The Nature of an Advantage

The Nature of an Advantage

the nature of an advantage

all equal

As the middle child’s high school basketball season builds to the post season, the question of fairness has come up from time to time. While this conversation often centers on the question of a child’s playing time or standing with the coach, my mind tends to wander. . . and this week I was struck by the variety of body types and athletic abilities on the court.

A great example of natural advantages at play.

As US citizens we hold a few universal truths in our head. One is that hard work and perseverance is going to be rewarded and the other is clinging to a doctrine of fairness where good triumphs evil and we’re operating on a level playing field.

Then there’s high school basketball.

At the time I started this post I was looking at my taller than average son. He’s 6’2″, 180 and his wingspan is about the same as his height. He has hands with a 9″ span (measured after looking at an article about Russell Wilson) plus he comes equipped with a vertical of 30″ and the lungs of a Kenyan. If you bumped into him on the street you’d think “there goes a good sized, nice looking, fit young man”. If you played him in a YMCA pick up game you’d think he was better than the average basketball player.

Then you see him on the basketball court in Omaha, NE.

He looks like a skinny little guy among teammates that are 6’5″ or 6’6″ and outweigh him by 20-30 pounds. He’s unremarkable. One of an army of 6′-6’3″ guys that attend his school.

I read a stat in Sports Illustrated a few weeks ago that if you are 25-35 years old and over 7 feet tall, there is a 1 in 6 chance you’re playing in the NBA. Not just “professionally”, but in the NBA. If you’re 6’3″  your chances of playing the NBA is something like 1 in 20 million.

So that gets me thinking, what exactly is the nature of an advantage and how does it relate to fairness?

I’m not the only one considering this in today’s environment of Performance Enhancing Drugs and athletic surgeries that prolong careers like the Tommy John surgery that gives pitchers extra years on the mound. Take a listen to this RadioLab short:

And read a little of the PED debate between Gladwell and Simmons on Grantland.

Gladwell vs Simmons V

Back to the basketball court. This night we happen to be playing a team that includes a few children of Somali refugees that have found their way to Omaha. These boys are late to basketball, but they are blessed with an advantage on the court. One boy is 6’3″ with a wingspan that pushes 6’10”.  Another is a basketball worthy 6’5″ with a wingspan that has to be 7’0″ and seems to be a natural shot blocker. It doesn’t look like these boys have been putting in the hours of practice or have attended the weeks of basketball camp that my young lad has, but if I were a small college looking for some help on the basketball court, I’m ignoring the dead-eye accuracy of my child and I’m taking a chance on talking to those long, lean athletes wearing the visitors jerseys. I’m all for the advantages of genetics when it comes to winning.

Is that fair? Most of us would say yes because that’s just how things are. You’re dealt a hand and then it’s up to you to make the most of it.

How does this translate into business? What does it say about the ethics of having an advantage like understanding “big data” and “analytics” where your competitor doesn’t? Or about understanding the advantage of being able to process stock trades a few milliseconds ahead of the competition? Being better looking and having superior communication skills?

And where is the line drawn between having an advantage given to you versus having an advantage through the purchase of a substance or technology? What if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time playing the wrong game? (Did you see the NBA All Star festivities when Kenny Smith was trying to kick a soccer ball?)

Big questions that are worthy of discussion. By that time my mind was drifting back to my sons playing time, which is never enough. In this case, having the opportunity is going to have to do.

Good stuff.

About the Author: Greg Chambers is Chambers Pivot Industries. Get more business development ideas from Greg on Twitter.