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(Published: 2007-02-14)

A glorious dilemma. In case you’re wondering, I’m talking about the game of golf. If you’ve ever obsessed about your golf game, you’ll understand. I once heard a passionate but frustrated player comment that “golf is the worst thing I’ll never let go of.” How’s that for a paradox?

I usually don’t indulge in sports analogies. However, I was recently inspired by Deepak Chopra’s book “Golf for Enlightenment.” Reading it helped me reframe how I look at golf and business. I discovered several striking parallels between the two. (And yes, my golf game has improved as a result.)

Golf challenges our powers of perception. In order to master the game you have to keep your eye on the ball. That’s called focus. But you can’t let yourself become hypnotized by the ball alone. You need to remain aware of all the other outside factors. You have to carefully observe the lie of the ball, the terrain, the wind, angles, and distances. That’s called awareness. To master the game, you must balance these seemingly opposite requirements.

To be successful, business must also stay focused--on the customer, the product, and the message. At the same time, business must be aware of general market conditions and know what their competition is doing. Only by balancing that focus and awareness will they be able to generate profit.

Deepak points out that golf is about energy control. On long drives, your energy has to be unleashed, but when faced with a 10-foot putt, your energy has to be reined in or you’ll more than likely overshoot the hole. A similar challenge results when developing a marketing message. Business needs to unleash a powerful campaign that promotes their product’s features and benefits. At the same time, they need to ensure that their message tugs at the heart of what’s important to their customers. This requires finessing a balance between rational needs and emotional desires in order to create an effective campaign.

My favorite chapter in the book is titled: “Winning Is Passion with Detachment.” It’s a unique take on winning. Deepak acknowledges that the concept of winning with detachment sounds like a contradiction and that it can put people off. That’s probably because we equate detachment with indifference or passivity. You can reframe that idea, however, by regarding detachment as more about being “centered” as opposed to being merely focused. I equate being “centered” as staying true to your values and your mission, despite outside pressure to do otherwise.

A similar challenge occurs in business. A CEO needs to satisfy shareholders, but Wall Street tends to focus on short-term quarterly results, sometimes at the expense of the bigger picture. Authentic leaders like John Mackey (Whole Foods), James Sinegal (Costco) and Howard Schultz (Starbucks) are centered on their company’s unique core values, even though some of their practices may run contrary to the norm. Each leader has a unique vision as to how to serve their customers, take care of their employees, and be good corporate citizens. In some ways, these leaders exhibit a “refined indifference” to Wall Street standards.

Let me explain. I first heard the term “refined indifference” when Scott Hamilton described his quest for Olympic gold. After blowing up in his first Olympic competition in 1980 he realized that it sometimes takes not winning to know how to win. (Ahhh, another glorious dilemma.)

In 1984 Hamilton made an incredible comeback, winning the Olympic gold medal in men’s figure skating. His breakthrough came after his coach taught him the concept of “refined indifference.” He learned that he had to work like crazy and care passionately about every detail of his routine while in the training phase. But when it came time to perform in a competition, he had to remain indifferent about the outcome. When he knew he was a prepared as he could possibly be, he was able to detach himself from needing to win. He learned to just get out on the ice and skate his best. The results were golden.

Becoming or remaining authentic to one’s core values in today’s corporate culture is challenging. Leaders absolutely have to be concerned with investors’ expectations. But at times, they may need to remain “indifferent” to short term pressures in order to do good and deliver long term results.

I’ll close with a last dose of wisdom from Deepak: “Every experience nourishes the soul. Winning can be sweet or it can be bitter; the difference lies solely in what happens inside. The soul wants sweet experiences, but it learns from bitter ones.” That’s the glorious dilemma.

Winning happens when we focus on what’s important, not just what’s next. I think that’s a good business lesson, a great golf lesson, and an invaluable life lesson.


Golf for Enlightenment


Robyn Waters is president and founder of RW Trend, LLC. She is the author of The Trendmaster’s Guide: Get a Jump on What Your Customer Wants Next, and The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape. Learn more about Robyn at All Rights Reserved.

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