leadership dot #3935: air

A good example of a positive instigator (dot #3934) can be found in Sonny Vaccaro whose story is told in the movie Air. Sonny was responsible for expanding Nike’s influence in basketball and identifying players to sign endorsement deals.

This was the situation in 1984: Nike held only 17% of the basketball sneaker market, behind industry leaders Converse and Adidas. Michael Jordan had never played an NBA game. The NBA had rules requiring 51% of player shoes to be white. Players never had a shoe designed for them, nor did any athlete receive revenue sharing for a product line they endorsed.

Yet, Sonny became a champion instigator to save the fledgling Nike basketball division from being closed down (as was under serious consideration). He fought to concentrate 100% of the advertising money on one player. He went to Jordan’s home to speak with his mother when Jordan’s agent wouldn’t arrange a meeting. He enlisted the support of Jordan’s former coach (George Raveling) to give credibility to Nike. He and two others spent the weekend at HQ designing a prototype of the first Air Jordan. Sonny did an audible during the scripted presentation to the Jordans and infused an emotional appeal that changed the situation, then forwarded Mrs. Jordan’s revolutionary demand that Michael would share in the revenue of sales.

We know the end of the story — Air Jordan now is an entire division at Nike with $4 billion in annual sales. If Nike had followed convention, they would have split their 1984 advertising funds to sign three players that would have had less impact than a dunk shot.

It seems obvious now that Michael Jordan would be a mega-star and Air Jordans would be a hit, but at the time it was a huge gamble for Nike and would not have happened without Sonny Vaccaro’s instigation. He changed not only the business but the entire sports marketing game with his passion and persistence.

What project in your organization is worthy of the grit required to be an instigator? Maybe the person who becomes its champion should be you.

leadership dot #3922: continuing

I had a terrible cough last month and have been on several meds since then. The cough is now gone, my allergies are under control and I’m feeling like myself again. My natural reaction is to believe I can stop taking the pills and quit using the nasal spray — after all, I feel fine and don’t need them anymore, right? Wrong.

Continuing to do what made things better is one of the challenges we face in many situations.

Examples include:

  • Continuing to take medicine, whether for allergies, depression, or other ailments, beyond the time they have first made you feel better
  • Staying with healthy eating habits even after reaching a goal weight
  • Maintaining payments (only this time to yourself) after paying off the loan or debt
  • Continuing to be actively involved with the issues following the election

It’s tempting to quit as soon as you have relief, but real success comes when you persist for the long haul.

leadership dot #3905: winners

One of the statistics to come out during the post-NCAA March Madness review is that none of the last four men’s basketball Division 1 champions spent any week as #1 in the AP Top 25 poll. Virginia, Baylor, Kansas, and now UConn won the whole tournament even though the rankings never had them on top.

It’s a good reminder to keep playing your own game — to keep pursuing your own path — and to not get distracted or discouraged by those around you. It doesn’t matter how the external world sees you — the key is to believe in yourself and persevere in working toward your goal.

You, too, can be a winner even if others never expect you to be.

leadership dot #3900: passion

On display in a campus recreation center were two showcases that highlighted the evolution of the building. One had rudimentary drawings and a brief initial prospectus outlining the concept, and the other case featured architectural drawings and the design committee’s final report. The first was entitled: “In 1984…it was a dream,” while the second headline proclaimed, “In 2000…it came true.”

The displays themselves are simple but kudos to the campus for telling the story. Too many times we forget about all the dreaming, cajoling, meetings, patience, luck, and perseverance that goes into making something like a new building happen. Especially on a college campus, it may inspire a future entrepreneur to stick with it.

I was reminded of a quote that has stuck with me: “As you become an adult, you realize that things around you weren’t just always there; people made them happen. But only recently have I started to internalize how much tenacity *everything* requires. That hotel, that park, that railway. The world is a museum of passion projects.”

Clearly, the campus recreation building was a passion project for many people. It can also serve as a reminder that dreams are realized, even if they take many years. Stick with it.

Quote by John Collison @collision
Displays at St. Norbert College, DePere, WI

leadership dot #800a: buzz

When a colleague and I were both new at another institution, we found ourselves in the position of making a lot of changes. Some of these were not popular with the staff or students, and we had the suspicion that we were being called a certain name behind our backs. The name started with the letter B.

As a symbol of solidarity, one of us gave the other something in the shape of a bee. Then there was another exchange. And another. And another.  Now more than a decade has passed and I still think of her every time I see items with a bee — and let me tell you, there are A LOT of them.  We have exchanged slippers, dishwashing sponges, sandwich bread cutters, jewelry, wind chimes, sunglasses, and numerous toys. Once you start paying attention to “bee items”, you will be amazed at how pervasive the image is.
We continued the bee exchange for years after the initial rumble was long forgotten. We ended up being well-liked by most and the nickname faded, but the camaraderie that it engendered did not.
Do you know someone who could use a little extra strength to pursue an unpopular but necessary course of action? Perhaps a little bee could buzz into their lives and give them the fortitude they need to stick with it, even if it stings for awhile.
Originally published in modified form on August 10, 2014

leadership dot #3769: overnight

I have a friend who wanted to book the concerts for the county fair so he volunteered to work the shows and do the behind-the-scenes, day-of-show grunt work — for 15 years. He was finally hired to do the booking.

