I recently visited an amusement park with my family. In an otherwise clean and orderly park, I noticed a number of cobwebs clinging to signs or railings. It got me to thinking… who’s minding the cobwebs? It’s probably not on the list of responsibilities for the cleaning crew as it’s not sweeping, mopping, cleaning bathrooms, wiping down tables, etc. Cobwebs probably don’t rank high on the priorities for the maintenance department when they have painting, repairs, green spaces, and other tasks to address on a daily and weekly basis.
When I was in graduate school in Educational Administration (I was on the track to become a principal or headmaster of a school), I remember hearing about a study where they watched to see who would pick up a piece of trash in a school hallway. They found that generally only two people would. Want to guess who? I’ll tell you: the school janitor and the principal. In other words, it was the person who had specific responsibility for that type of behavior and the person who had responsibility for the entire operation. Everyone one else- teachers, administrative staff, and cafeteria workers walked right on by.
There are two points here: When everyone is responsible for a task, really no one is… kind of like the community fridge in the office. No doubt it looks worse than your fridge at home does. Everyone has communal responsibility for it, but no one takes ownership of it. Secondly, if it’s not spelled out as a priority, no one takes it seriously as a responsibility. I’d like to see the organization where everyone is tasked with removing cobwebs and picking up trash they see on the floor. My guess is that as they train their eyes to see what others walk past, they’ll start to notice other areas- like business processes or customer service or communications- that need improvement too.
Since my visit to the amusement park I’ve started noticing cobwebs other places. Maybe I’ve even started looking for them. I’ve knocked them down in my garage and from railings and under my deck and from places where people might not even notice. But I’ve gotten to the place where I don’t want to see cobwebs, and I want them out of my life. Even in obscure places.
You see cobwebs represent what’s been overlooked, a lack of attention to detail. Cobwebs symbolize those areas, usually corners of our lives that we’ve gotten comfortable with, that we don’t give a critical eye to. If you look up cobwebs in the dictionary, you’ll also find that there are any number of negative associations: flimsy, insubstantial, a network of plot or intrigue, confusion, indistinctness, lack of order. I don’t know about you, but none of these do I want in my life.
It could be that cobwebs in your organization are the program whose time is past or the way of thinking that is not in tune with a connected and engaged community. It could be that employee who no longer produces but is still there occupying an office or a cubicle. The cobwebs could be the inability to take a risk on an unproven idea. The cobwebs could be a stifling bureaucracy or ineffective communications. It could be an organizational culture that causes its employees to merely clock in and clock out rather than giving their best efforts and ideas.
So, I ask again… who’s minding the cobwebs? In your life? In your organization?
With the Academy Awards more than a month behind us and the beginning of baseball season upon us, I thought it was the perfect time to do a post on “Moneyball” and the lessons this 6-time Oscar nominee has for us. I loved the movie for a number of reasons: 1). baseball 2). statistics and 3). the underdog finds a way to change the paradigm and win.
Billy Beane: Where did you go to school?
Peter Brand: Yale, I went to Yale.
Billy Beane: What did you study?
Peter Brand: Economics. I studied Economics.
Billy Beane: Yale, Economics, baseball. You’re funny, Pete.
As you’ve heard me say before, talent can come from unlikely places. It can also come in unlikely combinations. Are you only listening to the voices of people who have the experience, the resume, the insider’s perspective? Sometimes those same experts may have a limited vantage point or they may have bought into the way things have always been done. Are you looking beyond a traditional approach to your business?
Billy Beane: Yeah. Pack your bags, Pete. I just bought you from the Cleveland Indians.
I love what led up to this line. Billy Beane, in his meeting with the Cleveland Indians, watched for who had influence in the room. As it turns out, it was not the person with the title, the one sitting behind the desk, or the one with the seniority. Billy Beane had gone there to improve his team with a trade. He saw and seized an opportunity to improve it in a different way and brought in an unconventional adviser in Peter Brand. Where are you looking for expertise? It could be that they’re already on your staff, and you haven’t discovered their talent. Or it may mean that you need to keep your eyes open as you go to meetings, conferences, and other events. It’s quite possible that the key employee to put your organization over the top may be in an office down the street, across town, or across the country; and it may be in a role you weren’t originally looking to fill. Is your organization nimble enough to find the right talent and adapt to a changing competitive landscape?
[first day in his job]
Peter Brand: Hey, Billy. I wanted you to see these player evaluations that you asked me to do.
[he hands Billy the document]
Billy Beane: I asked you to do three.
Peter Brand: Yeah.
Billy Beane: To evaluate three players?
Peter Brand: Yeah.
Billy Beane: How many did you do?
Peter Brand: Forty seven.
Billy Beane: Okay.
Peter Brand: Actually, fifty one. I don’t know why I lied just there.
Are you surrounding yourself with overachievers? I don’t mean workaholics or people who just stay late at the office because they’re avoiding something else. I’m talking about people who love what they do, and it’s in their DNA to do more- more than the minimum, more than what’s asked. They can’t not do it. Identify those people, give them the resources they need, and they’ll take your organization far.
Billy Beane: He gets on base!
John Poloni: So he walks a lot.
Billy Beane: He gets on base a lot. Do I care if it’s a walk or a hit?
[looks over at Peter]
Billy Beane: Pete?
Peter Brand: You do not.
Billy Beane: I do not.
What will bring success to your organization? How can you reframe challenges you face? Can a better result be brought about in a different way? Do you see possibilities or only obstacles?
