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April 11, 2005

Should we change our swing?

I'm not a huge golf fan, but this story about Tiger Woods winning his first major tournament in years contained a great nugget about change: Tiger takes Masters title for his ailing father.

An excerpt from the story:

Woods went 18 months without a stroke-play victory on the US PGA Tour while making adjustments to his swing with coach Hank Haney.

Woods took great criticism for the changes but said they were necessary if he was to become better than anyone, including superior to the form he showed to dominate golf in 2000 and 2001, capturing four majors in a row.

'I don't want to get back to 2000. I want to become better than that. That's the whole idea of making a change,' Woods said before the tournament. 'I won the Masters by 12 [strokes] in '97. I changed my game. Do I want to go back to that? No, I don't. I want to become better than that. I was able to achieve that and that's why I made this change. I'm starting to see the fruits of it.'

Right now, my association is like the Tiger Woods of 1997. We're going to end this fiscal year with a surplus of 10% of our total annual budget. Our membership is up 5% over last year. Our conferences are selling out. We're making more non-dues revenue than ever. We're cutting expenses by using technology, gaining efficiencies and capitalizing on economies of scale.

But as we plan for next year, I get the sense that much of our planning is centered around continuing last year's success. They say doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is a sign of insanity. But could you also be considered insane by changing things that are obviously working?

Changing things up can cost you: After holding onto it for years, Tiger Woods recently lost his #1 ranking on the PGA Tour to Vijay Singh. Jim Collins writes that successful companies are defined by disciplined people, who engage in disciplined thought, and who take disciplined action.
How much energy should we devote to maintaining our current success? Or should we be devoting our energies to changing our swing? How often should we change, and how much? What is the proper balance between discipline and change?


Jeff De Cagna said...

Excellent points Ben. A few thoughts:

1. I am a Tiger Woods fan and part of the reason why I am is because of what you shared in your post. Tiger isn't satisfied with his past success. He's trying to build his capacity to achieve future success. By going about the process of building capacity (something that you cannot do without giving back at least a little bit of your current position) Tiger has been criticized for everything from not winning any majors, to not playing enough tournaments, to getting married. Despite all of this criticism and despite his failure to win a major in nearly 3 full years, yesterday he still won his 9th major tournament two years earlier than Jack Nicklaus.

Tiger Woods is constantly building his capacity to play golf better than anybody else in the world. He is trying very hard to move forward with his work, something that too few associations actually do.

2. The phenomenon you're describing at your association is the paradox any organization faces when it is successful: why should we change now when things are good? And yet, if we don't change now, we might be giving up the chance to change later when things inevitably decline and we want to change. Innovation is not a some time thing and nor does it mean giving up everything that works. It means, as you point out, the need to find the balance between driving today's success and discovering tomorrow's possibilities. Innovation lives in the careful balance of freedom and discipline. Freedom is about discovering ideas and concepts, while discipline is about making sure they are realized.

3. Just for the record, Jim Collins is the author of the quotation, "successful companies are defined by disciplined people, who engage in disciplined thought, and who take disciplined action." And, as you probably know, Tiger regained the #1 ranking from Vijay as a result of yesterday's victory. I'd say his efforts paid off handsomely.

There are many possible things I could write in response to your closing questions, but let me offer two things: 1) there is no alternative but to change and 2) it would be insane to deny that point #1 is untrue.

Thanks for starting up another intriguing conversation.

Ben said...

Hey, Jeff, thanks for the correction. Another hastily-written blog post ;-)