitive golf since August (8 months ago)

- He hasn’t won a major since 2008 — 8 years ago!

And yet, I am sure that other people checking golf scores today also thought about Tiger. He was a golfing phenomenon and won’t be easily forgotten.

Yesterday I read this article “What Happened to Tiger Woods? It’s the Most Vexing Question in Sports” and it confirmed what I believe about the “winner-takes-all” world we live in.

When Tiger was on top of his game, there was no oxygen left for anyone else. He dominated golf completely and utterly.

This sort of scenario is actually being repeated in every industry. It may not be one person dominating, but a few at the top. The spoils are increasingly going to superstars. For instance, I read recently, in law, drudge work that used to be done by in-house lawyers is increasingly getting outsourced. And so many of these jobs are being lost. At the same time as these jobs are lost, the partners are making more and more money.

What you are getting is a hollowing out of the profession. Many people at the bottom making little or nothing, and a few at the top making it big.

This trend will only accelerate when technology enables even higher skilled jobs to be done by computers.

Superstars Stand Out

This quote is from the above article, about Tiger on the last day of a tournament.

”On Sundays [at major championships] he would walk onto the range like an emperor. It’s elegant. Guys stopped hitting balls just to watch him walk. He knows that he is going to beat you. You know that he is going to beat you. He knows that you know, and you know that he knows.”

None of this was accidental. Tiger thought about his game, and he thought about the psychology of competition. He used to wear a red shirt on the final round of a tournament, and he had a record that if he was leading going into the final day, he would never lose.

Think about it, he could have just worn a regular shirt on the last day. Why stand out like that?

Because if you were a competitor walking out on the final day of the Masters and you saw Tiger in his red shirt, your shoulders probably sagged, and you felt beaten before you’d even hit off the tee.

In a winner-takes-all world, the 2 biggest mistakes you can make are:

1. Doing what everyone else is doing (If there is 1 superstar in a field of 100, you don’t want to replicate what the other 99 are doing)

2. Not standing out

I am a private person, so the idea of standing out is a difficult one for me. I’d also like to believe that if you’re humble, keep your head down and work hard, you’ll be recognised and rewarded. But it’s quite clear life doesn’t work that way. If you want to achieve significant success, it’s very difficult to do it without establishing a profile. We naturally shy away from self-promotion, but it’s hard to succeed without it.

For example, one of my favourite books is the Power of Now. It’s a book about peace and enlightenment that expresses ancient ideas in such a simple and accessible manner. And I would have thought when you have written such a good book, all you need to do is give it to a few people and they’ll shout it out from the rooftops. The spreading of your work is done for you. But the author, Eckhart Tolle, actually had to go around door-knocking on bookstores and health stores to get them to stock his book. His phenomenal success didn’t happen by magic. He had to promote the book himself, on the ground, book-by-book.

Take Home Messages

1. In many industries, if you aren’t at the top, you’re at the bottom.

2. Being a superstar doesn’t necessarily mean being “the one”, but it means being better than the vast majority of people in your field. So you can’t just do what they’re doing and expect to get a better outcome. You have to do things differently.

3. Being better is not just a matter of technical skill. It’s also about creating a profile, promoting yourself and standing out.

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I blog at Seven Insights