Reading Ron Lieber‘s best-seller entitled The opposite of spoiled: Raising kids who are grounded, generous, and smart about money (Harper Business, 2015) is quite an eye-opener. He is a personal finance columnist for the New York Times. When I present its synopsis on Friday morning at the Park City Club, I am sure many parents will feel as I do – we should have read this book many years ago, even before we had children!
There are many important points in the book, and you need to attend the First Friday Book Synopsis this week to hear about them. However, one key element surfaces in several different ways, and that is the distinction between “wants” and “needs.”
So, here I am at a deadline I face. I must pay for the right to renew my SMU men’s basketball tickets today, or I will lose my season ticket seat. Note that this is not the fee for the ticket. It is the fee to pay for the right to have the seat to pay for the ticket. There are no tickets included.
It has been a terrific two seasons for me with this seat at the renovated Moody Coliseum on the SMU campus. These two seasons were filled with excitement, but both ending in disappointment. Last year, the team did not receive a bid to the NCAA tournament. This year, it exited in a first-round loss to UCLA on a controversial goal-tending call. The competition in the new American Athletic Conference was outstanding, including visits from Louisville last year, and the defending NCAA champion Connecticut Huskies this year, as well as last. And, I watched every road game on television this year, including national broadcasts at Gonzaga, Michigan, and Connecticut.
I never went to SMU. My brother went there, and he was in the Mustang band. But, I listened to SMU men’s basketball games on the radio before I was a teenager. I remember heroics from Charles Beasley and Denny Holman, among others. I was a faculty member at TCU in the mid-’80’s, but I followed Coach Dave Bliss and his # 2 ranked Mustangs much more, listening to games called by Brad Sham and Ira Terrell, who was a standout at SMU, and a colleague with me at 7UP. The star of that team was John Koncak, and they had a runaway train type player in Carl Wright. I remember going to a home game when they defeated Louisville, coached by Denny Crum. That season, they beat North Carolina on the road, and lost to North Carolina State in overtime, and were later eliminated in the NCAA tournament. The last two years with stars such as Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy, have been joys to watch as they developed and dominated the opposition.
Success on the court begets success at the gate. For many years, I would go to Moody to see SMU play, but only against top-ranked opponents, such as Kansas. Most of the fans were not for SMU, and even then, crowds of only about 1,600 were in attendance. I remember going to Coach Larry Brown‘s first game – about 5,100 showed up mostly to watch him coach, as well as chant his name toward the end of the game. The first few games in the 2013-14 season were close to my home in Garland at the Culwell Center, while the school waited on the completion of the renovations at Moody. When I walked in to the new-look coliseum for the first time, I could tell it was going to be magic. It was bright, intimate, and loud. The arena had a new floor, new scoreboards, and new seats, including suites. The games sold out, and all the tickets for the entire season were gone. The games were truly “escapes” for me from the everyday routines I faced.
I bought mine before all that happened. I had one seat behind the SMU bench at the corner of the court, with a great view of everything, including the SMU dancers. A view from my seat is to the left. I sat directly behind an alumnus, Patrick Downs. We provided everyone around us “expert” commentary. I have a picture of us to the right. He was really funny.
So, back to the book by Ron Lieber. When things are this tight, and expenses outrank income, you make different choices. Oh, I could find a way to pay for this seat. It’s not that I couldn’t find the money. But, after reading this book, what message does that send to my child, who is about to start college? Is this something that I need, or just want? How can I get by without going to these games? Before I finished this book, this would have been a hard choice. After reading it, there is no choice at all.
I will just figure it out. I won’t be renewing this seat. There are other way more important things to spend my money on.
And, I am sure I will get by. This is a want – not a need. These two years added to the great memories of being a fan there. I don’t have to miss the games, but watching on television is a poor substitute for going in person. My friend, Rich Phillips, calls the games on 770 AM with former Mavericks broadcaster Allen Stone. They are a great team.
I can tell my child, “if I can do it, you can do it.” This is the right thing to do.
