Whether it’s sports or business, the word ‘potential’ is a dangerous word to throw around. The reason behind this is because it’s purely based on instinct and assumptions. No matter how much data you want to throw at it, once the word ‘potential’ is included, it’s anyone’s game. The dictionary likes to define ‘potential’ as “the inherent capacity for coming into being,” but a better definition might be: “it might happen and it might not.” Too often are we caught up talking about the ‘potential’ of an individual that we forget about a little something called hard work.
Perhaps the best way to understand the dichotomy between hard work and potential is to look at sports.
Hit Or Miss
When it comes to understanding the danger of ‘potential,’ professional sports teams know all about it. Michael Lewis discusses this in Moneyball where he briefly explores the hit or miss predictions on high school baseball players that are drafted into the Major Leagues. In a business where one player can be the make or break for a teams chance at a championship, drafts are where a players ‘potential’ can mean millions of dollars won or lost.
Still, although banking on the potential of an individual can yield great rewards, it can also have financial downsides. When an individual doesn’t live up to expectations, everything that has been built around that specific ‘piece’ is affected.
To the casual basketball fan, the name Tyler Hansbrough may or may not sound familiar. He was never a flashy dunker, he wasn’t a prolific scorer and he wasn’t lighting quick. While he wasn’t any of those things, no one could say he didn’t have a great work ethic. If there was an example of someone who used all the talents they were given to its’ fullest, Tyler Hansbrough is it. Although Hansbrough couldn’t jump out of his shoes, more often than not, he worked harder than everyone else on the court. As one NBA analyst stated during the NBA draft, Hansbrough took what he was given and made sure he made the best out of it.
Through an amazing work ethic, Hansbrough was named the College Basketball Athlete of the Decade and broke numerous records playing at the University of North Carolina. While Hansbrough may have been one of the hardest working individuals entering the NBA draft, 12 teams passed on him till he finally ended up with the Indiana Pacers.
While this example may seem like it spotlights Tyler Hansbrough, it is meant to show the dilemma that sports teams and businesses encounter when they have to choose between a proven individual over someone with ‘huge potential.’ No one said Hansbrough would be a ‘great’ player in the NBA, but rather that he would be a good one. When it comes to potential, you can say practically anything about an individual. You can shoot for the stars, and all people will think about are the rewards at the end of the road. If it doesn’t pan out, it’s easy to blame it on how they didn’t reach their full potential and the huge upside that they had.
When To ‘Trust’ Potential
Although many individuals never live up to their potential and all the hype, there are situations when you should ‘trust’ potential. Case in point, we go back to professional sports. If you look at LeBron James, coming into the NBA draft he was considered to be a ‘no brainier’ as far as drafting him first. The big question wasn’t why a team should pick him first, but rather who would be the second pick.
Occasionally, we will run into individuals who are ‘no brainers.’ Statistically and experience wise they may not be the most prepared, but there is too much to pass up. When situations like these arise, it’s better to take the chance than pass on the next LeBron James.
Why You Need Balance To Succeed
While potential can be a dangerous asset both good and bad, having a great work ethic is just as important. In the business world, building a team that is full of potential or who all have great work ethic doesn’t always mean you will succeed. Rather, a blend of both helps to balance things out. Additionally, surrounding individuals with potential with those who have a great work ethic can help to cultivate their talents and vice versa.
Remember, “if you can’t excell with talent, triumph with effort.”