Category Archives: Current affairs

Opportunities and Moments

“Great moments are born from great opportunities.”

–  Herb Brooks

 

These are strange times, full of uncertainty and fear.  It is also a time of opportunity.  While never one to be the Pollyanna, “every cloud has a silver lining” type, I am one that is well conditioned to the Stockdale Paradox, that realism is balanced with optimism.  Yes, the situation might seem dire at the moment, but it is the situation at hand and we have to deal with reality as it is presented, yet holding firm to the conviction that in then end things will be well.

While I do not advocate looking at the current Covid-19/Coronavirus as a “great opportunity”, I absolutely believe everyone should view it as at least an “opportunity”.  While it is cliche, every setback, every challenge, every obstacle is truly an opportunity.  And as Coach Brooks said so well, from those opportunities can come great moments.   It is incumbent on us to recognize the opportunity and create the moment.  Nothing will happen unless we actually do something.  We have a unique and unprecedented opportunity in our professional and personal life.

Professionally, it is a time of rapid change, of questions of what will be, how to adjust and position for a new future.  We are all finding out what roles can or cannot be “remote”, what tasks and roles are “critical” and what are “nice to have”.  Pivot to what is critical/essential and shed what is not.  Take the steps now to position yourself and your business for tomorrow, for what lies ahead, not for what was.  If things are slow, finally get all those administrative things done, catch-up on the reports, get the new marketing plan finally launched, update and get ahead of all the little things that bog you down in the normal times.

As a leader, lead.  Be the voice of calm, of reason.  Set the tone by being balanced and decisive, yet compassionate and aware.  Care for your people, put their well being at the fore of your decision making, both in the moment and especially for the future.  Make the hard, right decisions, both for your people and the business.  Share information, the plan and the vision; communicate.

On the personal front, and especially for those who are now firmly in the “work from home” or “self quarantine” category, embrace the time.  Spring cleaning, attack that seemingly never ending list of household chores, of projects large and small, of “someday when I have the time…” list.  For the next few weeks, we have been given the gift of time. Go through the closets, the attic, the basement, purge the clothes you never wear, donate to the local charities.  Someone out there can benefit; someone actually needs what you do not want, what has been collecting dust in your home for years.  But above all else, do not be selfish; do not put others in jeopardy because you are inconvenienced.  Be patient.  Be kind.

On the family front, embrace the time with family.  The constant excuses, commute time, the dinner meetings, the soccer or band practice, none of those apply.  Sit down as a family for meals, take the time to digitally detox, to actually get to know each other as people.  Walk the dog together, play a board game or cards as a family, binge Netflix as a family, finally take up running/walking, play catch in the yard, tackle household projects as a team.  In short, be together and be present.

And for all of us, let’s embrace the opportunity to be a better person.  A better neighbor, co-worker, friend and family member.  To be a better team member of society, of our communities.  Let’s help others, let’s make decisions that are beyond ourselves.  Perhaps we can all make some great moments born of this opportunity.

If all else fails, just watch the clip from Miracle.

 

 

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Coach O, LSU and Job Matching

Coach O is the walking, Cajun talking, living example of what it means to have the right person, in the right job, at the right place, at the right time.  He is the definition of Job Matching.  Ed Oergeron led LSU to the College Football National Championship, and along the way has demonstrated leadership, fortitude, wisdom, drive, passion and spirit, but above all, the critical aspect of “fit”.  People and organizations achieve the most when there are synergies, when there is the right fit; when the job matches the person and the person the job.

College football has always sort of been my guilty television vice.  It is the only sport I actually make a point to follow, and the only games that sometimes I will schedule around, that I will actually sit down and watch.  As for going to games on campus – anytime, anywhere.  I love game day on a campus.  LOVE IT.  Living around the country, it has been the constant lens into regional culture.  How the sport is consumed and the passion around it tells you a lot about the region.

I was very attuned to USC football and Coach Oregeron during their tumultuous 2013 season.  He was promoted from Defensive Coordinator to interim head coach midway through the year.  It was wildly clear from the outside that the players and students loved him, but it was equally clear that he was not the “right fit” for USC.  There is so much more than “the X’s and O’s, Jimmy and Joe’s” that goes with being a college football head coach, especially at a major program.  It is literally running a multi million, if not billion, dollar business.  The coach builds a staff, runs an operational program, recruits and trains his players and coaches, and above all sells his program.  He literally has to raise money and sell tickets.  Boosters, alumni, television, radio, youtube videos, all of it.  The head football coach is the face, and voice, of the football program, and more often than not, the athletic department, if not the university.  Coach Oregeron was many things, but the optimi of USC was not one of them.  He was not retained.  He was without a job, again.

