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Original Issue

Attempting the Crossover

A management expert seeks out the shared principles of winning in business and sports

As each sports season ends, thousands of high school athletes troop to banquets, where they are subjected to a unique form of torture: the motivational speech. All these kids want is to collect their trophies and get their picture taken with Mom and Dad. But before that can happen, some geezer who had a cup of coffee with the Cleveland Spiders must preach a long sermon about how the lessons of athletic competition apply to the Game of Life.

If you've ever sat through one of those speeches, you need not bother to read Confidence: How Winning Streaks & Losing Streaks Begin and End, by Rosabeth Moss Kanter (Crown Business, 402 pages, $27.50) because you've heard it all before. The author, a Harvard Business School professor (who says Major League is one of her favorite movies) delivers the astonishing news that confidence is crucial to success in both athletics and business. What's more, both winning and losing can become habitual, so try to be a winner.

Kanter's discussions of how such teams as the Philadelphia Eagles and the Chicago Cubs have turned their fortunes around are informative but to knowledgeable sports fans won't seem particularly penetrating. Unlike Gay, who deals in the specifics of mass, speed and distance, Kanter tries to explain how Management 101 intangibles like communication, collaboration and leadership affect a team. Not surprisingly her conclusions are much more nebulous than the physics professor's. It's a fairly straightforward matter to calculate the arc of a forward pass; finding the formula for success is a bit more difficult. --C.H.