We’ve Got Data, Yes We Do. We’ve Got Data, How About You?

For those of you who had a quick flashback to high school sports complete with cheerleaders, sorry about that. But, in the age of POS systems, big data, analytics and visualizations, it’s hard to believe we’re still asking this question.

Most of our businesses, even small businesses, are awash in data – transactional data from our ERP systems, customer sentiment from our marketing management systems and financial data from our accounting systems. Long gone are the days when we polled subsets of customers to predict the behavior and preferences of the population at large. We can easy pull together and analyze the actions of every one of our customers and the financial impacts of those actions in our organization. We know what they bought, when they bought it, what they paid for it and how they liked it after the fact.

So why do we still struggle to make data-driven decisions? The short answer is cognitive biases – a mistake in reasoning, evaluating, remembering or other cognitive process, often occurring as a result of holding onto one’s preferences and beliefs regardless of contrary information (Chegg). As Anais Nin said, “We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.” In my work, I’ve observed 4 specific obstacles to data-driven decision making. I want to offer some suggestions on how we can deconstruct them and replace them with something better. As futurist and philosopher Alvin Toffler said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

We believe all smart people think the way we think. It’s not surprising that we interact with people who think differently than we do. The variety in our nature, nurture, experience and education guarantees that no two of us are exactly alike. However, the remarkable thing is, we think those people who do think differently from us are not nearly as smart as we are. We believe, that presented with the same set of facts, all smart people will draw the same conclusion, make the same selection or opt for the same methodology. That’s not the case. Different isn’t dumber. Different is just different. When we examine data and discover findings that don’t square with us intellectually, I see a couple of choices – make a decision that aligns with the data and entertain the option that the data’s disagreement with your own opinion might not be an indictment of your intellect or, if you just can’t get over it, dig deeper and find the why behind the findings. Sometimes the data presents customer choices that have a root that you’ve yet to discover. Whichever option you choose, you’d probably best judge your intellectual horsepower with this quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

We believe that the way things worked in the past will be the way they will continue to work in the future. We all seem to have an affinity for systems and processes that we know and have experienced. The line at the grocery store is more comfortable than the Blue Apron box delivered to our home. However, when we see data moving towards a new sales channel or towards an emerging product and away from an existing product, we must muster the courage to follow the data. If we, personally, are an early adopter, it might seem easy. But, if we’re part of the late majority in adopting a new product or service, it borders on the painful. Battling this bias requires more academic rigor than the others. I’d encourage you to examine the histories of formerly successful companies who assumed that the business model they had ridden for, in many cases, decades would continue to return stellar revenues for them going forward. Think about Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), Kodak, Blockbuster and Toys-R-Us. When well-vetted data says it’s time to make a change, it’s time to follow the data.

We tie our own personal worth and identity to our tastes or work product. Maybe I should leave this point to Dr. Phil, but I’ll take a shot at it. Over the course of a long career, we will all come up with some great ideas. We’ll also come up with others that could use some work. Unfortunately, we’ll probably love both types just the same. When the data shows that the widget we designed isn’t gaining traction in the widget-buying community, we take it personally. Sometimes even more painful is watching customers lose interest in a product or service in which we have an intense personal investment. Maybe it’s been the staple of the organization for a very long time. The customer’s decision to purchase something else feels like personal attack on us. Make no mistake – you are not what you do. Your worth is not the number of times your product is rung up at the register, sold online or positively reviewed on Google or Facebook. Living that way will drive you crazy. Data is just data. It reflects the collective sentiment of the population who provided it regarding a single item or interaction. It is not a measurement of the worth of the person who created it. Get your worth from something that cannot be taken away. I personally find it in my Christian faith.

When the data creates this situation – and it inevitably will – separate your personal tastes and most-prized creations from your personal worth. To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, “treat the two impostors of customer love and customer rejection just the same.” Make decisions consistent with the data and move on.

We believe that experimenting with something new is expensive and risky. As we examine the data and the tide seems to be turning to new products or delivery methods, we assemble, in our heads, an entirely new manufacturing facility, a complicated new delivery infrastructure and sophisticated, new customer service capabilities. Each of these carries an excessively high price tag. Before we know it, in our heads, we’ve retreated to the comfort of the status quo before we even start. If the data indicates movement towards a new product or service, it’s a good time to employ a methodology from Jim Collins’ book, Great by ChoiceFire bullets, then cannonballs. Before creating an expensive, new infrastructure for a new product or service, construct a low-risk, low-cost, low-distraction experiment to prove the new direction indicated by the data. The ability to calibrate the offering by taking small, measured shots (bullets) and evaluating their appeal and effectiveness can be followed by crafting full-blown products (cannonballs) with the benefit of the empirical evidence you’ve gathered during the test. Some concrete ways to implement bullets then cannonballs – create a 3-D printed version of a new product instead of a full-featured version from an assembly line, roll out a service to a small test segment of your customer base, outsource the support of a test item to a third-party who could rapidly ramp up the support function and quick shutter it when the test is over.

