Keeping Unfair Advantage

Life is Unfair.

There is not such thing as a level playing field. The dice of life are loaded.

As a youth, I would have expected that life was fair – that sporting teams were selected on merit equally without favour, that  tenders in business always were selected on the best quotation, that funding grants were chosen on merit and the best ideas always prevailed.

I am afraid that is all idealistic nonsense.

Tenders are inherently biased. Sporting teams selection is  biased.

In fact by the end of this article you’ll be calling Cricket Australia, demanding the heads of the selection committee. Well perhaps not, but you’ll see there is  bias in selection in the Australian Cricket Team.

Now, just like there is always two sides of a business transaction, it’s good to  be on the right side of an unfair advantage.

Who is complaining, if they are winning government tenders, or being selected for sporting teams, or winning that funding grants?

As you bask in the glory of our success, taking sales awards, accepting promotion, being photographed in the representative cricket squad who is to think that the success that you are achieving is actually not about  you, but about your temporal unfair advantage.

Suddenly, you come a cropper.

You do the same things, but success avoids you.

How many “successful” CEO’s leave one company as a hero, to land up at another a complete failure?  Perhaps, they were only “successful” due to some unfair advantage, that they lost when they moved jobs.

The question to determine is, if I have unfair advantage, how do I keep it.

Inherent Bias (There is always a current running, which way are you swimming?)

You think that Cricketers are picked on ability? You’ve been fooled.

The strongest selection criteria on Australian Cricketers is not ability but month of birth. Australian cricket selectors don’t like people born in February-July. They prefer not select them, particularly bowlers.

Don’t believe me?

Consider this, the distribution of month of birth of the current 2008/9 contracted australian cricket team?

Even more so, consider the bias in selection when considering bowlers in the current contracted cricket squad.


These figures show that if you are born in the period of September to February you are almost twice as likely to play in the Baggy Green.

If you are a bowler, if you are born in the time from January to August, you have only just over a 20% chance of representing australia. Bowlers born Aug-Feb, based on the current squad is over 4 times more likely to be successful, regardless of their talent and ability.

Why is this the case? Are the australian selectors corrupt, or on the calendar take?

No, its all about growing up and compounding opportunity.

The cut off in age group from one year to the next is August 31st in Cricket. If you fall on one side of the line you become the oldest in your team, and on the other, you are the youngest.

As a youth if you are the oldest in your team, you are the most developed, your co-ordination is most developed, you are physically stronger, bigger and more confident over your smaller rivals.

Even with the same amount of talent as your team mates, you are more likely to be picked in training squads and representative teams with your increased age and confidence. The additional training builds on your talent and improves your sport playing ability.

Your team mates with equal talent, born later just never catch up. Your compounding advantages just swamp their limited opportunities.

Cricket isn’t the only sport that suffers from age selection bias Malcolm Gladwall in his excellent book “Outliers”  showed  with ice hockey players in Canada that the selection was based around a January age-group cut off date, and that it was also found in many other sports.

Unfair Advantage is Temporary.

If you are currently riding high, and going well because of unfair advantage, stay alert, because sooner or later, your unfair advantage will end.

Consider our young cricketer who was fortunate enough to be born on the right side of an age-group cut off. For the first few years, he or she finds themselves earning representative honours easily and they dominate their team. They are easily the ‘best’ on the field.

However, after a few years,  the unfortunate ones, who were younger and born on the wrong side of the line, albeit perhaps equally talented, drop out as ‘failures’. As the number participants of the teams reduces, the age cohort distorts, so that most of the cricket team is equally biased ‘older’ team members.

The young player trading off their age bias, in lower age group teams, suddenly finds themselves competing with true age pears.

Life suddenly becomes very hard.

I was fortunate enough always to be the ‘dumbest’ student in the ‘smartest’ class during high school. I had to work particularly hard just to keep up with my peers.  My university tertiary admissions score was the lowest of the ‘smart’ class in our year.

I was forced to my third choice of university courses, and went to a regional university for my first degree.

I was amazed during the first 6 months of study, how many students, whom had a clearly higher  university entry score than I failed and dropped out.

Perhaps, they in a less competitive high school class found success in study all too easy. When the heat of true battle in a ‘non-spoon’ fed learning environment tested their mettle out to eventual failure.

My very smart peers in high school, with whom I could barely keep up, had inadvertently provided me with an unexpected advantage at university – a good work ethic.

This work ethic given to me by my high school peers eventually took me as the ‘dumbest’ smart kid to near the top of my graduating year and carry me on to 3 other post graduate degrees at prestigious institutions.

Keeping Advantage:

The cricketer will only be successful in a fierce competition if they have a disciplined mixture of effort and talent.

In business if you have allowed cost structures, attitudes, and arrogance to escalate as you have ridden the wave of advantage, when the tide turns, you’ll find the end coming quickly.

How often have we seen  business of this ilk fail in the past few months?

Final Thoughts:

To what degree is your success due to unfair advantage, and are you trading on the basis of that unfair advantage, or on what you truly earn and do for your success?

At the end of the day, providing value for your customers, clients or stake-holders, keeping costs low, eliminating excess and hubris, maintaining organisational flexibility and remembering that the taxpayer or client is paying your bills and servicing them accordingly may be the key to keeping any unfair advantage.

For you may be the only one who can truly permanently keep that unfair advantage of serving your customers or community well.

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