Qualifiers vs. Disqualifiers

For those of us that watched the World Cup, we were regularly inundated with statistics from analysts about why and how teams were qualified or not qualified to move forward in the tournament. They’d focus on data like population sizes and average team ages, and I swear I even heard someone mention Gini coefficients.

In all cases, the only qualifier for moving forward that actually matters is winning the game. Set all of the other stuff aside, and respect the perfect correlation between advancing and winning a game. “Do or do not, there is no try.”

So why do we care about all of our precious statistics then? Because we are after their predictive value. We all want to know what’s going to happen next, so we obsess over predictive qualifications.

While that’s fine for a betting strategy, what if we instead focused on the negative side of the predicted outcomes? Let’s call the positive outcomes “qualifiers,” and the negative outcomes “disqualifiers.”

Disqualifiers are where underdogs come from. They’re the stuff that is inherently working against a hero. Disqualifiers are what make qualifiers make sense. Disqualifiers are the human-interest aspect that makes great stories. Luke on the evaporator farm shouldn’t become a master Jedi. Growth-stunted Lionel Messi shouldn’t become one of the best soccer players ever.

Qualifiers are for statistical models. Disqualifiers are for storytelling.

If we look around, we see it in our professional lives as well. Successful people are regularly paraded in front of us, in person, on TV, social media – everywhere. We are trained to be aware of their qualifiers and lectured/coached/power-pointed towards all of the things they did that make them great. So they won the game, fine, but what got them to be great?

But what if we focused on the disqualifiers too?

What if we specifically sought out the disadvantages, failures, and miscellaneous structural flaws? Not just to be negative, but to actually pursue the story, or what Stephen Pressfield called “the Resistance,” would we not better understand the sinews between skill and luck?

I think that what we’d find is we have a lot more in common with most successful people than we typically feel in any given moment.

Life is hard, but it is also rich with experiences. Embedded in a well-qualified story are the earnest disqualifiers that unite us. They aren’t always highlighted, we have to look for them.

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