Coach Oregeron had been a head coach before, and it did not go well.  He took a relative demotion to be the Defensive Coordinator at USC, and earned the chance to be an interim head coach in 2013.  He did well.  However, it was not the right fit.  The job did not match the man, nor the man the job.  Coach Oregeron elected to take a demotion, and certainly less income, to go to LSU as their Defensive Line Coach in 2015.  The man knew LSU was the right place – the job was a match, and potential future opportunities and promotions would come if he performed.  Clearly they did.

Above all else, the story of Coach O is also about learning from failure.  His path to the National Championship was paved with challenges and setbacks, failures, firings, being passed over, parodied and some could say mocked.  He took demotions to keep working.  He moved for opportunity.  He hired people who were smarter than him; experts in their fields, and then gave them the freedom to execute.  He led with heart and emotion, energy and passion.  He put others over self.  He did not let his ego get in the way.  But above all, he never gave up.  When he earned the chance, that one opportunity to get the perfect job, at the perfect place, at the perfect time, he took it.  He was never shy about saying LSU was the job he wanted, and today LSU, Louisiana and Cajuns everywhere are better for embracing Coach O.

Dare I say we are all just a bit better for knowing of Coach O.

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Run the Race, the Entire Race

It has become the trending topic and video of the current news cycle, the Women’s 4×400 relay at the NCAA Championships.  The odds, the pressure, the botched hand-off, and the comeback.  Words do not do it justice.  Watch the video – it is the best 5 minutes of the week.

 

Sports is such an illustrator of life lessons, and in sports there is nothing as humbling and clarifying as the track.  Everyone is competing in the same arena, across the same distance, against the unforgiving clock.  And when it comes to the 400, or 800 and 1600, it is equal parts physical ability and mental stamina.  It flipping hurts running fast over distance.
It was just the reminder we need:
  • Never, ever stop chasing.  Run the entire race.
  • Never take your foot off the gas.  If you are in front, know with absolute certainty that there is someone, somewhere, coming up behind you.
  • There will be hiccups, bobbles and misfortune along the way.   It is not about what happens, it is about how you react.
It was an amazing race for the USC Women.  They had one chance to win the entire meet, win the 4×400, the final event.  While everyone will remember that last closing 100 meters, it was every step, by every one of the women, in every leg, that ensured the victory.  If any of them had run one step slower, none of it would have mattered.  And if any of their teammates, in any of the events, had not given their all throughout the weekend, the stage would not have been set for the dramatic final race.
Sports, and especially the track, is a great equalizer.  It is also a great case study of the relationship between practice, effort, commitment, teamwork, and victory.  It took all they had in that moment, but it also took all they had in practice, throughout the course of the season, and in that meet, to create the opportunity.
We owe it to ourselves to run the race, and do all that it takes to get to the point to be in the race.  And when in the race, we run the entire race, as hard as we can, no matter what happens along the way.
As the Trojan’s say, “fight on”.

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Modern World “Sharing”

While it was a lifetime or two ago, I learned a ton while doing my MBA.  With all the noise around Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, I am reminded of one of the “ah-ha moments” from marketing classes.  In short, marketing was all about gaining and using information to get customers to buy your product or service.  Focus Groups.  Surveys.  Rewards Programs.  That was the one that threw this naive 20 something and had me paying attention…Rewards Programs?  Yes, rewards programs were created to track the customers buying patterns.  They were not created to “reward” me with rebates and coupons, they were there to get me to give them information – what I bought, how much, how often, etc.  In 1996 this was amazing news to me.  It opened an entirely new world of data and behavior, tracking and positioning.  I have never forgotten what I learned and it changed how I viewed the world.

Today we see Mark Zuckerberg being publicly “questioned” by members of Congress.  Optically it is clumsy at best, and often looks like a parent or grandparent feebly grasping at a generation and a world that has left them behind.  It is just bad.  It is bad for Facebook, it has to be wildly frustrating and trying for Mark Zuckerberg, it is certainly bad for Congress (heaven knows they do not need any help looking inept) and in the end it is bad for us as taxpayers.  How much money is being spent on this bit of theater?  And then the money that will be spent to enact laws and regulations, for studies and reports, hearings and findings.  However, what I find myself thinking as the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica saga unfolds is another of those clichés I so love, “live by the sword, die by the sword”.