Another friend wanted to write a book so she started writing. It involved one hour at a time, early mornings, restarting, and lots of edits, but she kept at it, and is now a published author — 10 years after she wrote her first page. I

A community member had a vision for how a recreational space could become much more than that and be turned into a regional tourist destination — and her dream will be realized 10 or 11 years after she laid out her “crazy” plan.

If you have a big dream for what you can achieve tomorrow, the only way to get there is with little steps in that direction today — and every day for literally years. There is no overnight success story, even if it feels like it happens to others.

leadership dot #3717: belief

Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team, has a display that should be in every locker room and office in the country. It depicts the unlikely ascent of the Rays to make the MLB Playoffs in 2011. As late as mid-September, ranking services gave the Rays less than a 10% chance of reaching the playoffs and the Boston Red Sox over 90% chance of doing so, a trend that tracked for the whole second half of the season. The Rays were 9 games behind in September so the rankings made sense — until they didn’t.

The Rays beat the Red Sox in six out of seven games in September, then won a Wild Card berth with a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 12th in the final regular season game.

It wasn’t a complete fairy tale, as the Rays did not make the Series, but it shows that on “any given Sunday (or Monday, Tuesday, etc.)” anyone has a chance to be a winner. Believing in yourself is more important than focusing on what others have to say about you.

leadership dot #390a: one more

I am a big fan of the Solitaire game that is on my phone. I can complete a round in just a few minutes, and it has provided numerous moments of mindless fun while waiting in line or for appointments. Somehow, I get lost in it and the time seems to go by much faster.

I have noticed that often there are times when I feel completely stuck, then I discover one more move, and it triggers a whole series of additional moves. Frequently, it makes the difference between winning a round and losing it.
I wonder if there are moments like that at work when I am ready to give up, but if I looked a little harder, I could find that next step that leads to a solution.  
As Kenny Rogers said: “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.”  You also have to know when to avoid the temptation to fold ’em too fast and re-deal. Take a second look at your problem and see if you can’t find the one more move you can make.
Originally published in modified form on June 26, 2013

leadership dot #3697: dream

For the second time in as many years, Major League Baseball played a game on the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa (population 4,561). While working as temporary staff at the game, I continually marveled at the logistical feats required to make this event — in a literal cornfield — happen (see dot #3351). But mostly, I thought about Denise Stillman.

Denise visited the Field of Dreams while on vacation in 2010 — then not much more than the preserved baseball field and original house from the movie. But like Kevin Costner’s character in the film, she saw a vision for what baseball meant and what the field could be. A big vision.

I heard her describe that vision and she was a commanding presence. After she spoke, I could see her dream of a youth sports complex that hosted traveling teams from throughout the Midwest. I believed her when she said the site could become a “mecca for traveling baseball” and that it could rival Cooperstown as a host site for Little League tournaments. Her energy and passion were contagious — except to the land’s neighbors.

The surrounding land owners partnered to form a collaborative to oppose Stillman and her plans — wanting to keep all that traffic and outsiders away from ruining the small-town Iowa feel. They sued her for improper zoning — repeatedly. She sued them for interference and defamation. Finally, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled and allowed her to play ball, five years after she acquired the site.

But during that time, Denise was diagnosed with cancer. Instead of seeing her dream come to fruition, she spent her final working years with lawyers — but still acting as if she would prevail. It was her vision and persuasive lobbying efforts during this time that convinced Major League Baseball to do the unthinkable — build a temporary stadium in a cornfield and play a game there. They signed the contract four months after her passing.

After the success of the first MLB game, everyone sees the vision that Denise was the only one to see for years. Today, investors have an $80 million plan to develop the site with fields, a hotel, a team dormitory, and an outdoor amphitheater — and multiple entities are jumping on board with million-dollar grants for infrastructure and even a permanent stadium.

Denise Stillman is a role model to all of us — reminding us to dream big, and to keep dreaming, even when there are two outs in the ninth and the wind is blowing in. Persistence does pay off. People did come, Denise. People most definitely did come.

Plaque at the original movie site

leadership dot #3682: pineapple

If I say “Dole,” it’s likely the first word that comes to mind is “pineapple” and that word likely conjures images of Hawaii. Thanks to entrepreneur James Dole, the brand Dole, pineapple, and Hawaii have been synonymous since the turn of the twentieth century.

Pineapple had been growing in the islands long before Dole arrived, but it was he who recognized that to create a sustainable market, distribution to the mainland was key. As a result, Dole opened massive canneries to package the fruit and conducted recipe contests to help New Englanders see possibilities for how to use this exotic new treat. (The pineapple upside-down cake was a winner!) His savvy paid off, and Dole became one of the largest distributors of pineapple for a century.

It wasn’t enough for Dole to grow the fruit or even package it. He had to champion it from plant to table, overcoming barriers at each step along the way.

Think about your idea and evaluate whether you have continued to nurture it far enough into the process. A great idea at one stage will flounder if you don’t provide the support to see it through to the ultimate user.