Making the move to data-driven decision making isn’t easy. It often flies in the face of our “gut” and it often has a higher emotional price tag. But, when it’s all said and done, it’s the right thing to do for the organization. The findings from data analysis force us to have discussions we need to have. Implementing data-driven decisions reduces unnecessary risk and position us for success. The new decisions will create more data that we can examine and use to further refine our work.

Five Strategic Things I Wish I Could Force You to Do in 2018

There’s not a better job in the world than being a consultant. I have the opportunity to see the inner workings of multiple industries and competitive companies inside those industries. And, I get to work with great, smart people all the time. The one thing I can’t do, however, is make decisions for clients. I supply informed opinions, actionable recommendations, a framework for execution and accountability to get it done, but I can’t pull the trigger.

But, if just for a moment, I had free reign in every client organization in 2018, here are five things I would do.

Ratchet Up the Employee Engagement – According to a Gallup survey, unengaged employees comprise 70% of the workforce. These unengaged employees collectively cost business owners $550 billion annually in lost productivity. The mechanics of creating, increasing and retaining engagement are not mystical, but they do require a specific set of attitudes and behaviors from employers. To get started, download Employees As, a primer for Employee Engagement.

Innovate Using Jobs Theory – Of all the big thoughts devoted to innovation over they past 20 years, I find those of Clayton Christensen in his excellent book Competing Against Luck to be the most practical, most easily grasped by an organization and most likely to yield a viable new product or service. Jobs Theory positions innovation as supplying the best alternative for the progress a potential customer wants to make in resolving a problem.

Implement a Plan for Focused Execution – Most organizations either throw up their collective hands and run from crisis to crisis OR undertake strategic initiatives that have too many moving parts. To effect real change in an organization, only work on one or two initiatives at a time. When those are done, move to the next one or two. Successful execution requires a laser-like focus, shared vision, education, identifying the correct leading indicators, overcoming the obstacles that surface in the course of the project, great teamwork and accountability.

Clarify Your Messaging – Great marketing and subsequent sales all hinge on an easily understood message. Make sure potential customers know exactly what you do. The message from salespeople, your company website, your social media channels and your sales collateral should be simple and unified. The value proposition should be communicated in language that correctly identifies the client’s problem, positions your organization as a capable resource that can guide them to resolution and describes a desirable future state.

Set Aside Time for Deep Work – I can’t say enough good things about Cal Newport’s book Deep Work. I was challenged by the empirical and anecdotal evidence he presented to regularly and methodically step away from our distraction-fueled world to do work that requires complex, contemplative and deep thought. It’s changed the way I approach my preparation for consulting engagements and the engagements themselves. It’s the best defense I’ve ever seen again distraction and the always present “tyranny of the urgent”. Make time to do this no matter what else is going on in your organization.

There are very few guarantees in this world, but if you take these five things into your organization, I can almost promise that 2018 will look markedly different from 2017.

Again, I encourage you to download the Employees As guide to Employee Engagement. I also have resources available for the other strategic initiatives discussed in this post.


Can Digging Ditches be as Rewarding as Working for the Peace Corps?

In my work as a business consultant and grad school adjunct professor, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve invoked Dan Pink’s three-point outline from his brilliant 2009 book, Drive. Employees want three things in their work life –

  • Autonomy – the ability to control what they do, how they do it, when they do it and who they do it with
  • Mastery – doing work that is not too hard, but not too easy.  Growing their skills with the knowledge that their abilities are not finite, but infinitely improvable. Realizing that mastering a task takes determination, effort and on-going practice. And, knowing that no matter how hard they try, they will never fully master their craft – making it perpetually challenging.
  • Purpose – the ability to attach meaning to their work that supersedes the enrichment of investors or employees. Creating opportunities that allow employees to engage in this meaning on their own terms.


To be honest, I’ve waxed eloquent on autonomy and mastery many times. They seemed so easy to explain and illustrate. But I can’t say the same about purpose. I’ve struggled to help clients and students understand how to create meaning for employees when their work seems to lack it. Let’s face it, some work, taken at face value, has more intrinsic purpose than others – yes, working for the Peace Corps feels more noble than digging ditches.

