John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Choices

Note to tape on my bathroom mirror to read every morning:

You know that thing you’ve been thinking about doing?

No. Not that one. The other one.

You know the one.

Yes, that one. That’s the one.

Don’t do it. Just don’t.

jyb_musingsJust…please… put it out of your mind.

I know. I know. Heard it all before. Remember about this time last year? Same situation and how did that turn out for you?

This would be yet another “bad choice,” as they like to say. And, really, haven’t you made enough of those already?

Just let it go. Trust me on this. You’ll thank me a month from now.

Don’t forget to brush your teeth. And why don’t you try flossing for a change?

John Y. Brown, III: One UK fan’s reflections

The 2013-14 UK Wildcats men’s basketball team started the season ranked first in the nation and started the NCAA tournament unranked and noteworthy primarily
for what they hadn’t done this season.

But that was a very long time ago—at the beginning of the tournament —and with 68 teams competing.

A couple weeks have passed and now there are just four teams left, including the team of destiny that became the team of disappointment before they became again the team of destiny.

And vanquished the Duke ’92 demon that had festered for 22 years…..before avenging the Michigan Fab 5 loss that had lingered for 23 years…..all while playing 120 consecutive minutes of the steeliest and most exciting basketball in perhaps Kentucky’s storied college basketball history…and who still haven’t played to their fullest possible potential…but have one last chance in Dallas next week to do just that.

And is a team that will never be accused of disappointing their fans or their followers and is now on their way to Dallas because they have a date with destiny…and only themselves left to prove something to.

jyb_musingsWe, the fans, are privileged to be along for this special ride–of the 2013-14 UK basketball team —a team that will not go down as the greatest, or most unforgettable, or most invincible UK team ever….but will be remembered quite possibly as the damnedest team in modern UK basketball history. And certainly one of the most special.

Good luck navigating your destiny the rest of the way. It’s on you, fellas.

Just know your fans are proudly behind you –every single last step of your blessed way.

Saul Kaplan: Next Practices vs. Best Practices

Everyone bows down to the all, important benchmark.  How many times have you heard someone say, “You only get what you measure”? Most organizations commit to identifying and measuring performance against industry best practice.  Many have recognized the value of looking outside of their industry for practices that might provide a source of competitive advantage.  Adopting existing best practice makes sense if you want to improve the performance of your current business model.  Going beyond the limits of your current business model requires a network-enabled capability to do R&D for new business models.  The imperative is to build on best practices to explore and develop next practices.

Understanding best practices and applying them to increase business model productivity is an essential capability for all organizations.  No surprise most companies benchmark their performance adopting practices ranging from accessing benchmarking data to sourcing (internal and external) process improvement capabilities.  Like all learned behaviors the earlier it is adopted the easier it is to scale and to apply in other markets.  Entrepreneurs and small business leaders should start with a back of the napkin approach.  Be specific about goals and take the napkin out a lot.

It doesn’t take long to exhaust the library of best practices in any given industry.  Field organizations have seen most of what the competition is doing and can report their observations.  In addition your customers and networks have an important perspective that should be tapped.  Social network platforms, like Twitter, Facebook, and Linked-in make real time information interaction possible across networks. Leverage these new tools and platforms.  It is worth it.

photo-saulOnly exploring your own industry for best practices is limiting.  New sources of competitive advantage are far more likely to come from observing and adopting best practices in completely unrelated industries.  All leaders should spend more discretionary time outside of their industry, discipline, and sector.  There is more to learn from unusual suspects who bring fresh and different perspectives than from the ideas circulated and re-circulated among the usual suspects.  The big and important value creating opportunities will most likely be found in the gray areas between the silos we inhabit.  Get out more.

Best practices are necessary but not sufficient.  Business models don’t last as long as they used to.  Leaders must identify and experiment with next practices.  Next practices enable new ways to deliver customer value.  Next practices are better ways to combine and network capabilities that change the value equation of your organization.  Organizations should always be developing a portfolio of next practices that recombine capabilities to find new ways to deliver value.  Leaders should design and test new business models unconstrained by the current business or industry model.

It is easy to sketch out business model innovation scenarios on the white board.  It is far more difficult to take the idea off the white board for a spin in the real world.  We need safe and manageable platforms for real world experimentation of new business models and systems.  Since most leaders in the 21st century will likely have to change their business models several times over their careers it makes sense to do R&D for new business models the same way R&D is done for new products and technologies today.  Create the space for exploration.

It is not best practices, but next practices that will sustain your organization on a strong growth trajectory.  While you continue to pedal the bicycle of today’s business model make sure that no less than 10% of your time and resources is dedicated to exploring new business models and developing next practices.


