The 25 most difficult questions

which has "As Reprinted from FOCUS Magazine -- January 5, 1983" at the top.

The 25 most difficult questions you'll be asked on a job interview

Being prepared is half the battle.

If you are one of those executive types unhappy at your
present post and embarking on a New Year's resolution to find a new
one, here's a helping hand. The job interview is considered to be the
most critical aspect of every expedition that brings you face-to- face
with the future boss. One must prepare for it with the same tenacity
and quickness as one does for a fencing tournament or a chess match.

This article has been excerpted from "PARTING COMPANY:
How to Survive the Loss of a Job and Find Another Successfully"
by William J. Morin and James C. Cabrera. Copyright by Drake Beam Morin,
inc. Publised by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Morin is chairman and Cabrera is president of New York-based
Drake Beam Morin, nation's major outplacement firm, which has opened
offices in Philadelphia.

1. Tell me about yourself.

Since this is often the opening question in an interview, be extracareful
that you don't run off at the mouth. Keep your answer to a minute or
two at most. Cover four topics: early years, education, work history,
and recent career experience. Emphasize this last subject. Remember
that this is likely to be a warm-up question. Don't waste your best
points on it.

2. What do you know about our organization?

You should be able to discuss products or services, revenues, reputation,
image, goals, problems, management style, people, history and philosophy.

But don't act as if you know everything about the place. Let your answer
show that you have taken the time to do some research, but don't overwhelm
the interviewer, and make it clear that you wish to learn more.

You might start your answer in this manner: "In my job search,
I've investigated a number of companies.

Yours is one of the few that interests me, for these reasons..."

Give your answer a positive tone. Don't say, "Well, everyone tells
me that you're in all sorts of trouble, and that's why I'm here",
even if that is why you're there.

3. Why do you want to work for us?

The deadliest answer you can give is "Because I like people."
What else would you like-animals?

Here, and throughout the interview, a good answer comes from having
done your homework so that you can speak in terms of the company's needs.
You might say that your research has shown that the company is doing
things you would like to be involved with, and that it's doing them
in ways that greatly interest you. For example, if the organization
is known for strong management, your answer should mention that fact
and show that you would like to be a part of that team. If the company
places a great deal of emphasis on research and development, emphasize
the fact that you want to create new things and that you know this is
a place in which such activity is encouraged. If the organization stresses
financial controls, your answer should mention a reverence for numbers.

If you feel that you have to concoct an answer to this question - if,
for example, the company stresses research, and you feel that you should
mention it even though it really doesn't interest you- then you probably
should not be taking that interview, because you probably shouldn't
be considering a job with that organization.

Your homework should include learning enough about the company to avoid
approaching places where you wouldn't be able -or wouldn't want- to
function. Since most of us are poor liars, it's difficult to con anyone
in an interview. But even if you should succeed at it, your prize is
a job you don't really want.

4. What can you do for us that someone else can't?

Here you have every right, and perhaps an obligation, to toot your
own horn and be a bit egotistical. Talk about your record of getting
things done, and mention specifics from your resume or list of career
accomplishments. Say that your skills and interests, combined with this
history of getting results, make you valuable. Mention your ability
to set priorities, identify problems, and use your experience and energy
to solve them.

5. What do you find most attractive about this position? What seems
least attractive about it?

List three or four attractive factors of the job, and mention a single,
minor, unattractive item.

6. Why should we hire you?

Create your answer by thinking in terms of your ability, your experience,
and your energy. (See question 4.)

7. What do you look for in a job?

Keep your answer oriented to opportunities at this organization. Talk
about your desire to perform and be recognized for your contributions.
Make your answer oriented toward opportunity rather than personal security.

8. Please give me your defintion of [the position for which you are
being interviewed].

Keep your answer brief and taskoriented. Think in in terms of responsibilities
and accountability. Make sure that you really do understand what the
position involves before you attempt an answer. If you are not certain.
ask the interviewer; he or she may answer the question for you.

9. How long would it take you to make a meaningful contribution to
our firm?

Be realistic. Say that, while you would expect to meet pressing demands
and pull your own weight from the first day, it might take six months
to a year before you could expect to know the organization and its needs
well enough to make a major contribution.

