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Business as the Ultimate Sport

After a certain point, money is meaningless. It ceases to be the goal. The game is what counts.
- Aristotle Onassis (1906-1975) Greek shipping tycoon

Each of us, if we would grow, must be committed to excellence and to victory, even though we know complete victory cannot be obtained, it must be pursued with all one’s might. The championships, the money, the color; all of these things linger only in the memory. It is the spirit, the will to excel, the will to win; these are the things that endure.
- Vince Lombardi (1913-1970) American Football Coach

Billions of people around the globe are passionate about playing or watching some sport: football, soccer, car racing, running, gymnastics, yachting, tennis; the list of different sports is almost endless.

Most people also participate, at some level, in business; a fortunate few regard business with the same passion they devote to their favorite sporting interest. But for most participants, business is filled with drudgery, routine, irritation, disgust, and anxiety. And that's wrong. Seen in its proper light, and played the right way, business is far more important, challenging, interesting, and rewarding than any sport.

Commentators from around the world have, for centuries past, recognized that business and the pursuit of wealth often resembles a game.

  • Charles Lamb

Two centuries ago Charles Lamb (1775-1834), the great British essayist, said, "Man is a gaming animal. He must always be trying to get the better in something or other." In Lamb's time, when the pursuit of business, or "trade", was viewed as ignoble, it was literally gaming, in the form of dice or cards, that provided the outlet for man's need to surpass his fellow man.

  • Theodore Roosevelt

When Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) said, "Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing" he was both putting life in the context of a game, by referring to "best prize", and repudiating the idea that a life of moneyed leisure and the pursuit of pleasure was a man's proper object.

This will be a recurring theme throughout this book, as we'll discuss many wealthy people who continue to play the game long after the point that increased riches could possibly improve their already extremely high standard of living.

  • Harry Emerson Fosdick

Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969), American Protestant Minister, looked at life from a broad and religious point of view and saw it as a game: “One must have the adventurous daring to accept oneself as a bundle of possibilities and undertake the most interesting game in the world -- making the most of one's best.” Others, such as German Political Economist and Sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920), have taken a much more clinical and secular point of view: “The pursuit of wealth, stripped of its religious and ethical meaning, tends to become associated with purely mundane passions, which often actually give it the character of sport.”.

  • Max Weber

But there is nothing at all “mundane” about the passions pursued by entrepreneurs; whether they are motivated by wealth or, far more often, a great challenge, it is Fosdick’s key phrase – “making the most of one’s best” - exploiting one’s potential in the most positive and constructive way – that is the focus of Business as the Ultimate Sport.

I hope to make the idea of business and sport focused and real, going far beyond tired sports clichés to show how to make business more rewarding, and fun, on a day to day basis, by treating the act of making a living as the ultimate sport, including making rules, and keeping score. We’ll give you some examples of well-known business figures who are known as winners – people like Donald Trump – who are really losers. We’ll show you some people who have mastered business as sport – people who can play by the rules and still get results. And we’ll show you other people, like Richard Branson, for whom business is both a platform for great success and great fun.

In each of our profiles sections, we’ll rate the featured person on a combination of their constructive contributions, or lack thereof, and whether they played by the rules, or, conversely profited at the expense of others.

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Quotes

It's not about the prize you win. It's about hearing your rivals wives weep. Fred Piraux has been grooming his horse Thorgal three hours a day, polishing replica 15th-century armor and taking lessons in medieval dancing. Next month, the 38-year-old Belgian police instructor will level his lance at a fearsome opponent, Frenchman Tino Lombardi, in a bid for the top spot with the International Jousting League. WSJ's Max Colchester reports on how jousting, the blood sport of the Middle Ages, is staging a comeback. He speaks with jouster Fred Piraux, who is preparing for an upcoming tournament. "It's not about the prize you win. It's about hearing your rivals' wives weep," says Mr. Piraux. A squire helps the chevalier squeeze into a metal breastplate. Mr. Piraux hoists himself onto his chocolate-brown steed and gallops through the fields on the outskirts of this industrial Belgian town. The advent of firearms ended the medieval sport of jousting in the 17th century. But the Internet has resurrected it and, today, mounted men in full armor charge at each other for glory and global rank. About 1,000 people world-wide take part in this sport, estimates the International Jousting Association, though only 200 have the equipment and expertise to joust competitively. The International Jousting League, a separate organization, has 47 jousters from San Diego to Paris who compete at castles and fields around the world. A far cry from the mock re-enactments at Renaissance fairs, competitive jousting is not for the faint of heart or the impecunious. On the field, jousters are judged on their ability to smash a lance against a crest the size of a dinner plate located on an opponent's left shoulder. The lances weigh 7.7 pounds, are 10 feet 5 inches in length and have screw-on balsa tips that shatter on impact with armor. To win points, the knights have to break their lances. They often also fracture hands in the process. Many jousters are tossed off their horses, but, to date, nobody in these recent contests has been killed. The most high-profile death was that of King Henry II of France, who died jousting in 1559. As in medieval times, there are no universal jousting rules. At some competitions organized by the Jousting League, knights win points for their success in wooing damsels with a post-joust speech and medieval dance. This year, Mr. Piraux bought a new $600 medieval dance outfit -- a red embroidered pleated coat with puffed shoulders, a matching doublet, hosiery and black riding boots. Despite his new duds, Mr. Piraux was outdanced by a U.S. competitor at a recent competition in Belgium. Mr. Piraux has also spent about $39,000 this year in housing and upkeep for Thorgal and his second horse, Organdy, and on new steel-plate armor and a yellow-and-red wooden crest with a tower logo. Loyal Servants In addition, Mr. Piraux pays for the services of a team of loyal servants, including a herald who announces him at tournaments and two squires who are always on hand to help their master.

—jouster on motivation

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