Grady Fuson: No. Baseball isn’t just numbers, it’s not science. If it was then anybody could do what we’re doing, but they can’t because they don’t know what we know. They don’t have our experience and they don’t have our intuition.
Billy Beane: Okay.
Grady Fuson: Billy, you got a kid in there that’s got a degree in Economics from Yale. You got a scout here with twenty nine years of baseball experience. You’re listening to the wrong one. Now there are intangibles that only baseball people understand. You’re discounting what scouts have done for a hundred and fifty years, even yourself!
I think I’ve covered this. I’m not trying to discount experience here, but when you’re smug about it or you’ve gotten past the place of being teachable, you’re already losing. Don’t accept this in yourself or those you work with. Force yourself to be teachable, to look at problems from a different perspective.
Billy Beane: Yes, you’re right. I may lose my job, in which case I’m a forty four year old guy with a high school diploma and a daughter I’d like to be able to send to college. You’re twenty five years old with a degree from Yale and a pretty impressive apprenticeship. I don’t think we’re asking the right question. I think the question we should be asking is, do you believe in this thing or not?
Peter Brand: I do.
Billy Beane: It’s a problem you think we need to explain ourselves. Don’t. To anyone.
Peter Brand: Okay.
Billy Beane: Now, we’re gonna see this thing through, for better or worse.
Do you believe in this thing or not? That’s a question we should be asking ourselves and our staff regularly. Do you have a well-formulated plan? Do you have confidence in it despite the doubts and critics? Do you have the fortitude to stick it out, even if the end result isn’t what you desired?
Billy Beane: Everybody, listen up! You may not look like a winning team, but you are one. So, play like one tonight.
Are you instilling confidence in your team? Have you envisioned where they’re going, even when they can’t or haven’t yet? Are you asking them to focus on the task in front of them, knowing that success in the next project leads to long-term success?
Billy Beane: David, you’re thirty seven. How about you and I be honest about what each of us want out of this? I wanna milk the last ounce of baseball you got in you and you wanna stay in the show. Let’s do that. I’m not paying you for the player you used to be, I’m paying you for the player you are right now. You’re smart, you get what we’re trying to do here. Make an example for the younger guys, be a leader. Can you do that?
David Justice: Alright. I got you.
Billy Beane: We’re cool?
David Justice: We’re cool.
Do you understand what motivates your team members? Each person is looking to get something different from their employment arrangement with your organization. They may also be at different points in their careers. Are you providing them with learning or mentorship opportunities? Do they have significant input on decisions? Are you giving them the level of responsibility they want? Do they desire more flexibility in their position or working hours? Honest communication with staff will go a long way in creating a positive work environment and enhancing employee productivity and loyalty.
What lessons do you see in “Moneyball”?
Linning. Linsanity. Lincredible. If you haven’t heard these terms yet, you will. I’m talking about Jeremy Lin. He’s the Asian-American who went to Harvard and now stars in the NBA for the New York Knicks.
I’m not here to break down his basketball game. I’m certainly in no position to do that.
What I am interested in talking about is what the sensation of Jeremy Lin means for your organization.
He’s an Asian-American in a sport where 78% of the professional athletes are African-Americans and only 1% are Asian. No greater disparity exists between two races in a major US sport. He’s beaten the odds. As Americans, we like that kind of story. According to a USA Today post earlier, “Kenny Au-Yeung, 26, of Brooklyn, N.Y., said the Asian-American community was taking great delight in Lin…’It was going to happen sooner or later. It’s good to see it’s happened in New York. We actually have a face now that represents the Asian community.’ ” What are you doing to foster similar results- and a similar reaction- in your organization?
Jeremy Lin went to Harvard. Now, I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for him about this. But, in terms of basketball pedigree, the Crimson are not exactly cranking out NBA talent. Or as I read in one article, Harvard has produced twice as many US presidents as they have NBA players. So, what we have is an unlikely talent from an unlikely source. Can anyone do the math on this? I’m pretty sure I could win the lottery three times or get struck by lightning seven times before this combination happens again. The point is… is your organization looking for talent in unlikely places? Do you have your finger on the pulse of what’s really happening in your industry or is it business as usual?
Jeremy Lin can score, but he also looks to get assists. I’ve heard references to humility and team basketball, and Lin credits the Knicks system for giving him success. In a me-first era, this really stands out. Is your organization only listening to the loudest voices, those who are self-promoting? Or are you identifying those who can contribute and are not looking for the credit but for the good of the whole? Are you creating a system where employees, members, and customers can thrive? Or do they merely survive, waiting for the next place they can truly be a part of?
The Knicks are winning. As I write this, their win streak stands at seven in a row, and they have returned to .500. It would be a great story regardless, but winning magnifies it, winning gives it buzz. What is your organization doing to help its members, employees, or customers to achieve success and win? I guarantee that people will be talking if you do this.
Lastly, I like this from Sameer Pandya (You can read his entire “The Jeremy Lin discussion” post on ESPN.com.): “Lin feels more like us, albeit with a better jumper and a quicker first step off the dribble. Under the magnified lights of the Garden, Lin has been living out the everyday revenge fantasy we all entertain, made even more poignant in our recessionary time. His success speaks to everyone who feels ignored, waiting for a chance to show the skill that we believe lies within us, to prove the naysayers wrong.”
What other lessons do you see from the Jeremy Lin story?
What opportunities is your organization giving for success? And once achieved, what are you doing to effectively tell their success stories to your employees, members, customers, and community?