Enter the excellent book, Competing Against Luck, by Clayton Christensen. When it comes to attaching purpose to work, it was like someone flipped on the light in a dark room. If you’re unfamiliar with the topic of the book, Jobs Theory, here’s the super abridged version – people hire a person, company or thing to accomplish a “job to be done” – it’s the theoretical framework behind Theodore Levitt’s wonderful quote, “people do not want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole.” Christensen and his co-authors dig deep into the topic and illustrate it with wonderful real-life examples, but for my purposes here, let me pick out a few gems.

When people have a “job to be done”, it’s generated by circumstances that make their current condition untenable. Some of the circumstances are mildly annoying – “I’m thirsty”, but others demand a solution right now – “I’ve been in an accident, my car is undriveable and I can’t get to work, home or anywhere else”. Hence a job to be done. The job represents progress the potential customer wants to make. The progress might be simple – moving from being thirsty to being hydrated, but many times in the progress is complex – get my wrecked car to the body shop, get all the insurance companies on the same page and get the claim paid, get my car fixed right the first time, in the immediate future get me where in need to go, in the long term get me a rental car to drive and finally don’t cancel my car insurance because of this one accident or raise my premiums through the roof. The person, product or company that delivers on the job to be done in the most complete and frictionless way creates a high-value solution for the customer and creates a probability that they will be hired for that job over and over again.

Towards the end of the book, Christensen explains the amazing transformation that occurs when companies organize, not around products or functions, but around jobs to be done. As I read that, it dawned on me – what could bring more purpose to work than one human being giving their best effort and creativity to do a job that has meaning to another human being. At this point, we can stop asking people to find meaning in accounting, information technology or supply chain management. They don’t even have to find meaning in toasters, hotel stays or a new social network. As we organize our enterprises around jobs to be done, we are connecting the passions and skills of our employees to the heartfelt needs of a customer that has a very-important-to-them job to be done.


I first wrote about Drive six years ago. To read that post, click here.

Depreciating Employees

Sorry to bring this up, but in just a couple of months it will be tax time. Very soon the Finance folks will be talking with us about deductions, assets, 1099s and more. One of the conversations will likely involve depreciation. Depreciation is the mechanism that allows us to account for the portion of an item’s value we’ve used to create products or services in that year. It’s fairly intuitive – the truck we purchased in 2014 delivered products, picked up materials or made service calls – all allowing us to serve customers and make money. At the same time, the truck is another year older – more wear and tear, more maintenance required and certainly worth less than when we bought it. Even with top-notch maintenance and lots of replacement parts, we’ll not return its value to the original purchase price.

This type of depreciation is unavoidable and, in reality, desirable since it enables our mission and money-making. But there is another type of depreciation that’s damaging and unnecessary. Can employees depreciate? Think about it. You’re most likely handing out raises with those year-end performance reviews. Certainly your benefit costs are going up. So, if you get the same amount of value from those employees this year that you received from them last year, but you’re paying more for them, they are depreciating.

Let me hasten to say, I realize they’re another year smarter with greater experience.  That should allow them to successfully ride the experience curve and add more value to your organization. But what if you could supercharge their growth? Unfortunately, I spent a good portion of my former corporate life focused on projects and processes and not on people. It never dawned on me that I was contributing to employee depreciation, since I was giving more of the company’s money (through yearly raises and benefits) to employees whose development was primarily just what they caught by osmosis over the course of the year.

Fortunately, since my switch to consulting and through my own personal and professional growth, I’ve had the privilege of helping clients create and implement robust employee development plans; plans that make people smarter, give them vital experiences that prepare them for new responsibilities in the organization and equip them with new tools that bring them personal satisfaction and allow them to better meet the needs of the organization’s customers.

It’s just the opposite of employee depreciation. It’s employee appreciation. Each passing month, the value of the employee’s new knowledge, skills, abilities and experiences far surpass the increased compensation. This makes for an organization that’s growing, transforming and competing because its team members are growing and transforming.

To download the initial Employee Development Plan Worksheet that my clients use to start the Employee Development conversation with their employees, click here.

Be Like Mick

2016 marked the 40th anniversary of Rocky – the story of a down-on-his-luck boxer who won the heart of Philadelphia when he went the distance with the undisputed heavyweight champ, Apollo Creed.