10. How long would you stay with us?

Say that you are interested in a career with the organization, but
admit that you would have to continue to feel challenged to remain with
any organization. Think in terms of, "As long as we both feel achievement-oriented."

11. Your resume suggests that you may be over-qualified or too experienced
for this position. What's Your opinion?

Emphasize your interest in establishing a long-term association with
the organization, and say that you assume that if you perform well in
his job, new opportunities will open up for you. Mention that a strong
company needs a strong staff. Observe that experienced executives are
always at a premium. Suggest that since you are so well qualified, the
employer will get a fast return on his investment. Say that a growing,
energetic company can never have too much talent.

12. What is your management style?

You should know enough about the company's style to know that your
management style will complement it. Possible styles include: task oriented
(I'll enjoy problem-solving identifying what's wrong, choosing a solution
and implementing it"), results-oriented ("Every management
decision I make is determined by how it will affect the bottom line"),
or even paternalistic ("I'm committed to taking care of my subordinates
and pointing them in the right direction").

A participative style is currently quite popular: an open-door method
of managing in which you get things done by motivating people and delegating

As you consider this question, think about whether your style will
let you work hatppily and effectively within the organization.

13. Are you a good manager? Can you give me some examples? Do you
feel that you have top managerial potential?

Keep your answer achievementand ask-oriented. Rely on examples from
your career to buttress your argument. Stress your experience and your

14. What do you look for when You hire people?

Think in terms of skills. initiative, and the adaptability to be able
to work comfortably and effectively with others. Mention that you like
to hire people who appear capable of moving up in the organization.

15. Have you ever had to fire people? What were the reasons, and how
did you handle the situation?

Admit that the situation was not easy, but say that it worked out well,
both for the company and, you think, for the individual. Show that,
like anyone else, you don't enjoy unpleasant tasks but that you can
resolve them efficiently and -in the case of firing someone- humanely.

16. What do you think is the most difficult thing about being a manager
or executive?

Mention planning, execution, and cost-control. The most difficult task
is to motivate and manage employess to get something planned and completed
on time and within the budget.

17. What important trends do you see in our industry?

Be prepared with two or three trends that illustrate how well you understand
your industry. You might consider technological challenges or opportunities,
economic conditions, or even regulatory demands as you collect your
thoughts about the direction in which your business is heading.

18. Why are you leaving (did you leave) your present (last) job?

Be brief, to the point, and as honest as you can without hurting yourself.
Refer back to the planning phase of your job search. where you considered
this topic as you set your reference statements. If you were laid off
in an across-the-board cutback, say so; otherwise, indicate that the
move was your decision, the result of your action. Do not mention personality

The interviewer may spend some time probing you on this issue, particularly
if it is clear that you were terminated. The "We agreed to disagree"
approach may be useful. Remember hat your references are likely to be
checked, so don't concoct a story for an interview.

19. How do you feel about leaving all your benefits to find a new

Mention that you are concerned, naturally, but not panicked. You are
willing to accept some risk to find the right job for yourself. Don't
suggest that security might interest you more than getting the job done

20. In your current (last) position, what features do (did) you like
the most? The least?

Be careful and be positive. Describe more features that you liked than
disliked. Don't cite personality problems. If you make your last job
sound terrible, an interviewer may wonder why you remained there until

21. What do you think of your boss?

Be as positive as you can. A potential boss is likely to wonder if
you might talk about him in similar terms at some point in the future.

22. Why aren't you earning more at your age?

Say that this is one reason that you are conducting this job search.
Don't be defensive.

23. What do you feel this position should pay?

Salary is a delicate topic. We suggest that you defer tying yourself
to a precise figure for as long as you can do so politely. You might
say, "I understand that the range for this job is between $______
and $______. That seems appropriate for the job as I understand it."
You might answer the question with a question: "Perhaps you can
help me on this one. Can you tell me if there is a range for similar
jobs in the organization?"

