Baseball is Getting Personal Again

From August 24th through the 27th , Major League Baseball will be introducing the 2nd Annual Players Weekend to baseball fans nationwide. If you are already a fan of the game then I do not have to tell you how successful this event was last year. Regardless if you love the game or not, it was a great example of how a little unconventional thinking and risk-taking together can create something wonderful in the process.

A Quick Description

Players Weekend is when fans are given a closer look at the personality of each and every baseball player on every team. Each player is allowed to wear a nickname on the back of their jersey for 3 consecutive games. Also, each player can wear a “tribute patch” on their sleeve that acknowledges someone or a group of people who they have great appreciation for helping them reach the Major Leagues. These two factors alone could be characterized as the genius of Players Weekend. Because of this, fans are able to get a personal complexion of almost every player on the field. This is coupled with colorful uniforms that are exclusively designed for the weekend. Moreover, players are allowed to wear colorful socks and kleets and unique bats — of their choosing — that would not normally be allowed in any other game.

Why I knew it Would be a “Hit”

I knew that Players Weekend was on to something special by watching how my wife reacted to the game. On most weekends we would have my hometown team, the Minnesota Twins, come into our living room. On most days depending on the score she will tune in and out over the course of 9 innings but during Players Weekend, my wife’s attention was acutely focused on the players. She was intrigued by the colors of the uniforms and the imaginative nicknames. Because of that, we had unchartered conversations about the players and their personalities the very first time. For example, Ervin Santana‘s — a Minnesota Twins pitcher — nickname was “Magic.” As we listened to the broadcasters we learned at the same time that Ervin (correct spelling) was a prolific baseball and basketball player in his home country, The Dominican Republic. And, it so happened to be that his boy idol was Earvin “Magic” Johnson. We also learned that Ervin’s real name was actually Johan but he changed it to Ervin to avoid confusion with another famous Twins pitcher who had the same first and last name. Without question, this conversation and mutual intrigue of the players that my wife and I had was singlehandedly catalyzed by this inaugural Players Weekend.

The Power of Being Personal

What Major League Baseball and the Major League Players’ Association did was a teachable reminder that organizations — no matter their industry, size, or location — should never stop to reimagine how to connect with customers in meaningful and untraditional ways. In this example, MLB focused on the product (i.e., the players) and made the overall platform (i.e., the game) experience much more personal in the process. By doing so, they were able to uncover new customers and deepen the loyalty of existing ones. It is because of this that I commend the MLB for their willingness to take a chance on this a year ago. I look forward to seeing this continue and only get better for years to come.

Situational Adjustment: Mastering the Art of Different Cultures

I attended the 8th Annual Japan US Innovation awards hosted by the U.S. Asia Technology Management Center of Stanford University and the Northern California Japan Society early this month (July’18).  This event recognizes pioneering companies that honor innovation and economic opportunity between the two countries.  It featured a keynote speaker,  award ceremonies, and fascinating panel discussions with the award recipients.

You can find out more about the companies recognized at the Japan US Innovation Awards event here.

The event began with a fireside chat between the Director of U.S. Asia Technology Management Center , Dr. Richard Dasher and the CTO of Nest, Dr. Yoky Matsukoa.  Nest is is a Google company that makes connected devices  for the home.  Dr. Matsuoka has both an impressive and unique background. Born and raised in Japan, her love for tennis brought her to the United States.  Ultimately, she made a pivot to teaching robotics after completing a PhD from MIT.  She was a professor at Carnegie Mellon and subsequently the University of Washington.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. 
–Steve Jobs

Dr. Matsuoka’s sports to academia to business leads many to ask how and why did she make the decision to change her career.  But as she stated a famous quote from Steve Jobs: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”  This to me means that we do not have to have a well-thought out, perfect plan; rather we should follow our hearts and dreams.  If we do that thoughtfully and trust ourselves,  our life’s story will will come together beautifully.  Dr. Matsuoka’s career is certainly no exception.  Her love for tennis cultivated her passion for human motion which has been instrumental in her robotics career.

Having been born in Japan and now working as an executive in Silicon Valley has its challenges but — as I’m sure Dr. Matsuoka may agree — it also has its rewards. Both environments have starkly different cultures, especially for women.  When asked by the audience how she manages this, she coined the expression “situation adjustment.” That is, when she needs to be vocal and direct she can play that card effectively. Conversely, when she’s in Japan, she understands the cultural idiosyncrasies there and knows how to communicate while respecting traditional cultural norms of her native country.

Thank you Dr. Matsuoka for your inspiration and sharing your personal story with the audience.  Knowing one’s environment and adjusting how you behave is a work of art that you have certainly mastered.  I am hopeful that more people who are bridges between Japan and the US will embrace this concept with the intention of creating opportunity and innovation between the two countries.

