## Wednesday, August 3, 2011

### X-Factor

Been a while, so let's take pass by ... attitude ...

In mathematics, the equations are clean: If A is > B, and B is > C, then A is > C. Simple, neat, no pesky exceptions to the rule, the syllogism is always true–as long as you are dealing in numbers.

People are not so easy to equate. Adam and Bob play chess and Adam always wins; and Bob and Charlie play chess and Bob always wins, the temptation would be to say that Adam will always beat Charlie at chess, but it's not the same as the numbers-only game.

Here is where the X-factor arises. The human equation has all kinds of built-in exceptions. Maybe Adam beats Bob because Adam looks like Bob's uncle who used to stomp Bob at chess and Bob gets buffaloed and can't get past the resemblance. Charlie doesn't have that hang-up, and plays a different game, which gives him more of a chance against Adam.

There are a slew of factors like this in human interaction and competition. On any given Sunday, the worst team in the league can beat the best team, it happens frequently enough that the phrase has become an axiomatic saw. The fluke run, the lucky punch, the distribution of great-day-playing versus crappy-day-playing shifts. It's like catching all the green lights on a drive versus catching all the red ones, you never know which it will be.

The smart money bets on Adam to beat Charlie, because if Adam consistently beats the guy who always beats Charlie, Adam looks better on paper.

People aren't paper any more than they are numbers, however, and herein the place where attitude can make a difference.

Assuming anything close to equal ability, then what makes one player a winner and the other a loser? All kinds of things. In a dust-up, then the first punch landed solidly makes a difference, but so does the ability to take a punch and keep going. And attitude–or heart, guts, determination, whatever you want to call it–matters most of all. Or, as Frank Freak used to put it–in regard to another subject–Attitude will get you through times of no skill better than skill will get you through times of no attitude ...

I'm not sure you can teach this, but if somebody has it, you can certainly augment it. So the human equations I like are these:

Skill + Attitude is > than Skill.
Skill + Attitude is > than Attitude.

Doesn't mean that the guy with both will always beat the guy with only one, but that's the way I'd bet it, and I expect my money would be safe more often than not.