Professionally and personally I am indifferent when it comes to social media.  It is simply another “thing” that is part of the world.  It has a purpose and a place, but I view it much as I view a hammer, a phone, a wrench or a vehicle.  It is a tool.  I use it as I need it, but am neither emotionally nor financially attached.  And much like anything and everything in this world, it can be used for good and for bad.  It is a tool.  The tool does nothing.  The user does everything.

Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg have been open from the beginning about what they do and how they make money.  Facebook created a platform to share information.  Simple.  Note the word share; Facebook never took anything, it received everything.  Much like “rewards programs”, “rebate offers” or the “first one is free”, Facebook was about gathering information and then using said information to drive revenue.  Users give, Facebook takes.  Facebook then sells what users gave.  Plain, simple, and direct.

People wanted a platform to share their stories, their lives, their photos, their likes, their dislikes, their frustrations, their loves, and yes their secrets.  Social media has brought families closer, it has made the world smaller, it has enhanced cross cultural understanding, it has bridged the generational gap, it has opened minds.  It has also served as an echo chamber, a source of vindication and reinforcement for troubled souls the world over and been used to intimidate, bully and harm.  Above all, social media is a tool.  An unimaginably powerful tool that is used to shape and manipulate behavior, for both good and ill.  Sharing information of any sort is a choice.  And with all choices come consequences, and there in lies the cliché.  People want an open, sharing world, they will live in an open and sharing world.  The information you share can and will be used.  Live by the sword, die by the sword.

In the spirit of irony, that cliché, like many, has its roots in The Bible. Matthew 26:52 if anyone is interested. The Bible and the Ancient Greeks are almost always the original source. Funny how that works.

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Roger Bannister – Making the Impossible Possible

There are certain names, achievements and events that just simply are.  Neil Armstrong,  first man to walk on the moon.  The Wright Brothers, the first to fly.  Roger Bannister, broke the 4 minute mile barrier.  In these stories of great achievement, of individuals doing what moments before seemed impossible, come great lessons.  Roger Bannister died Saturday.  Though he will forever be remembered for breaking the 4 minute barrier, it is the lessons he shared that I found myself reflecting on this weekend.

Once the impossible is made possible, it becomes common.  History is riddled with things once thought impossible.  Flight, going to the moon, running a sub 4 minute mile.  All examples of things that could never be done.  While they might not be entirely common, they are certainly not impossible, and short of the moon, not even news worthy.  If one believes something is impossible, it will never happen.  But if one accepts that something is possible, they are on the path to achievement.

Amazing achievement demands sacrifice.  So much goes into that simple sentence, but breaking the 4 minute mile barrier is a story of sacrifice and pain.  It hurts to run fast.  Any runner suffers, but running fast for any amount of distance really, really hurts.  The mental fortitude to endure such self-inflicted pain is the true strength of a runner.  Running at an elite, world-class level, is a monastic existence.  Roger Bannister sacrificed in all other aspects of his life to achieve his goal.  Things thought impossible are not made possible without unfathomable sacrifice.

Focus and Commitment.  It was the most amazing part of the entire Roger Bannister story…he was going to medical school when he broke the 4 minute barrier!  It was the era of “Amateur Athletics” – one could not profit from athletics; it was unseemly.  Roger Bannister was in medical school, would train over his lunch hour (an hour to change, run, cool down, shower and change – an hour), and then occasionally run at meets strictly for the competition and only when his academic schedule allowed.  There were no endorsements, no shoe contracts, no government programs or athletic assistance.  He had to cover his own costs, buy his own shoes, sharpen his own spikes, all of it.  He had to focus and commit to the goal, then do everything required to achieve his goal.

Nothing is ever done alone.  The track optimizes individual effort.  It is the runner, on the track, against the clock.  Yet in his efforts to break the 4 minute barrier, Roger Bannister had help.  He had a coach and trainer, he had teammates and mentors, and on that fateful day he had pacers.  There literally were men who went before him, breaking the wind, setting the stage for his final lap push to finish in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds.  Nothing, even the most solitary of endeavors, is every done entirely alone.

Competition.  Having rivals.  Being pushed.  Having someone to chase, someone nipping at your heels.  It matters.  Roger Bannister was not the only person chasing the 4 minute mile.  The rivalry with American Wes Santee and Australian John Landy was en epic contest.  They all were running in the 4:02 range and were desperate to be the one who broke the barrier.  They each pushed the other, chipping away, gradually going just a bit faster, training a touch harder, honing their craft and demanding more from the others just by competing.  Just as it was a “space race” to the moon, so it was with Bannister, Santee and Landy, and so it is with each of us who compete.  Thank the competition, they make you better.

