Out of Luck

It is a fascinating study in human behaviour checking the reactions of fans and pundits  to a sports star’s personal decision. Emotions range from support to utter disdain for the person’s choice. Anger and love are also on display.

Fans think they have a right to comment because they pay for the players’ salaries. There is truth in this statement. Without fans, it would seem there would be no professional sports.

Sportscasters and other pundits believe that their “blinding insights” should have their listeners, readers, and viewers hanging on every brilliant word and thought.

Outside of pro sports, fans of movie stars and other performers also believe they can comment on decisions to accept certain roles or on the quality of one’s performance.

In all cases people are entitled to their own opinion.

However, when the narrative switches from a reasonable opinion to something downright nasty, it is wise to step back and assess the situation. Context is often forgotten.

Andrew Luck is a quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts. He was a pro-bowl performer. This means he was among the top players in the league. He came from Stanford, where he was a star player and graduated with an engineering degree. He was a well-liked teammate and highly respected for his mature outlook and competitiveness. He has made $100 million in his career to date.

And he retired from football last weekend.

He has had many injuries in his career. One kept him out of action for a whole season. This year he has an injury, apparently something with a calf muscle, that has kept him out of practice and all the exhibition games.

He said that he can not enjoy his life because he is in constant pain. So he made a decision that was best for him.

He has been praised. He has been vilified.

Fans are angry because their star player has left the team in a tough spot. He is a difference maker and can win a game with his ability and leadership.

But should we expect someone to place his physical health in peril because of our desire as a fan to support a winning team? Some say yes. Others respect his decision to walk away.

I am not a Colts fan. I have seen the kid play and he is really good. As a fan, to me it matters not whether he plays or not.

As an ex-player the timing seemed odd for me because he didn’t leave his team with many options to implement a plan B. It seemed selfish and unfair to his team.

But when you dig deeper you realize he made a decision that he believes is best for his health and life in the long run. Everybody can appreciate and support someone who does this for these reasons. Every time I walk up stairs it sounds like I am popping popcorn, all due to playing football and rugby and squatting 500 pounds when I was training hard.

Heck, he could have stayed on the injured list all year and collected some $24.5 million for just sitting around. His team would be in the same on field situation as they are with his decision now.

But he said no, that’s not fair to the team.

How many of you would have said “no” to $24.5 million for just sitting around?

Many sports stars have been blasted for staying and playing past their prime. Fans and sports experts hang on the last few awful years of performance rather than remember the great times, maybe a championship, that the player provided.

In business, I have seen people that should have left the organization. They basically “quit and stayed.” They continued to collect their salary and perks and did not contribute any value to the organization, its employees or customers. They should have retired and gone out with their head held high. People would have held them in higher regard because of the great work that was remembered rather than the last few years that were viewed with contempt.

You are responsible for your own life. “If it is to be, it is up to me.” You cannot make decisions about your own well-being by thinking primarily about what others will say about you and your decision. We have all had terrific colleagues that have left what we thought was a great company and situation. We have also had great colleagues lose their job because of a corporate decision (which is made by an actual person) to downsize or reconfigure the operation.

Life goes on. We stay good friends with good people after they leave.

I am certain Andrew Luck’s teammates will stay friends with him, if they were true friends in the first place.

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” – John Wooden.

With a little “Luck” you will make the decision that is right for you.


My big sister can “out-Martha, Martha”

I am blessed to have two great sisters that put up with my shenanigans over the years. Sometimes with my brother as a willing accomplice…and sometimes on a solo mission to bug them.

I love them all very much.

My big Sis was a nurse early in her career. When she was an at home Mom, she started to teach piano and has taught from her studio for over a quarter century. Part teacher, part counselor, part listener, part cheerleader, and part drill Sargent, she is what is needed for the student at that moment in time.

She is a brilliant pianist. She practices very hard. She is focused on being the best she can be and holds herself to high standards. At the same time, she is not so obsessive that her charm and razor sharp wit is so often on display and used accordingly.