 

 

 

 

 

Truer Words Have Never…

Today I came accross the below quote that I had not read in a while. I felt it was a fitting and an eloquent expression of the struggle that many entrepreneurs / business owners have to go through to reach the other side of an industrious effort.

If you’re reading this for the first time, print it out or save it. #Evernote.

It is a healthy reminder of the underlying depth of greatness.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man/woman who points out how the strong man/woman stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man / woman who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself / herself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he / she fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his / her place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

So…remember these words and remind yourself that you have already achieved more than most because you chose to step into the arena. Keep believing and fighting…..eventually you’ll get to the other side. And even if the outcome is defeat, you can keep your head up high knowing that you dared greatly.

Thank you Teddy Roosevelt.

The Golden State Warriors: A Team First, Super Second!

On Tuesday, June 12th, the Golden State Warriors celebrated with their fans in the Bay Area their third championship in four years. As someone who just moved here, I cannot help to marvel at what this team has accomplished as an organization and as a TEAM.

The Warriors’ victory got me thinking about the psychology of the terminology “Super Team.” As many of us know, the Warriors have super mega star players, therefore, it is easy to categorize them as a “Super Team.” But just calling them that I feel is a disservice because I believe that they are more than that.

What makes the Golden State Warriors extra special is that they never get consumed or distracted by how “super” they may be. They always maintain poise, humility, and brotherly camaraderie that can be hard to find in professional sports. This is why their greatest strength is their cohesiveness as a unit.

This Team’s Identity is Everyone

When LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010 — cleverly called “The Decision” — to join the Miami Heat, he started this “Super Team” era. He played with super stars Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade and won 2 championships in the process. But, as some may argue, the identify of this team was always LeBron James. What makes the Golden State Warriors special is that the identify of this team may be different on any one night. Is it Kevin Durant? Is it Stephen Curry? Or Klay Thompson? Either one of these players could be superstars on any other team but they would be the first one to tell you that the identify of this team is EVERYONE.

No matter if you are playing in sports or on a team in an organization, there are a few things they consistently demonstrate that makes them the benchmark on how a team should operate.

  • It Starts with the Leader: Steve Kerr did a sensational job managing this team despite the many injuries the Warriors had to face during the season. He always believed in his players and maintained a sense of calm even when he was going through physical ailments himself. No matter how big or challenging the adversities a team has to face, it all starts with how the leader responds and rallies behinds his/ her team.
  • Play Together: What makes the Golden State Warriors very difficult to defend is their ability to circulate the basketball well. This sharing of the ball is fun to watch and is one of the reasons why they are able to create open looks and high percentage shots. But this is not easy to do especially when you have as many mega starts as the Warriors do have. But this willingness to pass the torch on to the next teammate is a refreshing reminder that this is something that teams have to do to unleash collective greatness.
  • Humility: Perhaps the greatest attribute of the Warriors is their unselfishness and humbleness. This narrative consistently is on the display in how the play as a team and how they speak about each other. When Kevin Durant won the MVP award after the 2018 NBA Finals, a reporter asked about Curry not winning the award despite a stellar performance and Durant astutely stated “does it matter….we just won back to back?” At least publicly, Durant would not let his individual accomplishment overshadow what his team accomplished.
  • Recognize Each Others’ Strengths: One key element of a strong team is the willingness to acknowledge each other’s strengths, contributions, talents, and value to the team. This is easy to do if each team member is bought in to the idea that no one person is above anyone else. This seems to be the character of this team. Because of their unwavering humility, players on this team seem to deflect being placed on a pedestal publicly and recognize others. For example, Kevin Duran, who is arguably one of the greatest players to play the game once referred to his teammate, Stephen Curry, as the “system” of the team.

It is because of the above factors that the sum of the individual parts of this team is greater than the number of players combined. These are qualities that can be emulated by any good functioning team. The great Coach John Wooden said it best when he stated “that sports do not build character, they reveal it.” Without question, the same goes in business as well.

Lessons From My Son (Part 1)

Most people will tell you that an effective business leader has certain attributes that help him or her get to where they are. They are focused, have strong communication skills, have an insatiable curiosity, and learn to adapt in any environment. These are traits that are building blocks for other skills and talents but it is indisputable they are prerequisite to becoming an executive, entrepreneur, or a leader. Little did I know that my son, who I will refer to as Mr. CEO, would be a role model of all these traits.

