Tiger Woods’ remarkable run of success continues. In winning the last three major tournaments, two by record margins, he set new standards of golfing excellence while his competitors fought over second place.
Some media commentators have wondered whether his success is good for the game. “It’s too boring,” they say, “and there’s not enough interest in tournaments in which he does not play.” This, they say, is bad for the other golfers, ignoring the facts that those other golfers are striving to improve their games, and that Tiger’s success is an advertising magnet for the entire sport.
This criticism should sound familiar to anyone who has followed the history of American business this century. The same idea–that one man’s success (or one company’s) is bad for others–has brought the full power of the government down upon some of our most successful and productive companies and the businessmen who make them possible.
Achievement, be it in sport or business, is primarily a product of a man’s ability. Achievement in sport is, for the most part, respected and applauded; achievement in business, unfortunately, elicits a much colder response.
Cultural commentators, government officials and even some businessmen assume that a successful company has cheated its competitors, exploited its customers, or both. It is widely believed, for example, that one company’s success prevents another’s, that business is a zero-sum game and that, without regulation, no more than one can succeed.
If this were really true, there would never be more than one profitable business in any line of work. In fact, there are usually many successful, i.e., profitable, companies competing for the same customers, just as there are many competitors in a single golf tournament who break par (the golfing equivalent of a making a profit). One player, or one company, may be better than all the others, but all those who do better than break even have succeeded.
However, it is generally believed that the business that is “too successful,” the one with the greatest ability to provide its customers with quality products or services, must be controlled lest that success “stifle” others. Such success, however, is properly a stimulus for other companies to improve their efforts. Just as Tiger Woods’ skill motivates other golfers to improve, so one company’s efficient or innovative production should motivate others to improve.
No one would seriously suggest that Tiger Woods be prohibited from using his full range of clubs in future tournaments. It is taken for granted, however, that a business which succeeds may be hamstrung by Antitrust legislation that is equivalent to removing Tiger’s putter and driver. Our legislators need to learn that Microsoft and every other successful business should be allowed to compete, produce and choose their strategies as freely as Tiger Woods selects his clubs.