The Rewards of Punishments and Punishments of Rewards

The Sports Illustrated cover jinx. The Madden Curse.

These are examples of our beliefs about the effects a little positive publicity can have on performance. Studies have actually been done providing “evidence” that the jinx and the curse exist. But there is a much simpler and more straightforward explanation than superstitions and magical thinking.

When an athlete or performer is graced with positive publicity, it is usually as a result of an extraordinary performance. Think what that means: literally, extra-ordinary. Far above average.

Therefore, by definition, it is more likely that the athlete or performer’s subsequent performance will return to ordinary. In light of the recent extraordinary performance, ordinary performance feels like a curse. In fact, it is also likely that the athlete’s performance will be slightly below ordinary. Again, this is the meaning of ordinary or average.

A .300 hitter doesn’t hit .300 every game. Some games s/he hits .400, some games, .200, some games 1.000, some games .000. The average over time is .300.

For leaders, managers, and coaches, this also explains the odd phenomenon of why your athletes/performers do better after you punish them and worse after you praise them. It is not because you have filled them with fear/motivation from your punishment or they have become complacent/lazy due to your praise. It is simply the return of their performance to “normal.” Normal is an increase after poor performance and a decrease after great performance. (see Mastery)