Tag Archives: John Wooden

The Genesis of March Madness in Seth Davis’ Account

With this week’s first and second round games in the NCAA basketball tournament, I am reminded of a book I read three years ago by Seth Davis, who is a Sports Illustrated columnist and CBS studio participant.  Seth Davis PhotoHis book, When March Went Mad: The Game That Transformed Basketball (New York:  St. Martin’s Press, 2010), was about the epic battle featuring Larry Bird of Indiana State and Magic Johnson of Michigan State, played on March 26, 1979.

When March Went Mad CoverThe game was broadcast by NBC with Dick Enberg, Al McGuire, and Billy Packer at the mike. Packer McGuire Photo It is a game I will remember forever, not because it was a great game – it was not – but rather, because of the amazing context, hype, and the fact that it launched college basketball onto the big-time scene.

Prior to that time, college basketball was telecast regionally, with a few national games occasionally on a weekend.  This game sparked interest in the sport, with two stars who became NBA legends, and played against each other many times.

Michael Wilbon of The Washington Post said the book is “a must-read for anybody who considers themselves a basketball fan.”  I agree.  It is very readable account not just of that game, but about all the build-up that began weeks before, and the window through which we now watch the game.

Particularly memorable is the account of Billy Packer’s refusal to acknowledge the greatness of Indiana State, because they did not play Top-20 teams in their conference.  In fact, NBC had to arrange for a special broadcast to allow the country to see the team, and more especially, Larry Bird.  In fact, to avoid any potential problems, Packer did not even cover the team in the early playoff rounds.  Like all the other skeptics, he later came around.

This isn’t Seth Davis’ only book.  He published Wooden:  A Coach’s Life (New York:  Times Books) earlier this year.Bird Magic Photo

But, you will enjoy his first book about this 1979 epic game, and all the events that led up to it, and followed it.  It is history told as well as anyone could tell it.

Obviously, you will not see this at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.  Not only is it too old, but it also is not about business.  However, occasionally it’s good to read something else.  Try this one!

Olympic Champions, and Olympic Participants, and that 10,000 Hour Rule

So, as I have watched a few of the events from the Olympics, and I’ve been thinking about the 10,000 hour rule.  And I am ready to state the obvious:  putting in 10,000 hours guarantees nothing.

First, a refresher.  Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, described the 10,000 hour rule.  To summarize, it takes 10,000 hours to get really world-class good at anything.  (Gladwell got the idea/concept from Anders Ericsson).

And then, in the book Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, we learn that just any old 10,000 hours is not good enough.  You need to put in “deliberate practice” — lots and lots of deliberate practice – in order to get better and better.  In other words, you practice with the intent to get better.  This kind of practice is exhausting, and almost always needs a very knowledgeable coach, with terrific motivational skills.  (A coach who “can correct with creating resentment.”  John Wooden).

Now, back to the point of this post:  I am ready to state the obvious:  putting in 10,000 hours guarantees nothing.  Here’s what I mean.

As we watch the Olympics, we see pretty clearly that some athletes have developed a work ethic superior to others.  But there are plenty of athletes who put in pretty much the same kind of time, had the same high level work ethic, as the “winners” who beat them when the starter pistol went off.

So, putting in 10,000 hours guarantees nothing.  In sports, you need the 10,000 hours, plus the right coach, plus a little luck, plus maybe the right genetic makeup, plus

Plus, plus, plus…

The more we learn, the more we learn how critical the next “plus” might be.

Now, let me back up.  If we were not so fixated on winning the gold, we might come closer to admitting that the 10,000 hour rule does in fact guarantee success.  Even making an Olympic Team; or, even being good enough to compete in an Olympics Trials Qualifying Event to try to make the team, takes massive skill.  So, why is that not “success?”  It certainly should be.

And we do know that in many cases, coming in second is every bit a “win.”  Did you see the depth of emotion on the faces of Kelci Bryant and Abby Johnston after they won the Silver Medal in Synchronized Diving?  They may not have won the Gold, but, it was the first diving medal at all for the USA since 2000, and the first ever medal for the USA in this particular event.  Yes, the Chinese duo were better.  Noticeably better.  But these two young women were the second best in the world, and their 10,000 hours paid off.

Kelci Bryant, left, and Abby Johnston of the USA show off their silver medals from after finishing second in 3-meter synchronized diving. (By Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports)

Maybe we could say this:  maybe 10,000 guarantees nothing.  But a failure to put in 10,000 hours does guarantee something – you won’t make it to the top without putting in those 10,000 hours.

Now – the other challenge.  One reality about this kind of world-class accomplishment is that these athletes show up, every day, with a coach watching and “coaching” every moment.  Wouldn’t all of us get better at our jobs if we had that kind of individual coaching, motivating, “pushing us to the limit” daily encounter?  I think so.

Work ethic, plus coaching, plus deliberate practice, plus constant feedback, plus measurable goals, plus…  The road to true success really is a challenging road.

