With lightning fast speed, DeSean Jackson broke away from the Dallas defensive backs, caught the pass in stride, and cruised into the endzone for a touchdown. Or at least what looked like a touchdown. Upon closer look with television monitors showing step by step of the catch and run, it was clear that DeSean had held out the ball and released it — as a punctuation of his accomplishment — before he even crossed the goal line. Instead of being a hero, he looked like a chump. Six points were promptly removed from the scoreboard.
Sports metaphors in business are often overdone. We all need to “work as a team”, “huddle up” and every now and then try a “hail mary.” It makes sense because business is competition. We’re always trying to outsmart and outmaneuver our competitors. We’re trying to get behind their defensive backs and win new business. Win the game. But there’s a big difference: games have a clock. A defined beginning and end. There is always a winner and loser.
Business is continuous. There is no goal line. There is no touchdown and while there may be market leaders there is never a winner. Obviously there are milestones that are worth celebrating, but you don’t get to put a trophy on your wall and parade through town.
I’ve seen several companies get hurt by premature celebration syndrome. Like DeSean, they look pretty stupid in retrospect. The most common example of premature celebration happens with funding events — especially high visibility IPOs. When I worked at Individual Inc, we conducted a road show over several months and eventually had a successful IPO. The stock started trading at $24. We celebrated. After that time a large percentage of the company checked stock tickers several times a day to see how the stock was performing. Based on the number of vested options or shares owned, it was easy to do them math. “Up 2 points today, that’s $15K more for my nest egg.” Or for the higher ups, that 2 points may have translated into $2ooK or $2 million. It’s a lot of money going up and down on a daily or hourly basis.
It’s a natural reaction, but totally distracting. A funding event — whether Seed capital, a few million in an early round or a huge IPO — is exciting and a vote of confidence for a limited group of people. Nothing more than that. So, in reality, getting investment is like the opening kick-off, not the final whistle. It’s where you go from there that really matters.
Events that seem big in the moment fade over time as competition heats up and the news cycle swings. After beginning trading at $24 our beloved INDV stock eventually sagged to $3.50 and then recovering to around $10 before being merged with another company. Those thousands of dollars of paper money that seemed exhilarating on the way up seemed even more painful on the way down. No nest egg.
Don’t get me wrong. You should stop to smell the roses and clink some champaign glasses from time to time to celebrate big events. The journey should be fun. Just don’t make the mistake of believing that “you’ve arrived”. Because when you go back and review the film closely, you may in fact have just turned the ball over to the other team.
DeSean isn’t alone in premature celebration. This compilation video shows some notable and funny celebration fails: