Disney’s Secret Weapon, and Golf’s Overrated One

Americans spend over $60 Billion/year on golf.  That’s $200/year for every man, woman, and child living in the world’s third largest nation.  More than the entire GDP of countries including Lebanon, Costa Rica, and North Korea.  And a good portion of that $60B goes toward new equipment.

So here’s an interesting fact:
Over the last several decades, how much do you think the average golf score (or in golf terms, handicap) has improved?
Answer:  ZERO.

In other words, the guy 40 years ago wearing tight polyester and swinging caveman clubs is no worse than today’s equivalent sporting moisture wicking fabric and high octane hardware.  (Other than style points, which frankly I give to the disco era.)

Personally, I’m not much of a golfer but I’m guilty of the same cash burn in another activity, cycling.  My friends and I will ditch our childrens’ college savings if it means shaving a few ounces or getting more aero on our road bikes.  But are we really any faster slogging up Pennsylvania’s mountains?  Doubtful.

Which got me to thinking:
In a business sense, how much money do we needlessly blow on gadgets instead of investing in ourselves and our people?

Twenty years ago, I was fortunate enough to work for Disney World.  Not as any kind of executive, mind you, but as a parking lot attendant.  I was low, low, low on the food chain.  Yet before the other new hires and I spent one minute dodging Disney-crazed vacationers in rental cars, Disney put us all through over 40 hours of customer service training.  Not the technical part of my job, just the nuts and bolts of how to make sure every guest had the vacation of a lifetime.

Imagine!  A Fortune 500 investing 40 paid hours in a fresh, untested 19 year old kid who was strictly a summer hire. Disney could have spent those same dollars on space-age trams, better tracking software, automated toll machines, new computers.  But they chose to forgo the newer equipment in favor of a living, breathing, unpredictable human.

Fast forward to today’s world and we see ourselves investing heavily in things like automated phone trees, new smart phones, CRM systems.  Don’t get me wrong, all these items have a place in today’s global economy.  But are we throwing money at tools and systems at the cost of people?  Are today’s workers as well versed in key areas – attitude, market knowledge, service, confidence – as a Disney parking attendant in the early ’90’s?  Does today’s golfer have better technique, extra mental fortitude vs. our disco era caveman?  The scorecard tells us no.

Perhaps the pendulum is swinging the other way, as companies such as Zappos and Southwest blow through their long-rooted competitors.  The question for you is, the next time you’re ready to throw down that credit card for the next best technology, are you better off investing those dollars in your own development? Instead of technology, are those dollars better directed toward coaching, education, customer appreciation..  even short-term teenage summer hires?