If you are asked the question during an initial screening interview,
you might say that you feel you need to know more about the position's
responsibilities before you could give a meaningful answer to that question.
Here, too, either by asking the interviewer or search executive (if
one is involved), or in research done as part of your homework, you
can try to find out whether there is a salary grade attached to the
job. If there is, and if you can live with it, say that the range seems
right to you.

If the interviewer continues to probe, you might say, "You know
that I'm making $______ now. Like everyone else, I'd like to improve
on that figure, but my major interest is with the job itself."
Remember that the act of taking a new job does not, in and of itself,
make you worth more money.

If a search firm is involved, your contact there may be able to help
with the salary question. He or she may even be able to run interference
for you. If, for instance, he tells you what the position pays, and
you tell him that you are earning that amount now and would Like to
do a bit better, he might go back to the employer and propose that you
be offered an additional 10%.

If no price range is attached to the job, and the interviewer continues
to press the subject, then you will have to restpond with a number.
You cannot leave the impression that it does not really matter, that
you'll accept whatever is offered. If you've been making $80,000 a year,
you can't say that a $35,000 figure would be fine without sounding as
if you've given up on yourself. (If you are making a radical career
change, however, this kind of disparity may be more reasonable and understandable.)

Don't sell yourself short, but continue to stress the fact that the
job itself is the most important thing in your mind. The interviewer
may be trying to determine just how much you want the job. Don't leave
the impression that money is the only thing that is important to you.
Link questions of salary to the work itself.

But whenever possible, say as little as you can about salary until
you reach the "final" stage of the interview process. At that
point, you know that the company is genuinely interested in you and
that it is likely to be flexible in salary negotiations.

24. What are your long-range goals?

Refer back to the planning phase of your job search. Don't answer,
"I want the job you've advertised." Relate your goals to the
company you are interviewing: 'in a firm like yours, I would like to..."

25. How successful do you you've been so far?

Say that, all-in-all, you're happy with the way your career has progressed
so far. Given the normal ups and downs of life, you feel that you've
done quite well and have no complaints.

Present a positive and confident picture of yourself, but don't overstate
your case. An answer like, "Everything's wonderful! I can't think
of a time when things were going better! I'm overjoyed!" is likely
to make an interviewer wonder whether you're trying to fool him . .
. or yourself. The most convincing confidence is usually quiet confidence.

Agile Methods Miss the Point

From artima developer, Agile Methods Miss the Point, by Dale Asberry, April 5, 2004


Elaboration of the seven principles contributing to my success - the Princples of: Enabling Others, Simplicity, No Complaining, Least Work, Least Surprise, Least Damage, and "It Just Works".

Where'd it come from

I was working on my JCM7 presentation Jini and Web Services: Judy Project Overview when I realized that I was making choices about how I developed the Judy codebase. I'm not really sure why I hadn't consciously recognized what I was doing -- especially since I remember following these principles for years... maybe from the project being "my baby", or, possibly, from the complete lack of time I have to give to it. Mostly, I think it came from me thinking about how to describe Judy to my audience. Since software is for, and about, people, I decided to include it in the presentation.


One thing bothers me about the "Agile" movement is the fervor of the religious dogmatism from many of the practitioners. Before I get flamed, hear me out... I personally think many of the agile practices solve several problems that have afflicted the industry for decades -- I use them to solve problems myself. Yet, these practices are still fumbling around the most basic tenet. Software is for, and about, people. Fervor and dogmatism, while good at spreading and enforcing "the word", ultimately squashes critical thought (and the people engaged in it). Principles, on the other hand, are only meant as guides. Dogma are inflexible, hard and fast rules and includes the resulting punishment when a person strays.

Back to the Subject at Hand

Focusing on these principles, coupled with shuffling their priorities to meet the needs of the moment, has resulted in a steady progression and happiness with my chosen career - regardless of the methodologies (Waterfall->RAD->RUP->Agile) and technologies (COBOL->C/C++->Delphi->Java->Jini->Web Services) available to me.

The Principle of Enabling Others

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for life." At the end of the day, this makes me more productive by focusing on what software development is really about -- the people I work with. Paradoxical, I know, but very powerful.

