Younger readers may not realize this, but there used to be a golfer named Tiger Woods who dominated the sport so completely that they literally changed the layout of every professional golf course in the world to prevent him from rewriting the record book1. He rewrote most of the record book anyway, and he would have rewritten all of it had it not been for his unexpected fall from grace.

For those of you who don’t care for golf or can’t remember that far back, let me briefly paint a picture of the original Tiger. Tiger would step up to the tee on a long hole. He would whip out a big club. He would then proceed to smack the logo off the ball. It was almost like he didn’t care where it went. Sometimes Tiger would drill the ball and it would carry more or less as he intended and land somewhere good. Other times, he would drill the ball and it would end up off the fairway. It might end up somewhere bad: on solid dirt, in the sand, or in the root structure of a tree.

Fans of the game and fans of Tiger, when this happened, would often wonder why he didn’t “take a little off” the swing. Sacrifice some of his power for a little more control. Work to keep the ball in the fairway more often. Play more conservatively. It almost offended some people that he didn’t seem to care.

I must admit that I’m speculating here, as I never discussed this personally with Tiger. However, I strongly suspect that Tiger considered a more conservative strategy. He considered it and he rejected it, and he kept on smacking it as hard as he could. He had no delusions concerning his rate of success off the tee. He just didn’t care about where the ball went nearly as much as the fans did.

Tiger’s thought process was simpler than people realized. His approach was to hit the tee shot as far as possible, then hit his second shot on to or near the green2. The beauty of this strategy is that it doesn’t get all bogged down worrying about where the ball lands after his first shot. It doesn’t matter, for instance, if the ball bounces off a cart path and lands behind a TV tower. He would just address the ball wherever it was, and hit it onto or near the green. Jaws would drop.

Exceptional performance is easier if you aren’t distracted by the fear of negative outcomes; that fear makes it harder to perform, increasingly so as pressure mounts. To get there, you need to have a strong repertoire of skills to deal with those situations effectively, and it certainly never hurts to have fought your way through them a few times. The decision making is easy for Tiger because he had such a strong foundation of skills to build his game around. Getting there was hard for Tiger. He worked at it for most of his life and took full advantage of his natural gifts.

Therein lies the lesson. The difference between risky behavior and aggressive behavior lies almost entirely in the operator. So, regardless of your field, if you feel that you have the skills, just relax and let ‘er rip.


  2. Fans of physics will recognize this strategy as similar to the Feynman Algorithm