Being an Indispensable Bagpiper

Fascinating article “Secret of Peak Performance: Indispensability,” on the motivations of Olympic athletes when competing as part of a team. A study of competitors at the swimming events of the 2008 Olympics reveals that performance in relays, where an individual’s performance mattered more, was a big motivator for a higher level run. But this performance was only evident when the swimmer was second, third, or fourth in the relay:

“…times for the first swimmers in a relay were no better than those they turned in during their individual meets. However, ‘second, third, and last swimmers swam significantly faster in the relay than in the individual competition.'”

Pipe bands are, if you’ll excuse the crude comparison, team sports. Each piper and drummer is like that second, third, or fourth member of the relay team—except they’re all racing at the same time. It is a truism in America to believe that no one person is indispensable, but the fact of the matter is, when a pipe band is rehearsing or competing, every single bagpiper or drummer is, in fact, indispensable at that time. Their individual performance can make or break the performance of the group. That should be a motivating influence to anyone: be indispensable. The motivating performance effect even influences all levels of competitor, top to bottom.

“A number of studies have found that, compared to working individually, individuals tend to be more motivated by group projects. But as Hertel and his colleague Bernhard Weber noted in their 2007 meta-analysis of this research, this effect ‘is particularly true for less-capable, inferior group members.’

The new study finds this dynamic isn’t limited to raising the level of the mediocre: It also inspires some of the most capable members of an elite group. Topflight athletes may, of necessity, be self-focused. But at least in this sample, they reached their highest performance levels when they were highly motivated to not let down their teammates.”

Food for thought as you’re standing in the pipe band circle this season.

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