The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb was the book that introduced me to the full story of the 4 Minute Mile.  Like most everyone, I knew Roger Bannister broke the barrier, but knowing what it took, how it was done, the rivalry with Landy and Santee, the worldwide quest to do it, the mental and physical barriers.  That book sets atop one of my book shelves for a reason.  It is that good and taught me so much.  Sir Roger Bannister made the impossible absolutely common.  Yet when asked, he holds his work in medical research as his greatest personal achievement.  That last part is what makes the loss of Roger Bannister so great and the lessons his quest illustrates all the more telling.  He was a regular, and by all accounts, a good guy, who repeatedly did amazing things.  He achieved because he believed, he sacrificed, was focused and committed, had and accepted help, and embraced the competition.

You know, all the things any of us can do.

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Commitment – Rockets, Tom, Olympics and Teddy

There is something almost reassuring in seeing those who put in the work, who took the chance, who totally commit, succeeding, or even failing.  Just this month, we have seen a rocket take a car into space, a privately owned, designed and produced rocket and car.  Seen an older athlete return to the top of his sport, beating folks half his age.  An entire stream of unknown athletes burst onto the world stage, taking gold in events that require the skill, daring, joy and reckless abandon of youth.  Oh, and witnessed the most accomplished quarterback in football yet again lead his team to the Super Bowl.  But what we also saw in these events was failure.  The main rocket missed its remote recovery point, the quarterback lost the Super Bowl, and scores of Olympians melt in the heat of the moment.

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in that gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

  • President Theodore Roosevelt

Watching Shaun White, Chloe Kim and Red Gerard fly, to witness a private company launch a massive rocket, a test launch, complete with a privately produced car as the payload, broadcast live, oh and recover perfectly their booster rockets – all amazing moments.  It was equally rewarding to see Tom Brady slow the hands of time, but lose a game.  Or to see all the success of SpaceX and the Falcon Heavylift not include the perfect recovery of the main rocket.  Witnessing Mikaela Shiffrin win gold in her first event, then be edged off the podium in her specialty, or Lindsay Vonn to settle for bronze in her first event.  All incredible achievements, but not perfection.  Yet they all, in sport or business, have encountered great success, great failure, but through it all, none have never wavered.  Elon, Tom, Lindsay, Shaun, Chloe, Red and Mikaela continue pressing forward.

It takes courage to fail.  It takes commitment to try.  But it takes faith to try again, and again, and again until the moment of truth.  Winning is great, but getting back into the game after the crash, after the loss, after the defeat or just coming up a bit short, well that is the domain of the champion

Again, it is Teddy Roosevelt who said it so much better:

“It is not the critic who counts;
not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly;
who errs and comes short again and again;
who knows great enthusiasms,
the great devotions;
who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,
and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly
so that his place shall never be with those timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

 

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Kaepernick and the Cause Célèbre Curse

Colin Kaepernick, from a business perspective, is not worth the risk.  It has nothing to do with his political views, his kneeling, his public comments or personal beliefs, nor his athletic abilities or skills.  Rather it has everything to do with his being a cause célèbre.  The more support he generates, the more celebrities who publicly plead his case, the more organizations and movements that march, the more stories and media coverage, the less hirable he becomes.  This has nothing to do with athletic ability, nor does it have anything to do with politics or race.  Rather, it has everything to do with business.

The emotion and “noise” surrounding Kaepernick is currently being directed at the NFL, its commissioner, its teams and team ownership.  With 32 teams and a very public commissioner, in raw numbers, each team simply has to shoulder 3% of the heat.  However, the team that hires him would then take-on all the baggage he brings.  All the noise, the emotion, the attention, the vitriol, the passionate supporters, the messaging, the questions, the disruptions.  All of it, all the time.  Thus, Colin Kaepernick cannot be hired by any NFL team.

The only thing harder than hiring someone is firing someone.  While it sounds harsh, it is  reality.  While it might be tempting to hire Colin Kaepernick, especially as injuries mount over the course of an NFL season, and he is someone with a very rare skill set – NFL quarterbacks are not easily found – he simply brings too much baggage.  And if an organization decided to accept all that hiring him entailed, the idea of not playing him and potentially having to fire him – it is simply not viable.  It is a sad irony, the more people, and his fellow players, try to support and help Colin Kaepernick find work, the less hirable he becomes.

 

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