She cares deeply about her family and friends. At a milestone birthday 5 years ago there were over 80 people in their backyard celebrating her. I knew many of these folks from visits to Ottawa over the years. And some I met for the first time but knew them from my talks with my sister. Every person was grateful to know my big Sis, and had only great things to say.

She is one of the most creative and inventive people I know. She was doing recycling and composting and reusing stuff before most people could even spell those words. When visiting her, I would laugh as their weekly garbage was typically one small bag, and their recycling was neat and trim and easy for the depot to sort. And this was with a family of four!

She is an AMAZING cook. And I mean everything she cooks. I particularly enjoy receiving salsa care packages (hint hint).

When Martha Stewart was first in vogue, some 20+ years ago, I used to say my sister could “out-Martha, Martha.” All the little tips, tricks and techniques she used were better than Martha. One example is that she can sew – did costumes for dance recitals for years! And on and on…

She wasn’t born adept and skilled. She worked at it. She made mistakes (at least I think she did) and learned from them. And she keeps getting better.

Her resilience is amazing. Her strength and compassion – she has volunteered with the Rideau Vets home for many years – is second to none. She stays out of the spotlight and just gets things done.

Her call to action for an issue worth fighting for is…ACTION! While she can plan better than Martha, it is her ability to take action and get things done that separates her from most people. When someone says “why?” she says “why not!”

If everyone that claims to be passionate about their important issues got things done, we would be miles ahead in our country, provinces and cities. There is a ton of awareness. There is sometimes precious little action.

We need to get inventive. The saying is “you cannot solve the problem by taking the same action that caused the problem.” Yet, we so often do just that.

From a business perspective, a recent Tom Peters article showed how very conservative most organizations are. “Fortune favors the bold.” But this is sometimes hard when certain stakeholders demand a type of return that is safe. Now, I am not suggesting risk for the sake of risk. I am suggesting that we need to be looking for ways to “out-Martha” your competition.

Are you including your employees in idea generation. The best companies I have worked for, the best companies I know today, all encourage and listen to input from all their employees. While not everything can be expected to be put into practice, it is a wonderful problem of riches when you have too many great ideas to choose from.

Do all of you out there in “TV land” have too many great ideas or are you still trying to find at least one?

Maybe my big sister can help. I know she has helped lots of other organizations and people.

At a minimum, maybe you will get fresh baked bread with homemade strawberry jam. That makes any problem go away.

Happy birthday Sis!!!

For the love of the game

There is something about the purity of playing a sport that has captured our interest forever.

I am not going to rail against greedy owners and players (that is such an easy target) who make demands of each other. Other than to say, “if you sign a contract you should keep your word” and this applies to both sides.

OK, I am going to vent – certain NFL players whining about renegotiating a contract THAT THEY SIGNED IN GOOD FAITH and they do not report to camp. NHL players holding out because they think they are worth more than they are. Now don’t get me wrong, if someone is willing to pay you – congratulations. I just think that when you sign you fulfill the commitment. And as for on field (ice/court, etc.) performance, legendary Packers football coach Vince Lombardi said it best to his players. “The next time you make it to the end zone, act like you’ve been there before.” A number of iconic football coaches have used this, but the Washington Post said Lombardi said it first. Matters not to my point.

Players who think they are so important as to have their own show to select the next team they are playing for, and the networks that cover this dribble, are just blithering idiots and way-too-self-serving to me.

I enjoyed my playing days. In fact, I still play hockey every Friday night and with the Old School basketball team (one more season). I enjoy the camaraderie, the competition (friendly and sometimes a bit vigorous) and the feeling of effort at the end of the time on the ice or court.

We have an independent league baseball team in Winnipeg – The Goldeyes. They are a model of success based on championships, consistently competitive teams, great crowds, and the positive impact they have in the community. All characteristics of a successful organization no matter the industry.

At a game last week with my baseball buddy guru, Randy, we enjoyed a cold beer and a Goldies’ hot dog. It is a multi-napkin hotdog and very tasty.

