DNA or Hard Work

You’d be forgiven if you failed to catch an article in today’s Wall Street Journal called, The NHL’s Telepathic Twins.  It’s worth a look because it discusses whether the phenomenal success of the Vancouver Canucks’ Sedin twins is due to their shared DNA or to the many years they’ve played together, practicing the same things day after day.  The article also mentions two synchronized swimmers who achieved Olympic success, who spent so much time together they synchronized their heartbeats before a meet.

I’m not a huge sports guy anymore.  I once was, many moons ago.  But, a slow and steady disconnect occurred for me over the course of twenty years (the Toronto Maple Leafs are mostly to blame, but not completely) to the point now where I feel that professional sports, by and large, is a racket. I feel it has become simply a device meant to enrich a very lucky few at the expense of a great many who just want to believe in a dream.  

So when sports does catch my attention at all these days, it seems to be when it deals with a particularly quirky topic or with rare moments of athletic beauty.  I’ve always been enthralled with the grace of a fade-away jumper, a one-handed leaping catch in the end zone, a time-stopping glove save, and a perfectly placed bunt.  They’re extremely rare and perhaps so because those might be the nexus moments of science and human spirit.  You can’t plan for them to happen as effortlessly as they appear but you can work had and do all the right things to increase the odds that they will.  In the college basketball obsessed years of my youth, Bill Cartwright was one player who stood out for me. Besides the fact that he was good, his appeal for me lay in one specific and very interesting behavior. He practiced shooting baskets each day of the year and was so disciplined about it that he made sure he successfully shot at least one hundred baskets per day, from a different spot everyday but from one spot on any given day.  That’s focus and determination.  It paid off for him and he likely had no idea of the influence he had on guys like me who read about it in Sports Illustrated as we tried to find ways to inspire our own game.  The notion is similar to what my wife and I said to our niece who is studying the viola.  We read it somewhere and it seems to make sense….. practice something, any one thing or task, one thousand times and you’ll become a master of it.  Juggle three balls, shoot a basket from the same spot, pass a puck to the same person without looking, or play a concerto over and over, everyday.  You can probably tell by now which side of the DNA vs Time debate I come down on.

Texting and connectedness

31% of American teens send more than 100 text messages every day of their lives (Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project).   Did that statistic surprise you?  If you’re a parent or are close to a teen, probably not.  What does it say, besides that service providers are getting wealthy? In twenty years we’ll probably say it meant nothing worse than what our parents’ generation said about us when we were teens.  That is, that we didn’t pay attention to anyone but our friends and we were difficult to connect with because we always had our mind somewhere else.

Staying true never goes out of style

Driving to work is a drag because it seems like such a waste of precious time. Probably the only advantage for me of having to commute to the office or to a client site is being given the opportunity to listen to one or the other of two specific programs on CBC radio (The Current, and Q).  On my way in today, The Current included an interview with Rick Hillier, former Chief of the Defence Staff of the Canadian forces, on the topic of leadership, which is also the topic of his 2010 book, Leadership: 50 Points of Wisdom For Today’s Leaders.  I had heard him speak in the past in small snippets about the various engagements our forces were in around the globe and even if I disagreed with the involvement, I always admired his forthrightness, his willingness and ability to be clear and frank. 

Today’s CBC interview provided a classic example of his direct manner and specifically in how he answered the interviewer’s question about what he felt were the differences between good military and good civilian leaders.  Rick said, “There is no difference. Whether the stripes are on the shoulder of the uniform or in pins throughout the suit” (or something awfully close to that cleverness), “the answer is the same.  It’s about the people.  Of the 50 points, number 1 and number 50 are about the people you lead.  The other 48 points support those two. Many leaders make their way to the top by focusing on those two main points but too many fail once they get there because they lose sight of those most important things.” 

Wouldn’t it be nice if all business leaders were as clear thinking and speaking as Rick Hillier?

Massive mergers, massive IT headaches

Complexity and Information Technology go hand in hand but for those of you who happen to conduct your lives outside of that industry, I’m guessing the whole shebang is one big mystery.  Sometimes those of us on the inside, because we live and breathe this stuff everyday all year long, forget how complicated the technology and the processes are, and how brittle can be their connections. In my role, I get to have lots of conversations with enterprise and application architects, the folks who are responsible for figuring out how to fit everything together and make it appear seamless. Because of that level of interaction, I suppose I take the complexity for granted but when I think about it all I can say is what I said in the most recent monthly newsletter I send to my clients… working in IT is not for the faint of heart. 

While doing some research today for one of those clients, I tripped across an article from The Banker about IT and massive mergers. If you’re interested in reading it, you’ll need to register at no-charge. Despite decades of working in the IT business, including some time with a couple of the firms mentioned (as a vendor), the article caused me to hyperventilate.  Well, not really, but it did force me to step back and appreciate things from the perspective of forensic accountants. In the quest for profit and amplified returns for shareholders, and armed with volumes of market data showing the great potential for growth, too often business leaders ignore the ugly reality of the amount of effort required to make conjoined systems work together.  It’s just not given the required due diligence and firms really pay for it in the end, if there is an end to it.  The kicker is, I don’t think it’s wilful negligence on anyone’s part.  I don’t believe I’m being naive but I can see where people’s innate optimism and hope overpower niggling doubts about the true cost of integration.  Read the article and you’ll learn about the challenges so many of your IT friends face everyday when they go to work.

The business of Bobby Knight

So much of conducting business, of conducting life, is about connecting with others, about utilizing the mind to make real the things we need.  I know that sounds abstract.  Think about it though.  When we go about our business affairs, what we are trying to achieve is personal success and security, nothing more and nothing less.  Whether we work for large corporations or for ourselves, that maxim holds true.

I read an article tonight about Bobby Knight, the legendary basketball coach from Indiana.  I’ve had a love/hate relationship with that guy since my teenage years and it’s all because he reminds me of my best coaches who drove me to the edge.  I played on teams, I captained teams, that won championships.  I’ve had coaches who screamed and yelled, acted like lunatics at court side, and yet somehow I get it.  I get their passion. It  drove me, drove us, to win.

Check out this article from the Wall Street Journal about Bobby Knight.  I always wanted to meet him.  He is the type of coach my parents detested (because they felt their poor boy was mistreated) and who I loved, the guy who never lost sight of the glimmer of hope on the horizon. Don’t let anyone ever tell you life, and business, is not about that.