The Principle of Simplicity

If it isn't simple, then it's wrong. In programming terms, simplicity is relative to the level of abstraction. This principle is fallout from having to maintain, review, or otherwise interact with uncounted lines of crappy, overly-complex code from lazy programmers. I particularly despise having to write sub-optimal code myself to work around the limitations of someone else's (fill in the blank) framework/API/application.

The Principle of No Complaining

Don't complain if you're not willing to fix the problem. Nothing is more destructive nor demoralizing than a contentious spirit. Complainers are lazy, petty, and spiteful with no intention of ever being helpful (although they are usually pretty crafty about trying to make it look like they are).

The Principle of Least Work

Do the least it takes to make the software useful, but, prepare for the future. Do whatever it takes to make the work easier (see enabling others). If someone else has already done it, see if you can use it. This principle is not condoning laziness -- there is already to much work that needs to be done and not enough time to do it.

The Principle of Least Surprise

Always do the least surprising thing. In other words, make it work intuitively. And, don't trust your own intuition. I wasn't able to find who discovered this principle, but it is true on many levels, not just GUI design. Unfortunately we are forced to live with products that fail to follow this principle. Why is so much software so baffling?

The Principle of Least Damage

Firstly, don't let the user do something they don't understand. Secondly, if you do, always give them a way to undo it. Finally, operations should only do one thing at a time in incremental baby steps -- except when the user knows what she is doing. Users should feel safe using the software.

The Principle of "It Just Works"

Never expect or require the user to RTFM. Lead the user to her goal. Encourage the user to explore. Expect the user to say, "wow, it's so easy to use!" Frankly, I'm completely fed up with all those software projects that force me to grab the source from HEAD (just to get a usable distribution) and then requires me to read the source code just to figure out how the application works.

Final Thoughts

If you remember and focus on software (use and development) being about people, then whatever principles you follow will equally lead to your success.

Hidden Asset :: Fast Company :: 01 March 2004

Hidden Asset

Bill Breen | Mar 01 '04

He's the most influential business guru you've never heard of. Reengineering, knowledge management, enterprise systems--Thomas Davenport helped midwife many of the biggest trends to have shaped business over the past 25 years. And yet, as he readily concedes, he was outflashed by others who got much of the credit (and in some cases, the blame) for these innovations in management thinking. Davenport lacks the theatrics of a Tom Peters and the revolutionary zeal of a Gary Hamel. He's a pragmatist who's painfully aware of how hard it is to effect change in large organizations. "Tom has the intellectual rigor to come up with game-changing ideas, and yet he's not isolated in some ivory tower," says Steve Kerr, managing director and chief learning officer at Goldman Sachs. "He's hard-wired into big, complex companies, which gives him a real-world understanding of how to put those ideas into play."

Davenport, a professor of information technology and management at Babson College, and a fellow at the Accenture Institute for High Performance Business, wrote some of the earliest articles and books on reengineering and knowledge management. Lately, he's been exploring the nature of the thinking that went into these and other business innovations. Working with Laurence Prusak and H. James Wilson, Davenport took on some of the big questions surrounding big business ideas: Where do ideas come from? Who are the idea advocates within large organizations? And how do they get traction for new initiatives, especially in this cautious business environment? The three men put their research into a book,
What's the Big Idea? Creating and Capitalizing on the Best Management Thinking
(Harvard Business School Press, 2003). In a wide-ranging interview with Fast Company
, he laid out his eight-point game plan for winning with ideas. Here it is, in his own words.

Companies compete with their brains as well as their brawn.

Organizations today must not only outgun and outhustle competitors, they must also outthink them. Companies win with ideas. Just consider the differing fates of Westinghouse and General Electric.

Westinghouse certainly had a culture of product innovation: Commercial radio, commercial nuclear power, air brakes, and lots of other amazing inventions came out of Westinghouse. But its managerial culture was incredibly insular. When Michael Jordan arrived as the company's CEO in 1993, he was surprised at how rarely people gathered around the water cooler and talked about new ideas. Innovation, such as it was, was devoted to thinking, "Should we keep this business or sell it off?" For all of its product breakthroughs, Westinghouse is a dead organization--its businesses have been dismantled and sold.