A quick stroll through the business section of a bookstore or a search through the management section of an on-line retailer will quickly reveal the plethora of titles available from sports figures. Working from the analogy that the activities inherent around a basketball court, a football field, or a baseball diamond simulate the activities in the workplace, many current and former athletes and coaches have penned treatises teaching us how to be successful on the job. Topics for these books include leadership, management, motivation, teamwork, self-improvement, finance, and others.
A great recent example of this is the book by John Wooden that we featured at the First Friday Book Synopsis and that you can purchase at 15MinuteBusinessBooks.com. This book is also accompanied by videos, manuals, and training courses. No one can question Wooden’s success as a repetitive NCAA champion head basketball coach at UCLA. You could say the same thing about practically any of these authors. After all, who would read a book from a loser? I learned a long time ago in attending conventions of the National Speakers Association, that if you want to be successful in the business, follow the path of a successful speaker, not a failure.
Here are some others:
Rick Pitino – head basketball coach at the University of Louisville: Success Is a Choice: Ten Steps to Overachieving in Business and Life
Fran Tarkenton – former NFL quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants: What Losing Taught Me About Winning: The Ultimate Guide for Success in Small and Home-Based Business
Mike Ditka – former NFL head coach for the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints: In Life, First You Kick Ass: Reflections on the 1985 Bears and Wisdom from Da Coach
The assumption behind all of these books is that the activities and best practices which yielded success for these authors in sports are relevant and applicable to what we do at work. Therefore, a manager can use the techniques that a head coach uses, employees are players, competitors are opponents, strategies are plays, pilots or rollouts are practices, groups should become teams, and so forth. We can use terms and phrases such as, “she struck out today,” “this looks like a home run,” “he’s our quarterback,” and “we’re in a sand trap.” You get the point.
I think that there is some legitimacy to this, although I can tell you that in teaching my MBA courses at the University of Dallas, students are tiring of the sports analogy in business, particularly for teamwork. You may remember the series of silly commercials from American Express a few years ago entitled “Great Moments in Business,” where employees piled up on each other in a room after a successful presentation, and high-fived each other as if they had just won a World Series after a closed sale.
If you believe that the principles that motivate human beings are the same, no matter what the context, then you would have no problem with what these books try to do. Who would not advocate “practice” before performance, whether that is a presentation, a draft of a document or e-mail, or a pilot program prior to a national product introduction? The same principles and behaviors that qualify a group of people as a team on the court or field should apply on the job. Consider trust, which is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for teamwork. Without trust, there is no team, no matter where it is. We don’t have to talk about money – that’s an issue in the business of sports as much as the business of business. Some have a lot, and some don’t have enough. Some even go out of existence, such as the recent announcement that the 20-year Arena Football League will cease operations. Some look for outside buoyance. The Federal Government keeps General Motors alive. Major League Baseball did the same for the Montreal Expos before moving them to Washington, D.C. Every sports franchise is as much of a business as a firm on Wall Street, or anywhere else.
And, managers and employees can go through all the motions of strategic planning, just like coaches and players study a playbook, diagram motions, and run through plays on the practice field or court, only to learn that when they face a competitor, it is considerably different. Rarely is there a situation where the presence of an opponent is the not the cause of substantial modifications in strategy, and the possibility of failure.
Remember when George Will told us that baseball players are not the “boys of summer,” but rather, “Men at Work.” He argued that baseball managers, just as business managers, examine a set of complex variables in making decisions. And, that players perfect their skills on the diamond in ways that go well beyond how employees do the same in the workplace.
In conclusion, advice from sports personalities about business is probably no worse than the lessons we can read about based upon Abraham Lincoln, Jesus Christ, Machiavelli, or General Robert E. Lee. Like many of these sports personalities, they didn’t run or work for any of today’s companies, but authors have used their best practices to show us how to work better in our jobs.
Is all the business world a field or a court? Perhaps no worse than a stage. No matter how we do it, we all have to perform. The question is simply what resources we want to use to guide us to success.
Let’s talk about it. What do you think?