There’s no question that Rocky was a compelling character and the star of the movie. But let me make the case for a different hero – Rocky’s trainer Mick. Mick was, all at once, mentor, teacher, friend, cheerleader, butt-kicker, confidant and counselor. He was the voice in Rocky’s head, bringing him back to the truth, when all of life’s circumstances were telling him lies. Even in later reboots of the franchise, after Mick’s death, his words echoed in Rocky’s head giving him strength, instruction and calling him to action when he was literally down for the count.

Rocky Balboa was and continues to be one of the greatest characters ever forged by Hollywood, but if there were no Mick, there might not have been a Rocky.

So, what’s the point? In our professional life, most of us aspire to be Rocky – meeting the challenge, rising above and getting the accolades. Could I encourage a different focus? How about being Mick? Be the voice in the ear of that client or customer that makes them better, stronger, smarter and more successful. Nothing is more rewarding than helping someone else achieve their dreams, meet their goals or just be happier and more fulfilled. Knowing that you had some small part in making that happen is one of the best feelings ever. So, come along side that family member, employee, boss, customer or client and be like Mick.

Free Business Report Card

Know anyone that could use a second set of eyes for their small business? This is a chance for you to give your business owner friends a free business assessment.

To celebrate the 10th birthday of ClearVision Consulting, I’m giving away three free Business Report Cards. The Business Report Card is a one-day assessment focusing on the most critical factors for small business health and growth.

Prior to the one-day, on-site meeting, the business owner or manager will receive a detailed online questionnaire. Then during the on-site meeting, we’ll examine 10 critical disciplines that can make or break an organization. Afterward, the owner will receive a written report card identifying the areas in which the business is excelling and the areas in which it is vulnerable.

The Business Report Card is normally billed at $1500, but for the three businesses chosen for this 10th birthday offer, it’s free. Unfortunately, the free offer is limited to businesses in the Kansas City Metro or within a 3 hour drive.

To nominate a business, email me at Send the name and email address of the business owner or manager and a sentence or two on why they are deserving of the free Business Report Card.

Thanks for supporting small business with your nomination.

What I’ve Learned from 10 Years in Consulting

This month marks 10 years in consulting and therefore the 10th birthday of ClearVision Consulting. I count myself one of the fortunate few who get to make a living doing what they love. A giant thank you to dozens of clients who have invited me into their businesses and trusted me to help them build the business they’ve always wanted.

I can’t cram all the things I’ve learned into the few short words of this post, but I’ve got to try and hit the high spots.

Business owners and their teams are some of the finest people I’ve ever met.  There’s something different about the person who foregoes a weekly paycheck and risks everything to run their own business. The passion and purpose they bring to their work is inspiring and humbling.

There’s a fine line between running a business and being run by a business. I’ve had the opportunity to see both. The demands of running a business are off the charts. Without a deliberate approach, the right team and defined processes, there are plenty of things to keep you up at night. On the flip side, there are business owners who, by employing the right tools and methodologies, are having the time of their life.

There’s a lot of confusion about what it means to engage a consultant. It’s a bit daunting to think about exposing any or all or your business to a stranger – especially if you think the end result is going to be a list of problems you already knew you had and a bunch of expensive-to-implement recommendations – all written in consultant-speak and accompanied by a large bill. If that was the experience, I’d also run screaming.

Velocity is daunting. The rate of change in competitive landscape, employee expectations, technology, distribution channels, communication channels and more is dizzying. Pile that on top of every day operational demands and it seems like there’s no way to stay current and really no way to pay for it. Business owners without a true North Star feel constantly behind existing competitors and aggressive new entrants.

The privilege of consulting and coaching has provided a front row seat for watching some wonderful business transformations. I’ve been able to witness owners and managers overcome some initial reluctance to bring in a trusted advisor and experience the change that comes by making deliberate choices and employing proven tools. Unless you can be Batman, it’s probably the best job ever.  I’m pretty pumped about the next 10 years.


Is a Strategic Plan Really Necessary?

You’re making money, customers are buying your products or services and your employees seem happy? Do you really need a strategic plan?  Isn’t strategic planning for big companies with lots of money and lots of employees?  Or maybe for companies that are struggling?  If things are going great, why mess with it?

Read the ten statements below, answer TRUE or FALSE, and we’ll chat at the end.


I know exactly what I want the business to look like 1 year, 3 years and 5 years from now.

  • I don’t mean you want to be making more money, I mean –
    • you have a clear picture of new product and service offerings
    • you’ve identified new markets or new target clients for growth
    • you have a plan for hiring and/or developing employees that can get you where you want to go
    • you’re already putting together the production, service and technical infrastructure to support the new products and market
    • you know how you’re going to finance your plans


When my leadership team meets, we talk regularly about long term plans.

  • