Have you been watching the US college basketball playoff tournament? I have. And I’ve noticed in almost every game I’ve watched this week there will come a moment when a player will make incidental contact with a defender who will promptly fall backward as though hit by the force of a nuclear bomb. As Jay Bilas, an ESPN analyst, puts it, “I’ve had countless games this year where you say, ‘That’s a flop.’ There’s no way that amount of force caused that amount of physical reaction from the defender. You’d have to be shot in the chest with a bazooka to fall like that.” (WSJ, March 17, 2015)
So, flopping can be defined as an intentional fall by a player after little or no contact by an opposing player in order to draw a personal foul from an official against an opponent.
I first became aware of this phenomenon watching the World Cup last summer. I don’t know much about international soccer, but I noticed flopping was being prominently covered in the sports press. One of the favored teams last year was Brazil. Apparently the Brazilians have raised flopping to an art form. A June 15, 2014 article in the NY Times by Sam Borden, titled “Where Dishonesty Is Best Policy, US Soccer Falls Short,” caught my eye. Apparently the US team is simply too honest. Borden states, “For better or worse, gamesmanship and embellishment–or, depending on your sensibilities, cheating–are part of high-level soccer. Players exaggerate contact. They amplify the mundane. They turn niggling knocks into something closer to grim death.”
Assistant US coach Tab Ramos says American players tend to be culturally very straight, forthright people. That is not the way the international soccer world generally thinks. Ramos says, “I don’t know if you call it a problem or a weakness, but it’s clear that the American nature is to try and make everything fair to the game. That’s just how Americans are.”
All this gets me to thinking about my American self and “winning” at small business. Karmically speaking, I believe that being straight is the selfish way to be. It seems to work for me, though admittedly, my business life is as much incentivized by making my personal life whole as by making money. My motto continues to be “Good Is Greed.” I have always tried to follow the admonition of Peter Drucker to “make your life your [business] endgame.” Am I a foolish naif like some say the US soccer team is?
Well, perhaps. I am certainly expected to be a salesman, a prime job for every business owner. Salesmen are often portrayed as liars, thieves, scoundrels, scofflaws. I don’t think lying to people works, but it does seem to work as a base assumption of sports “floppers.” So must I become at least a partial flopper to win? Coach Red Sanders of UCLA famously said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”
And what exactly is business flopping (lying, exaggeration)? Look at Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle. He was notorious for informing investors and clients that a new product was soon to be available even though it was barely a gleam in the eye of one of his engineers, if that. Or how ’bout ur-entrepreneur Steve Jobs who was mesmerizing as he wove his hypothetical dreams and visions into his listeners as a compelling reality? Admittedly, both these men made good on their existential exaggerations. So were they liars or visionaries? Most of us would surely say the latter. And yet….
I suppose you come down to an “ends justifying the means” conundrum. If we are fiercely committed entrepreneurs, does that mean kicking, biting, lying, and cheating our way to success, even if we have a great product or service? And if we opt for this, is it OK if “everyone is doing it?”
All of us lie fairly harmlessly in our everyday lives. We do it so as not to hurt people’s feelings, to be polite, to smooth our quotidian life process. As a salesman and chief voice of my own firm Corporate Rain, it is my job to present the most glowing, piquant image possible for customers. But am I flopping to Gomorrah when I create an eloquent, perhaps exaggerated metaphor for my company’s work? Am I ultimately sacrificing my entrepreneurial soul to what William James calls “the bitch goddess of success?” Is a right livelihood only made possible by leaping into the rancid fog of a moral and mental abyss?
As an act of faith and formal strategy, I choose (try?) to walk a fulgently moral path. My faith is that I will win that way. Good Is Greed. Yet, as in this column, my questions about myself and everybody else never cease. Or am I simply asking a revised version of the ridiculous medieval question, “How many angels can flop on the head of pin?”
Well, I shall leave off this excessive moral navel-gazing and go back to enjoying my March Madness. Perhaps we are all floppers to one extent or another–excessive emoters, serial exaggerators, closet conmen. Christians call it sin.
I like what Aldous Huxley said: “The end cannot justify the means, for the simple and obvious reason that the means employed determine the nature of the ends produced.” Thank you, Aldous.