The UK/Michigan Insta-Classic — A Recap in Tweets


John Y. Brown, III: Wildcats > Wolverines

 Amazing some of the things you can learn on the internet…..Something to think about today prior to the University of Kentucky Wildcats vs Michigan Wolverines game (From Wikipedia, mostly)

Wolverine /ˈwʊlvəriːn/, Gulo gulo (Gulo is Latinfor “glutton”), also referred to as glutton, carcajou,skunk bear, or quickhatch, is the largest land-dwelling species of the family Mustelidae (WEASELS).
The Woverine is a dumpy, uncoordinated and unathletic creature that preys mostly on insects because it isn’t fast enough or strong enough to catch “real animals” (e.g. Lions or Tigers or Wildcats).In fact, Wildcats are known predators of the lowly wolverine weasel, especially in late March in the midwest United States, preferably after the weasel creature has feasted on Tennessee Volunteers.

Many cities, teams, and organizations use the wolverine as a mascot. For example, the US state of Michigan is, by tradition, known as “the Wolverine State”, and the University of Michigan takes the wolverine as its mascot. Michigan students overwhelmingly voted to be called “Wolverines” because they mistakenly believed a wolverine was the shape-shifting character played by in the Twilight movie series by Taylor Lautner.

jyb_musingsThere was controversy at the time over the decision because the Michigan men’s basketball team overwhelmingly preferred Robert Pattinson’s fictional vampire character over Taylor Lautner’s werewolf character. Mostly because it was easier to spell “vampire” than “werewolf.”

Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that the entire men’s basketball team agree “Breaking Dawn” the episode narrated from the perspective of Taylor Lautner’s werewolf is the best movie of the entire Twilight saga.

This is an important fact to remember whenever watching the University of Michigan’s mens basketball team play.

(Note: Even though Robert Pattison’s vampire character and Taylor Lautner’s wolf character are tough in the Twilight movie series, the movie is fiction —and in real life both Robert and Taylor are terrible at basketball and believe Duke University is the best college basketball program ever, especially during the early 90s.

imageAnd neither can beat Bella, Kristin Stewart, in basketball, who believes the University of Kentucky Wildcats are the greatest basketball program in college basketball history –and much, much better than any team with a weasel for a mascot. And she believes Christian Laettner looks more like a pasty member of the fictional Cullen vampire family than a real college basketball player.

Sunset in Kentucky


Photo by Rudolph Tobbe

John Y. Brown, III: College basketball, fan participation and magical thinking

NCAA tournament basketball is about as competitive as sports gets—and takes a full team effort. And when you get to the Sweet Sixteen round that team effort includes the fans. Especially if it is UK vs UL.

In fact, as much as last night’s historic game was a test of collegiate basketball skills at their highest level, it was also a test of fan participation behaviors at their highest (and potentially lowest) levels.

Sure the young collegiate superstars on the floor last night for UK and UL had to be at the top of their game—and were for both teams. But what isn’t as obvious to the unsuspecting eye is the crucial role the fans play in helping their team get those small but important advantages that can make the difference in a close tournament game.

Last night my son Johnny and I were amidst a sea of “mixed” basketball fans. Some were for UL and others were for UK at about an equal ratio. It was the perfect formula for a fight to breakout at any given time and I even whispered to my son before the game, “I hope I don’t get involved in a fist fight tonight….I tend to get hurt badly in those situations.” Johnny agreed and we vowed to be on good behavior for as long as we could.

The most active UL fan in our orbit was seated, of course, directly in front of me. He was clearly a UL fan because he was middle-aged and wearing a red shirt with a cardinal logo and kept making the “L” sign with his right hand (along with his wife, or UL co-fan) for pictures he asked others —sometimes UK fans—to take. I think the hand “L” sign is clever but kept wondering if it shouldn’t be limited to just one hand so it doesn’t get confused with a “J” hand sign. But couldn’t figure out if it should be the UL fan’s left or right hand (outward looking or looking toward).

I was an obvious UK fan. Middle-aged. Not thin but no longer heavy either and wearing blue jeans, a blue shirt and a blue blazer. He had a slight advantage over me because I did not have a wildcat logo on my lapel and, let’s be honest, there is no way to smoothly make the letter “K” hand sign with a single hand. I did come up with a way to make a lower case “k” using both hands but decided against attempting since it was my first time and it was something that would need practice before going live with.

The first half went smoothly. No indications of a fisticuffs breaking out on the floor between UL and UK players or in the stands between UL and UK fans.

Things started surprisingly subdued. In the first few minutes I mumbled, “Let’s go UK” where it could be heard by my son but no one else. I essentially whispered it in his ear. Johnny quickly chastised me my pointing out facetiously, “It sure is good for UK that there’s a man in the crowd of 41,000 fans who is whispering “Let’s go cats.”

I explained I was just trying to communicate with him and not the team, but he had made his point. Meanwhile, my UL nemesis was starting to cheer not just out of normal fan pleasure but to also make a point to the UK fans around him that he not only was “for” UL but was starting to believe they were going to win. He would say things like, “Pull away, Cards!” And the worst part was that they were. It was 18-5 and I had no choice but to up my fan game –before it was too late.