Connection Before Content – Your Communication Tip of the Day

Here is a problem – a big problem – in the high-tech, digital world we all function in.  E-mail, and other forms of digital communication, have trumped conversation.

And that is a mistake.

So, recently, I ran across this phrase, which is attributed to Peter Block.  (I heard it from Mark Israelson, who works for the city of Plano, TX).  Here is the phrase:

“Connection before content.”

Notice the wording:  not “connection instead of content,” but “connection before content.”  It is okay to send your message forth in an e-mail blast.  It is okay to make a request, deliver a message, ask a question through e-mail.  But it is not okay to think that that is as effective as a good old-fashioned “conversation.”

John Wooden, in Wooden on Leadership, wrote:  “Don’t hastily replace the old fashioned with the new fangled.”  We do live an era of constant, perpetual, and ever-so-shorter-lived change.  But maybe there are a few practices that should not be jettisoned in this hyper-connected world.  And one of those is actual face-to-face conversation.

Connection before content.  This is what makes content more readily received, and then acted on.

Quite some time ago, I saw the movie Temple Grandin, and wrote this blog post.  It still pops up on our “most-viewed” list:  Ten Lessons about Business and Personal Success from Temple Grandin (the person, and the movie).  Temple Grandin is not capable (literally, with her autism, not capable) of the kind of leisurely “get to know one another” conversations that help precede content delivery.  But she learned to do at least the minimum amount of connecting.  Here’s the paragraph about this from my earlier blog post:

Success requires “suck-up” skills. (phrase borrowed from Carville and Begala).  Because of her autism, Temple Grandin did not understand the value of sucking up, and it did not come naturally to her.  Apparently (this is assumed more than stated or demonstrated in the movie), her mother and aunt had drilled into her the value of simple, polite manners.  (“My name is Temple Grandin.  Pleased to meet you.” And then, right away, she would launch into her real question or message).  And though she sounded impersonal in her use of such everyday politeness, she made herself do it.  What a testament to the need to develop what we now call networking skills.

So, the next time you get ready to send that e-mail, ask yourself, “have I connected with this person?” before you hit the send button.

Connection before content.

Conditioning + Fundamentals + Unity – Coach John Wooden’s Formula for Success

• “Success is peace of mind which is s direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”

• For Coach Wooden, 10 national championships are summed up in the simplicity of an elegant formula:
10 = C + F + U
(Conditioning + Fundamentals + Unity).
John Wooden, Wooden on Leadership


I have recently revisited the book Wooden on Leadership (I presented my synopsis of this book for the first time back in March, 2006).  John Wooden was the coach of the unequalled UCLA Men’s basketball Team.  He led them to 10 national championships, (number two on that list is a tie between Adolph Rupp and Mike Kryzewski, with four each.  Look at that number again – the two #2 coaches have four titles each, Coach Wooden has ten!).  His other records are almost too numerous to list.  So, in other words, in Men’s Basketball, there is Coach Wooden, and everyone else…

Coach John Wooden receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Bush

Recently, President Obama announced that the great Women’s Basketball Coach Pat Summitt would receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor bestorwed by a president.  Pat Summitt may be the only true peer to Coach Wooden (or, maybe, Coach Wooden may the the only true peer to Coach Summitt).  She won 8 national championships with the Women’s team at Tennessee, but, sadly, her career was cut short with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.  When she receives her honor, that will increase the number of basketball coaches on the list to two – Coach Summit and Coach Wooden.  (President George W. Bush awarded the medal to Coach Wooden in 2003).

In revisiting Wooden on Leadership, I learned again that what matters is basic, simple…  His pyramid is legendary, but his approach is pretty fully revealed in that simple formula above.

Conditioning + Fundamentals + Unity. 

Pretty good advice for all of us.

Conditioning:  Coach Wooden wanted his player to still have their energy and focus in the last minutes of each game.  That required conditioning.

We are not a very fit nation.  Obesity is on the rise.  And every extra pound lowers our stamina just a bit.  And lower stamina means  a little less energy to do our work, and definitely makes it harder to maintain our focus.

Coach Wooden ran tight practices, planned to the minute.  He believed that a two hour practice, well-planned and run, was more valuable than any longer practice that was not organized well.  From his book:

You “expand time” with proper organization and execution – an hour becomes longer than 60 minutes.  A well-organized leader can get more done in two hours than a poorly organized coach gets done in two days.

Fundamentals:  what are the basics?  For Coach Wooden, he literally started every season with a meticulous lesson/demonstration on how to put on your socks.  Without learning this true fundamental, players developed too many blisters.  (And his former players would remember this, and refer to it, for a lifetime).   The question “What are the basics?” needs to be revisited time and time again.

In a recent presentation of this synopsis to a group of leaders within an organization, I began with Peter Drucker’s three foundational questions:

What is your business?
Who is your customer?
What does your customer consider value?

And then, I referred to the process of answering these three questions as the business basics – the business fundamentals.

Unity:  No matter how talented any one player is, when that person undermined team unity, the team suffered.  Coach Wooden wrote:

The star of the team is the team.
It takes ten hands to score a basket.