The ‘Eyes were up 2-0, and suddenly those Saltdogs tied up the game. Winnipeg’s ace was on the mound, and he gave up a two-spot on a bad pitch (or good hit if you are cheering for Lincoln). Right after that there was a short nubber just past the mound about halfway between first and home. The pitcher dove for the ball, caught it and threw the runner out at first.

It was a very athletic play. More than that, it was a hustle play after he made a mistake with the previous hitter. The pitcher owned his performance and showed his teammates he was back in form. He led from the front. He didn’t jump up and down and go crazy, either. He reacted “as if” he expected to make that play every single time.

Yes, a few too many sports cliches, but I wanted to drive home the point about his level of effort and the way he responded after making the play. At that time, I said to Randy that that was going to be a turning point because of the way he leaped off the mound, grabbed the ball and threw the runner out at first. Mitchell Lambson, the pitcher, led by example. And at the salaries in this league (about $10K), it was for the love of the game.

The next couple of innings the Goldeyes exploded and ended up winning the game 11 to 6. I truly believe that single play kept the team up, and on their toes and they all focused in on their performance. Crisp fielding and timely hitting combined with aggressive and smart running of the bases led to the extra runs being added on. Root root root for the home team!!!

How do you react to a tough play at work? Do you focus in and make a better decision the next opportunity? Do you inject some life into your role to be different? When you don’t get a sale do you pout or regroup?

We were at a drive-through last night and when we got to the window to pay, the young lad said, “just a sec” as he was getting a message on his headset. “They don’t have the caramel, do you want another chocolate chip?” No other thank you or enjoy your day. He could have said, “I just got a message from Mission Control that the caramel cookies are all gone! Can I tempt you with an extra chocolate chip – it is my fave.”

Alas, the poor lad didn’t seem to have any love for the game he was in at that moment. Was it because he was only working at a fast food restaurant? Or is that who he is and he really doesn’t care?

How about you???

Finding Your Fortune

If you think this is a column about “3 easy steps to become a millionaire” you can stop reading now.

Thank you.

Over the years I have eaten many fortune cookies and collected a substantial pile of these fortunes. They are paper-clipped into 3 piles (yep, that’s how many I have) and sit on a corner of a bookcase in my office next to some colourful post-it notes, 67 Pontiac GTO hot wheels car, and some family pictures. I was thinking about a proposal I was writing and looked around for some additional inspiration when I spied the fortunes.

Most are from the fortune cookie manufacturer Wing’s. And almost all have a set of random “lucky” numbers. Some even have an English word spelled in Chinese.

As I looked through the quotes, I thought they would be fun to share. Here are some of my favourites:

  • If a turtle doesn’t have a shell, is he naked or homeless? (My fave!)
  • Keep your idealism practical
  • An influential figure will make mention of you in a favourable light (thanks to the influential reader that will provide the mention)
  • After readying the every emotion, there is understanding entering the realm (deep, eh)
  • Do not listen to vain words from empty minds (cannot wait for our provincial and federal elections this fall to prove this one)
  • You will have an exciting business adventure (ooh, I can’t wait)
  • An attractive person can’t stop thinking of you (thanks dear!)
  • Book lovers never go to bed alone (who knew?)

And then there are the truly inspirational and encouraging. Some of the writers should get a job in advertising:

  • You have a strong instinct to take care of the people you love (I hope lots of people get this one – the world will be a better place!)
  • You are capable, competent, creative and careful (believe in yourself first and always!)
  • Now is a good time to finish up old tasks (they must have seen my inbox)
  • Explore an unpaved road with a new friend (I am meeting with a potential new client!)
  • You will be rewarded for your efforts (see previous fortune – I hope so!)
  • Success won’t taste so good without Failure as an appetizer (building resilience)
  • Past experience: He who never makes mistakes never did anything that’s worthy
  • One thought driven home is better than three left on base (only results count)
  • Sell your ideas – they have exceptional merit (thank you for the compliment – who wants to buy?)
  • Now is a good time to explore
  • Keep your ideas flexible, and don’t ignore details
  • If you can’t naturally feel upbeat, it can sometimes help to act as if you did (many workers in the customer service, restaurant and hospitality industry need to take this to heart)
  • Improve yourself. Practice makes perfect (lifelong learning)
  • Prosperity makes friends; adversity tries them (anyone participated on a sports or business team that is losing?)

