Absolutes and Relatives

Absolutes and Relatives

Often as a sports fan, I can make the most ridiculous of assessments.

‘That guy is worthless!”… “You suck!”… “That guy is awesome!”

What I am really saying, or at least what is implied by what I am saying, is that relative to the other players on the field at the time, “that guy is worthless”… relative to the other players on the field at the time, “you suck!”… and relative to the other players on the field at the time, “that guy is awesome!”

We are all guilty of such imprecision, to the disservice of those we dis and those we praise. Even the most lowly of professional athletes are deserving or respect, for where they got in the game. They have met a minimum requirement to “get into the bigs”, beyond the ken of most of us mortals with much less talents and abilities.

This post is not in praise of professional athletics as a profession above all others, but rather, a recognition that when we become accustomed to a high level of performance from our entertainers, our co-workers, or family, our friends – we sometimes heap scorn (and praise) around with little regard for the absolute meaning of what it is we are really saying.

Because, relatively speaking, there stands the smallest of differences between success and failure; between the profane and the sublime.

There is a line in the movie Bull Durham where Kevin Costner is talking about the difference between loitering in the Minor Leagues forever versus making it to “The Show” being “just one more hit, one more ground ball with eyes.”

We all live precipitously on the edge of outstanding success and ignominious anonymity. Chance, preparedness, fortune, luck, talent, timing, the Universe – all of these, maybe none of these – separate the Great from the Rabble.

I was reading a post this morning about whether Web 2.0 was Repeating or Reforming from the excesses and mistakes from Web 1.0 – and this is really what got me thinking about Absolutes, Relatives, and how we don’t differentiate between the two when making assessments of successes and failures, in business and in our personal dealings.

Were the folks at WebVan really that less intelligent than those at Digg, Pownce, and Twitter? I mean, at least WebVan CHARGED something and could nominally be called a “business” (that is, they existed to accept money for goods and services).

Were the wonder boys at Google really that much smarter than Jerry Wang? Was Bill Gates really that much smarter than Steve Jobs, or was Steve Jobs really that much smarter than Bill Gates (don’t laugh – the answer would be different depending upon whether you asked that question in 1993 or in 2003).

We must be careful in our assessments of absolute good, when in fact what we are assessing is relative to the life and times of the present. Our praise of social networking and Web 2.0 must be carefully assessed in light of the times in which these tools and services exist, and carefully examined against the harsh absolutes of business.

Namely, at some point, the check will come due and someone will have to pay the bill.

That is not a relative assessment. That is an absolute fact.

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