By contrast, GE--even before Jack Welch--has been an idea (and profit) machine. It's a prime example of a company that embraces a few big ideas--boundarylessness, Six Sigma, service businesses, digitization--and executes them really well. Once an idea becomes a corporate initiative, it gets embedded into the company's way of managing itself. These key initiatives are discussed and monitored in at least one management meeting every month. GE doesn't just talk about ideas, it gives them a bear hug, and we all know the result: GE sits at the top of the industrial heap.

Great ideas have three key elements.

All big ideas share at least one of three business objectives: improved efficiency, greater effectiveness, or innovations in products or processes. In a way, it's an exhaustive set of possibilities. You do things right, you do the right thing, or you do something new. Reengineering could have done all three--the mark of a truly big idea--but people used it solely for gaining efficiencies, which limited its power and value.

E-commerce has all three elements, which is why the idea has proven to be so durable. It was scarred by the dotcom implosion but is prospering once again because now it tackles the efficiency theme--the one objective that has truly prospered in this conservative climate. As of mid-December, holiday retail sales through online channels were projected to increase by 42% over the previous year. All of which speaks to the power of the e-commerce idea: Despite a massive negative reaction to it during the dotcom bust, it continues to thrive in many organizations.

There are no truly new ideas out there.

Every big idea owes a considerable debt to related ideas that came before it. Reengineering's key components already existed--they had just never been pulled together into one package. Of course, idea practitioners should avoid pointing out that the next big thing amounts to a reshuffling of other ideas. One of the tensions that idea sellers have to manage very carefully is, on the one hand, the need to get people's attention. The innovation has to be new and exciting. But they also have to talk about the idea in a responsible way so people understand how difficult it really is.

I wrote the first article on reengineering and the first book, but not the best-selling article or the best-selling book. What happened? I like to say that I bore the burden of academic respectability. Both the article and the book were less romantic, less revolutionary in tone than those that followed. Michael Hammer introduced his version with an article titled "Reengineering Work: Don't Automate, Obliterate." The headline for my piece: "The New Industrial Engineering" (which tells you something about the writing). Hammer and later James Champy were very successful in taking their ideas into the marketplace; they were not as successful in creating versions of their ideas that people could use. And that's what led to reengineering's decline. It became the innovation that forgot people.

Innovation comes from the front lines, but the top sets the tone.

The leadership at Hewlett-Packard used to encourage the notion that innovation should bubble up from below. HP was an early adopter of quality, which grew out of the company's Japanese unit. Change management, reengineering, logistics--HP was a laboratory for new innovations. Back when HP was pursuing knowledge management, I asked whether the CEO, Lew Platt, was interested in the idea. The general reaction was that the two words had probably never passed his lips--and nobody cared. They didn't need his buy-in. Instead, they pursued an idea at the business-unit level; then they developed some approach to sharing the idea across units. The real test of an idea was whether people throughout the organization--not just the CEO--were attracted to it.

Nowadays, I gather that HP has become much more hierarchical. If the idea doesn't have Carly Fiorina's sign-off, it won't get very far. In that environment, the idea practitioner really needs to understand the incentive for change--that is, where the demand lies--and ensure that the idea lines up with the leadership's focus.

Every new initiative needs a champion.

All ideas must have passionate advocates behind them--people who understand that business-improvement initiatives are vital to a company's success. These idea practitioners are the critical links between ideas and action. Their most noble attribute is their lack of cynicism. They certainly recognize the Dilbertian aspects of the contemporary workplace, and yet they have the ability to see through the problems of new business ideas to their true potential. They hold out a belief that people and organizations can change. At the same time, they are almost always business veterans whose decades of experience have taught them how difficult it is to bring about a new business idea.

Dan Holtshouse, who has helped lead Xerox's change from a copier company to "The Document Company," typifies a successful idea practitioner. First off, he minimizes his own role by giving the credit to his team. Second, he's been with Xerox since the 1970s, and he has the personal network inside the company to know whom to enlist in a change effort. He's a middle manager in the corporate strategy office, and yet he's well connected at the senior management level. Because he has pretty close ties to CEO Ann Mulcahy, his ideas manage to get some traction.