I shouted “THREE” and not long after that UK made an important 3 point shot. Thank goodness. UK was turning around the momentum—and –importantly– doing so in conjunction with their fans.

The Cardinal fan in front of me countered my “THREE!” by reciting numerous player names. He obviously knew his stuff. He also would show off that he knew the hand gesture for official calls trying to do the gesture himself before the officials (whenever the call would benefit UL). This was all good showmanship but my “Go Cats” coupled with another correct “THREE” closed the point difference to 3 at half. My point being at UK we are about winning. Not showing off.

During half time, like the players themselves, I needed a break and headed out to the concession stand before returning to position myself behind and “checking” my UL counterpart as we both prepared for an intense –and potentially historic—second half of play. Both teams came out strong but my UL fan was quieter than I expected at first. I tried to watch the game but couldn’t help staring into his bald spot and starting to really resent what he represented –and what was at stake for both of us.

And then it started, “He cheered louder for UL than any single play during the first half. My son and I retorted with an even louder yell besting our best first half shout out to UK by an even more significant margin. Hoping my UL fan was chastened, I soon found out he was instead embolden. I couldn’t make out what it was he was trying to chant at first. It sounded like he was saying “ewwww” and I even thought it was perhaps a foul on UL. But I soon discovered he was chanting “Luuuuukkkkkeeeee” and it just sounded like “ewwwww.” And, again to my dismay but growing respect, it was working! Within about a 3 minute stretch, Luke Skywalker (I’m guessing his last name…the fan in front of me seemed only to know Luke’s first name) made two three pointers and four free throws.

All I could think was, “Game on, pal!” And If it needed to get a little dirty on my end, I was willing to go there. I started with some major high-fives with my son with accompanying fist bumps and ecstatic “Yes! Cats!” A new shout I improvised in desperation that was obviously—and thankfully—working.

My UL counterpart went into overdrive high-fiving any UL fan within arm reach of him. I wasn’t willing to go there. Yet. And wasn’t sure what to do next to turn up the heat. I shouted my standard bearer “THREE” several times but the UL fans around me were on to me as obviously as the UL players –and no three pointers were made.

Somehow, I have to assume it was my son’s cheering because it wasn’t mine, UK pulled within 3 points. Which is when I knew we had moved to “No holds barred” fan tactics. UK was at the free throw line. I looked on knowingly –confident the free throw by Andrew Harrison was going in and I was shocked. Horrified actually. The UL fan below me was shaking his hands to put a hex on the UK free throw shooter. I had never seen this before and it was as creepy as you are imagining. And this guy looked was obviously no piker. He had cast spells before on free throw shooters and I was trying to pull myself out of shock and into some sort of counter-spell mode. I had never cast a counter spell and was momentarily frozen. All I could do was wait until UL went to the free throw line. I wanted to shake my hands menacingly while glowering at the UL shooter—but was afraid it wouldn’t come off as polished as my competitor fan. So instead I just concentrated really hard on the UL player to miss his free throws. I reminded myself from the first half that UK was more about substance over style in fan magical thinking trying to influence games. And it worked. Phew!! And worked again!

As the clock wound down to under 3 minutes, the UL fan’s free throw hexes became more pronounced and involved —and more desperate looking. And ineffectual. I grinned to myself and with 38 seconds to go went for the coup de grace when Aaron Harrison got the ball in the corner. “T-H-R-E-E” I erupted from out of nowhere. Nothing but net, baby! As uber-fan Dick Vitale likes to say.

The game was all but over. I did one last mental hex on the UL player who missed a key free throw needed to tie. It was over. We—the UK players and their magical fans—and pulled off a staggering come-from-behind defeat.

We UK fans congratulated each other –but not to gleefully. It was a close call and could have gone the other way —if we, the fans, hadn’t been on our A-game.

Feeling both grateful and magnanimous after the big win, I looked down on the court and watched the players congratulating each other. I figured that was the least I could do. I tapped my nemesis on the shoulder and offered to shake his hand which he took. And being every bit as much the gentleman said, “Good luck on Monday” as he walked off.

I looked at my son and said, “That was pretty cool, wasn’t it? Nice gesture.” And I thought to myself how glad I was I didn’t know how to put a counter spell on him after all to stop his spell on UK’s free throw shooters. Because he might have left with my spell still in tact. And on Monday night, if he was really serious about wishing UK luck, we could use his help.

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John Y’s Musings from the Middle: My Lexington Accent

You know how when you are in NYC you talk faster and in Southern California you talk slower and in Texas you give in to your full on drawl?

I went to London, England for the first time several years ago and in no time I was speaking with an English accent.

It changes your mindset too.

Which is my main point about having a Lexington accent. I don’t change the way I pronounce things. But once I drive into the Lexington city limits a reflexive change comes over my entire being and I start to think of everthing in terms of the UK Wildcats basketball team.

jyb_musingsIt’s bigger than an accent and you can tell just by looking at me that I am thinking about how I believe the Cats can still win it all this year.

Without me ever even opening my mouth.

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