I have never been that impressed with sound bites. Even the name conjures up a picture of a politician in front of camera, giving a speech, trying so hard to deliver the pithy punch line that will appear on the evening news. Not only does this leave me with the fundamental impression that politicians are more interested in making headline news than making a difference, but it also implies a low level of attention and lack of interest in the target population.
Of course this sound bite mentality is not constrained to politicians – almost anyone we see on television feels the same need. Anyone discussing anything from any walk of life seems to be driven to deliver a memorable one liner. And maybe in truth it is down to us – the target audience – maybe it is just what we are after. We only want the summary…the 140 characters…the bottom line…the one line.
The group right at the top of my list to avoid (because they only ever speak in bland one-liners) are sports pundits, sports coaches, or sports players. I never watch them or listen to them. I never waste my time.
And then last Wednesday morning I was amazed. I was drinking my early morning coffee ahead of braving the freezing cold to hit the fitness centre before work. It was only 7:00am, but I was already working hard…working hard to wake up! Out of interest, I logged on to a US news website to check out the east coast weather and saw a link to an interview with John Farrell.
I recognised the name – Farrell was recently appointed as coach of Boston Red Sox. I wasn’t awake. The best excuse I can offer as to why I hit the link. And yes I knew I was ‘wasting my time’. The upside was that I was able to multitask because I wasn’t really interested, or listening.
And then Farrell answered a question about the prospects of a player who had underperformed in 2012. “The separation of mental from fundamental is a great debate – what’s going to come first?”
Wow! I stopped packing my briefcase and replayed that line. ‘Separation of mental from fundamental is a great debate’. Well it certainly isn’t a debate that I’ve ever had. In truth I am not sure I have ever really linked mental with fundamental, let alone debated them. I sat there, finished my coffee, trying to decide what I thought about these two words; how they were derived, what they implied and what this ‘sound bite’ meant or at least meant to me. And yes, I felt guilty.
So it turns out there is no similarity in origin. Mental is derived from Latin for mind. Fundamental from Latin for foundation. But that doesn’t matter. An inherent play on words is always helpful when it comes to a successful sound bite. But those derivations did shed light on what I assume Farrell was actually saying. That to be successful in any activity (baseball in this case) there is clearly an element of having to have the necessary skills, but there is also an element of having the right mind-set.
And this was why his quote resonated with me. It applies to us all. It applies to me. Any meeting I run, presentation I give, interaction I have, succeeds when I have that right balance of competence and confidence. Competence (fundamental) but no confidence (mental) will lead to poor performance, dissatisfaction or failure. Confidence (mental) but no competence (fundamental) is similarly destined to fail. The combination is essential for an individual. For a team. For a company.