Idea practitioners have the seasoning to understand the company's culture and how to communicate their idea. My favorite example of this is Vince Barabba, who heads up marketing research at General Motors. GM executives spend a lot of time looking at new car models; they're accustomed to seeing things in three dimensions. So Barabba built a giant Lego model of a market-research study--people could literally walk among the bar graphs. That's a great demonstration of someone translating information and communicating it in a way that fits the company culture.

Sell no idea before its time.

An idea cannot take hold in an organization unless it is well timed. Lawrence Baxter, chief e-commerce officer of Wachovia Corp., is a good example of someone who understands that there's a time to pursue new ideas and a time to knuckle in to the task at hand. Not so long ago, Baxter was exploring some uses of superstring theory [an esoteric concept in theoretical physics] for effecting change management. But when we interviewed him for the book, Wachovia had just merged with First Union. Baxter was keeping his head down, trying to make the merger work. He knew it wasn't a good time at all to bring up superstring! But he believes that after the pressure subsides, the organizational culture will become more innovative.

Right now, we're just starting to emerge from an economic and an idea recession, a protracted hunkering-down phase. But the signs are starting to point to the return of an idea phase. We're seeing some growth in the economy, and people are talking about innovation again. And even in this conservative climate, smart companies are still in search of performance-boosting initiatives. Microsoft, for example, needs to figure out how to get people to buy more of these office-oriented productivity technologies. Bottom line: If I was an idea practitioner working within a company, right now I'd be cautiously raising some trial balloons for new initiatives that will enhance my business.

The story sells the idea.

The most important way in which ideas and experiences get communicated from sellers to buyers is through narratives. Stories give proof that your idea is going to work. Confidence-building evidence isn't statistical, it's narrative in form.

Here's a story about the power of organizational storytelling: As part of its knowledge-management initiative, British Petroleum rolled out some videoconferencing technology for rapidly sharing ideas. Soon after, one of their gas drills broke down in the North Slope of Alaska. BP's leading expert in gas turbines was working in the North Sea; it would have taken him 20 hours to fly to Alaska. Instead of putting him on a plane, BP patched him into the North Slope via videoconference, and he worked with on-site technicians to pinpoint the problem and get the drill back onstream. They finished the job in just 30 minutes. That story quickly circulated throughout BP; in time, it found its way into other organizations. Because it gave real-world evidence of a dramatic improvement, the story became part of knowledge-sharing's lore.

I doubt that anyone has ever validated these stories. I suspect that some of them are not entirely true. But it doesn't seem to matter. They still influence organizations.

All ideas have a life cycle.

History shows that hot ideas soon cool and fade from the scene. Customer-relationship management fell into that category. CRM quickly caught fire, but when people discovered it was more than a matter of simply deploying the right software, a backlash swiftly followed. Knowledge management has had a far more gentle rise and decline. Most of the people who were involved in it spent a huge amount of time saying it's not about technology, it's about changing cultures and behaviors. Everybody knows how hard that is, so people's expectations were never inflated.

Every idea has its own life span that follows its own trajectory. GE really understands this. GE adopted Six Sigma quality management at a very late stage in the idea's life cycle. GE knew this but didn't care--and it's still prospering greatly from Six Sigma. When it comes to ideas, GE doesn't mind being out of phase with the rest of the business world. Confident organizations adopt ideas not necessarily when others tout them, but when they're truly needed.

At GE, you knew an idea's time had come when Jack Welch wrote about it in his annual-report letter. Welch was such an idea-obsessed individual that if he didn't buy into it, the idea wasn't going anywhere. At most other companies, what's in and what's out is much less obvious. Idea entrepreneurs really need to be attuned to the zeitgeist in the society at large and focus on whether the idea fits with their organization's rhetoric.

Ultimately, an idea succeeds when it becomes pervasive--everyone practices the idea without thinking about it. The great example of this is quality and total quality management. By the late 1980s, 100% of large U.S. companies had some kind of quality program in place. No one does conferences on quality anymore because at most companies, quality is already baked into the way they do business. That's when you know that a big idea has truly taken hold: The idea itself is invisible. nFC

Bill Breen ( is based in Boston as Fast Company's Northeast bureau chief.