After providing these inspiring messages, I also believe that you cannot motivate someone else. You can only help strike the match that lights the fuse of enthusiasm within that person. That person is solely responsible for stoking their own flame and their subsequent actions. You can support and guide, but they have to take the steps and light it. I have often said that it is easier to steer the rocket, because it is almost impossible to light it.

And the final fortune says it all:

“If you think you can, you can”

Shark or Seal?

I love Shark Week on Discovery Channel. I have enjoyed watching this annual special since it was first brought to Canada over 20 years ago.

One of the great things about the cable TV industry, where I spent a good chunk of my career, was the wonderful promotional items we received. I still have a Shark Week t-shirt (how old and yes it fits…kinda), and a Shark Week beach towel that Trappar lies on when he is wet.

But I digress…

This year, Shark Week started with a very lame, IMHO, celebrity event where comedian/actor Rob Riggle was the host and a few other B-list “comics” were going to swim with some sharks. It was awful. Then, Riggle hosted “Shark after Dark” and it too was awful. Forced humour and really bad jokes detracts from the fantastic programming and learning that gets better each year with the scientific shows that are on the schedule.

One of the really interesting shows this week was “The return of Air Jaws.” Off South Africa, near massive seal colonies, great white sharks will explode out of the water as they drive seals into the air and into their jaws. One of the main scientists stated that these great whites have a kill success rate of about 50% – the highest in the animal kingdom.

And he made a fantastic observation as they were filming great whites circling and trying different attack angles and locations. He said, the great whites can try many approaches and make all kinds of mistakes. But, the seal, as it tries to survive, can only make one mistake…KABLAMO!!!

On the same day as this show, my Tom Peters monthly newsletter talked about the fact so many companies are not as successful as they could be because they are far too conservative in their approach to their business. Not enough mistakes are being made to learn and get better.

Fortunately, companies are not like the seals where one mistake can be fatal. But, it seems to me that most companies are not as aggressive as the great whites are in their hunting approaches.

In a discussion with Michael yesterday, CEO of a major Canadian company, we discussed this concept of conservatism versus bolder approaches as business philosophies. We covered many topics within this concept, and agreed that publicly traded companies are often too beholden to quarterly results, or analyst expectations, to be brave and confident enough to try something less conservative.

Non-profits are also challenged to be less conservative in their approach for fear of losing donors or making mistakes with the carefully acquired gifts they have been given. Now, I am not criticizing their approach. I am stating that they are in a difficult position given their , often, substantial financial or giving restraints. Hmmm, I should think more on this topic…

For most businesses, there is an opportunity to be like a great white on a hunt. You can try different approaches when you have a clear objective in mind. Set up “skunk works or secret squirrel” project teams to investigate opportunities for growth, efficiency improvements, customer retention, or new product development. Not everything has to be considered along the typical innovation/new product gating process. Research by Professor Christensen at Harvard, and supported by Tony Ulwick at Strategyn, indicates that Outcome-driven innovation may be a far superior approach to product or service innovation because of the deeper focus on the customer and the job they are trying to get done.

Sharks are aware of their surroundings and they are not frantic in their search for food. They are deliberate. They know what works. They also know when there are changes that force them to make adjustments. This is why they have been around for so long.

Seal colonies survive based on sheer numbers. There are only so many sharks to catch seals, the weak, infirm, young/inexperienced, and lazy.

Darwin at work – those that adapt will survive.

Shark or seal?

Which one is your company?

Watch out…there’s blood in the water…