Lesson #1: Stay Focused

While Mr. CEO has not yet mastered the art of multi-tasking, he is extremely focused when he wants to be focused. From when he was 3 months old, my wife discovered that our son loved to watch the “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.” Till this day, Mr. CEO is never distracted by whatever else is going on when his favorite program is on. We have not figured out why his focus and attentiveness becomes unwavering for this particular show but as kids like consistency we continue to make this a part of his daily routine. His acute focus has reminded me that in this day and age of multitasking, it is far wiser to do just one thing at a time and do it well. As a result, lately I have decided to not bring my laptop or smart phone to business meetings so that I can give my unabiding attention and respect to the agenda and discussion. I have my son to thank for reminding me that being focused on one thing at a time is indeed a good thing.

Lesson #2: Be Vocal and Be Heard

I firmly believe that seeking to understand others first before being understood is the currency for effective communication. But does this necessarily apply to newborns? It took me a while to wake up to this notion but newborns are never dishonest about how they feel. Fortunately our son has not had infantile colic so we can say with certainty that he only communicates (i.e., cries) when he needs something. As a new parent, it took a while for me to acknowledge this but I admire Mr. CEO’s undying willingness to always speak up when he needs something. Even the small things that may be unapparent — such as a nagging tag on the back of his shirt — he always speaks up about whatever he needs, through and through. This has been a reminder that in business we all need to be communicative even if it means challenging the status-quo in an organization. This is especially paramount when it comes to our own career development and growth. I will admit that early in my career I was reluctant to “speak up” out of fear of hearing the words “No” or “Now is not the time.” But, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Never allow a person to tell you no who does not have the power to say yes.” A manager who prioritizes career development will listen attentively to our needs and take the steps necessarily to address them, big or small.

Lesson #3: Be Curious

A baby’s insatiable curiosity is extremely eye-opening and miraculous to watch. Everything and anything that comes into our son’s eyes is obviously a first-time experience. Hence, we do our best to explain what he’s looking at to feed his curiosity. Like many babies, Mr. CEO’s curiosity extends to electronic devices. No matter if it’s a smart phone or remote control, he can study it (i.e, play with it) for significant periods of time until he’s ready for something new. At 6 months old, my wife serendipitously discovered his curiosity for toothbrushes. It was something he picked up on his own and till this day it is perhaps Mr. CEO’s favorite pastime. Indeed, curiosity is human nature for a baby but I would have never guessed that a toothbrush would be more entertaining than Elmo. This has also been a reminder that it’s important to be curious and to nurture that curiosity with experiences. Successful business leaders have an insatiable appetite for trying different things: from learning new skills to experimenting with new methods, it’s incumbent to stay curious and embrace change. Sir Richard Branson comes to mind as a great example of someone whose curiosity has been the foundation to his empire. Furthermore, sustained curiosity and inquisitiveness can be the keys to finding purpose and meaning in one’s life. It was Mark Twain who once said the “Two most important days in our life are the day when we are born and the day we found out why.” Feeding our curiosity and being willing to embrace change may be the best path to discovering that second day.

Lesson #4: Adapt to Your Environment & Reinvent

Over the past 3 months, my family did a lot of travel across the Pacific and in the continental United States. As new parents, naturally we were concerned about how our son would handle air travel, interactions with family, and adjusting to different environments. As anticipated, there were trying moments due to varying time zones as well as climate changes but we were amazed at Mr. CEO’s resilience. He was able to ultimately and willingly adjust to his environment throughout. It got me thinking that if my son can adapt to sudden and uninitiated changes in the things around him, how great our potential would be if we all embraced trends or changes in business. Great companies have failed because of their unwillingness to adapt to new trends and changes in the marketplace. Blockbuster, Kodak, and Circuit City are just a few organizations who fell prey to their own complacency. But just like corporations, we too as people have to be willing and able to adapt to our business environment and reinvent ourselves in the process. Netflix is a great example of a company who has consistently reinvented themselves based on the environment — from pioneering the DVD mail order service, to online streaming leadership, to now being an entertainment studio powerhouse. Adapting to environmental shifts and ultimately reinventing ourselves is not easy to do but when we do, the rewards are plentiful. For someone who tends to be private about his family and who has shied away from personal publications, I have decided to embrace the social media environment as the new normal and a key piece to building my own brand. Again, I have my son to thank for this shift in behavior.

It goes without saying but fatherhood has been extremely rewarding and uplifting on many levels. As my Mother would say, babies are smaller versions of ourselves; the only difference is that they have their own way of communicating and expressing themselves. Each and every day, Mr. CEO reminds me how I once was at his age and more importantly how I need to be professionally. From his big splashes in the bathtub to his impending first steps, his growth and development has metaphorically given me teachable moments on how to manage my own career and for that I am forever grateful.