Think You Can Bobsled? Ha! :: Fortune Magazine :: 18 March 2002

Geoffrey Colvin :: Value Driven

Managers may talk a good game, but few have the guts to really run their business like a great sports team.

Committees scarcely exist. They're teams now. Departments are disappearing fast, too -- they've been turned into teams. Which makes sense, because a lot of managers can't speak three business sentences without talking about home runs and strikeouts and which employees hit good solid singles and whose batting average is falling. Hey, that team we've got running this company? They're the 1927 Yankees. They'll be proud of us here on the purchasing logistics team because we're gonna hit the ball outta the park! We're world-class corporate athletes at this place.

And there is not a thing in the world wrong with any of that, except this: Most managers would rather sit through a 99-year budget review than run their businesses according to the real principles of championship athletes. Those principles are excellent guidance for anyone who want to win in business. But most managers can't face them.

With the winter Olympics just over and the baseball season about to start, sports metaphors in business will be sprouting like daffodils. It's an opportune moment to remember what sports can really teach us about winning.

Teams have stars.

One of the favorite people principles of Jack Welch and other hyper-successful managers is differentiation -- the notion that top performers should get paid a whole lot more than mediocre ones. Plenty of managers find this idea almost unbearable. "It disrupts the team," as one said to me not long ago. "How can you have a guy working next to another guy who's making 50% more?"

Get real. Over the past several years, surely the best team in sports -- meaning a group of players who have worked together to achieve extraordinary success at the highest level -- is the New York Yankees. They've won four of the past six World Series. The highest-paid Yankee last year was shortstop Derek Jeter, who got $12.6 million. The lowest-paid Yankee last year was shortstop, D'Angelo Jiminez, who got $200,000. Two guys on the same team with the same job. Most corporate managers would have a cow if you suggested that they pay one of those guys 63% more than the other. But the Yankees didn't pay Jeter 63% more. They paid him 63 times more.

Somehow the Yankee dugout is not a snake pit of resentment -- quite the contrary. The truth is that every team has stars, and everyone on the team know who they are. A lot of corporate teams try to suppress that reality. Winning athletic teams embrace it.

Winners don't carry losers.

Maybe you remember when Jacques Nasser, as Ford's CEO, tried to install a performance rating system for executives. Every manager would have to be rated A, B, or C, with at least 5% required to be in the C category. Not exactly radical, you might think, but it was radical at Ford, where the organization rose up and smote Nasser for his cruel, arbitrary, cold, heartless proposal.

What's amazing is how people who are outraged by Nasser-like suggestions respond quite differently to the performance of ballplayers. If an outfielder can't catch a cold and is batting .125, the fans want him out -- now. He's a really good guy who had a great season in '91? Wonderful, but any manager who kept playing him on that basis would need police protection.

Only 750 players are on the playing rosters of Major League Baseball, yet every off-season the teams make hundreds of player transactions. Most of them involve teams re-signing players to one-year contracts (only megastars get seven-year deals). Do you have to re-sign with your employer every year? How about the people who work for you? On champion teams, most players have to.

The 98th percentile isn't good enough.

An awful lot of companies claim to be world-class. If you can recite your company's mission statement without dozing off, you'll probably get to "world class." Most people have no idea what that really means. At the Winter Olympics, the difference between gold medal and no medal was often less than 2%. Against truly global competition, a lot of stunningly good performers were just not good enough. In the men's 10,000-meter speed skating, the difference between a gold medal and no medal was 1.9%. In the women's giant slalom it was 1.1%; in the four-man bobsled, 0.2%.

A lot of managers claim their companies will "bring home the gold" this year. Terrific, but remember that many excellent competitors went to Salt Lake City (in 2002) and were 98% or 99% as good as the best -- and brought home nothing. By all means, try to bring home the gold, but don't delude yourself about how hard it is.

The sports world is actually full of valuable insights for business people. And, if some people don't want to hear them? That would be a competitive advantage for you. Now, let's play ball.

This is an article from the 18 March, 2002, issue of Fortune Magazine.