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In the right spirit
What companies can learn from the 2013 masters golf tournament

David McNally

As an Aussie, I am still basking in the glow of the first Australian to win The Masters. His name is Adam Scott. The Masters is a golf tournament regarded by many professionals as the pinnacle of achievement. As is our custom, my grandson and I were virtually glued to the TV. Now 16, on the varsity golf team at his high school, he is a lover of the game. Being half Australian and half American, he had several favourites from both countries for whom he was rooting. However, nationhood aside, this particular event provided lessons so critical for keeping the concept of winning and competition in perspective.

There was a special moment that provided an extraordinary example of sportsmanship. It happened on the second and what would be the last hole of the playoff. Both players, Scott and the Argentinean, Angel Cabrera, had hit perfect drives, leaving them clear shots to the green. Cabrera hit his second shot first and landed the ball perfectly, giving him a chance for a birdie. Scott matched him with a shot that was even fractionally closer to the hole. Cabrera witnessing Scott’s own wonderful effort turned around and gave him a thumbs-up. Scott, seeing that generous gesture, replied in kind. Millions of people around the world were witnessing two competitors acknowledging that each was bringing out the very best in each other.

Loving your competitor is not a concept to which organisations give much thought. But the US auto industry is not producing the safest and most reliable cars in its history because of its own motivations; it is because of the competition from Japan, Korea, Europe and other nations. Steve Jobs was spurred on by the genius of Bill Gates. General Mills has Kellogg’s. McDonalds has Burger King, Wendy’s, Subway and many other fast food franchises. And, of course, LeBron has Kobe!

Many business experts use “war” as a metaphor for the strategies needed to compete in a global economy. The evidence is clear that the world is tired of war. When the purpose of competition is understood: to bring out the best, to produce excellence, to create better products and services, it brings to light a distinction worthy of our deepest reflection — the desire to win versus the desire to destroy. We begin to understand that without our competitors we would have no incentive to raise our standards and reach our potential.

Everyone wants to win, but reality says someone has to be second. Don’t believe the myth that second place doesn’t matter. Both Scott and Cabrera have won many golf tournaments, but they have also come in second many times. Each experience, however, was a building block for their fortitude, character and resilience.

And we sports lovers are the beneficiaries. For on this rainy, spring Sunday afternoon, we witnessed an extraordinary spectacle: two tough competitors inspiring each other to a standard of excellence that was breathtaking. Now that is how the game of life should be played. 

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