Team unity, organizational unity…  these are critical.  Any threat to such unity must be dealt with, and quickly…

I have read a lot of books on leadership.  But this one should be close to first on any leadership reading list.  It reminds us all of the starting point, the basics, the true essence of leadership.  Read it.  I think it will make you want it be a better leader, and a better person.


Take a good luck at Coach John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success.  It provides quite a life-long agenda…

Click on image for larger view

Managers & Supervisors; Teachers, Coaches, & Mentors – thoughts on Developing Employees

What am I?  Just a teacher – a member of one of the great professions in the world.  
John Wooden, Wooden on Leadership

“For a lot of employees, Starbucks is their first professional experience… So we try to figure out how to give our employees the self-discipline they didn’t learn in high school.”
Quoted in The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg


So, let’s state the problem simply.  Many employees are not equipped to do the actual jobs that they are hired to do.  Even if an employee has the “skills,” or at least the “knowledge” to do some jobs, they have to grow into these jobs in a lot of ways.  (Learning to make the right mixture and temperature of the coffee drink is a different skill than knowing how to successfully interact with a customer the “Starbucks way”).

In other words, developing employees is one of the critical needs of the era.

So, what do we do about it?

My colleague Karl Krayer, in his Team-Building workshops, talks about the two kinds of roles every team member fills.  The first kind is the “official/formal” role.  Captain; secretary; leader; foreman; “member” (every team member is always, officially a “member”).  But there are other roles, the “unofficial/informal” roles that are never officially assigned.  These are roles that people just seem to step into based partly on the power of their personality.  These are roles such as the team “cheerleader;” the team “mother;” the team “counselor.”  People have natural gifts, and tendencies , and they fill these roles just because that is who they are.  These roles are “good,” and helpful to every group.  Encourage folks to fill these roles.  (There are also some “bad” unofficial roles, such as “slacker;” “pain-in-the-rear.”  These are not good roles, and must be guarded against constantly).

Well, in the realm of employee development, I think there is this same official-unofficial (formal-informal) reality at work.  Some people have a job title that represents some form of “leadership.”  Here’s a representative list:

Team Leader
Shift Foreman
Exeucutive Team

But for an employee who needs to be developed (and, don’t we all?!), there is also a great need for someone(s) to fill another set of roles; “unofficial” roles, but roles that are critical.  Here’s one list of such roles:

Vice Principal (a disciplinarian role).

I think that in this under-managed, under-led era, there is also an under-coached, under-taught, under-mentored problem that must be addressed if we want to develop our employees.

Some of these roles can be filled (should be filled) by the people with the official titles.  But there is also a need for “everyone” to start letting their natural gifts help build others.

Stephen Bishop (playing David Justice), Moneyball

Consider:  in the movie Moneyball, there is a terrific scene when Billy Bean asks David Justice, now in the last days of his playing career, to step up and help the younger players know how to play this game.  He had no title for this role.  But Justice “got it,” and agreed to step up for this challenge.  “Coach; mentor; teacher.”  There is an element to each of these in the challenge that David Justice accepted.

So, here is what a good manager/supervisor needs to spend some time on.  Look carefully at each employee.  Does this particular employee need some teaching, or coaching, or some discipline, or some soft-skills development?  Once the need is clearly identified, then the pairing begins to put the right coach or mentor or teacher with the employee.

Because, when the hiring is done, the employee does not usually arrive fully developed.  With the right management, and the right teaching/coaching/mentoring, that employee just might rise to meet and exceed all of your high expectations.

Without such attention and help, we should not be surprised when employees cease to develop.

Assume Every Shot Will Be Missed – Brilliant Counsel from Coach Wooden

Assume every shot will be missed and produce a subsequent opportunity to get a rebound.   
John Wooden, Wooden on Leadership


When things go wrong, there are many appropriate responses, but this one is never appropriate:  “I can’t believe this went wrong.”

We should know by now that things will go wrong.  Without a doubt.  Take any start-up, any project, any established company, any small endeavor, any large endeavor…any oil drilling rig, any coal mine, any nuclear power plant, and we really, really should know by now:  something will go wrong!

So, though we need to plan and prepare and double-check and triple-check to head off any and every problem problem that might come along, we really need to “assume every shot will be missed,” so we have to work hard at turning such a miss into an opportunity to score off the rebound.

That does not happen if we don’t actually expect something to be missed – something to go wrong.

John Wooden is an overflowing font of wisdom, but this advice may be as important as any.

By the way, John Wooden lived and coached this way. He covered every base, meticulously.  If you don’t know the story, on the first day of practice, every season, he led his players though a slow, deliberate ritual – teaching them to put on their socks and shoes the right away.  Because, if you don’t get your socks and shoes on correctly, you develop problems with your feet. And bad feet will lead to even more missed shots…

So…take a look at your business.  What could possibly go wrong?  (Answer:  everything!)  Identify those possibilities, then expect them happen – plan for them to go wrong — and then plan to get the rebound.