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Continuous Improvement the Tiger Woods Way  18.03.2009

Getting to the top, whether it’s in sport, business, the arts or life etc. can be a pretty awesome place to be. All the hard work has payed off and you get the opportunity to look back and get excited about what you have achieved. All is not wonderful though – there can be a real danger in reaching the top. So what can go wrong?

·       Complacency can set in. We are excited about reaching our goal and then when we get it we fail to set some more ‘goals that inspire us.' We might even begin to take it easy (leaving the door wide open for our competitors to close the gap).

·       The competition can see what you have done to get to the top and can devise strategies to dethrone you. General Motors in the early 1970’s was the most profitable company in the world. In 2007, General Motors lost $38.7 billion dollars, whilst in that same year General Electric made a profit of $22.5 billion dollars. What got General Motors to the top in the early 1970’s is very different to what would have enabled it to stay at the top. In Peter Sheahans book ‘Flip’ he talks about organisations needing 4 things to ‘continue succeeding’ in business: ‘Fast, good, cheap with an X Factor thrown in.’ In other words, to continue succeeding in business we must continue to provide fast service that is good in terms of performance and quality. It needs to be well priced (cheap) with something a bit extra to satisfy expectations that keep rising. General Motors failed to do this and today are fighting for their survival as a result.


In 1997, Tiger Woods burst on the golf scene winning 4 major tournaments in the first 7 months earning over $1.8 million in prize money and some $60 million in Nike sponsorship. In the Masters tournament he won by a mammoth 12 shots over the rest of the field. Many thought that Tiger Woods had a close to perfect golf game. Over a drink with some friends, Tiger was quoted as saying ‘my swing really sucks.” He felt he could do much better. He spoke to his coach and said that he wanted tear his swing down and rebuild it. His coach said it would take months to do and his tournament record would suffer greatly. It would involve hitting thousands of balls, watching video footage and repeating the process many times. It would also involve an intense strength building regime.

Tiger’s coach was right. From July 1997 to February 1999, Tiger only won one event. Even though he was frustrated and angry at how he was performing, he still felt he was a better golfer for the changes he was making. 'It is not all about winning', Tiger said.

In the 1999 Byron Nelson tournament he came 7th, but hit some amazing shots and said that he was thrilled at how the hard work was beginning to pay off. In the next 14 tournaments, Tiger won 10 of them including a record 6 in a row. Even the great Jack Nicklaus only ever won 3 in a row and never more than 7 tournaments in a year.

“I know what I want to accomplish and I know how to get there. The ultimate goal is to be the best. Whether that’s the best ever, who knows? I hope so.”

Tiger Woods


So what can we learn from Tiger?

There are always areas for improvement and with hard work and dedication we can reach the top. However, to stay at the top, sometime we need to change what has worked for us previously. We might need to let go of something that might have been useful in yesteryear and embrace approaches that will work better now. Too often we compare ourselves to others – the best comparison to make is with yourself and what you are truly capable of. Even if you just improved by 1% a week – what kind of difference would that make over many years?

Enjoy the journey toward continuous improvement and becoming the very best you can be in all areas of life.

“Search your heart, open your mind, live the dream.”

Blake Beattie

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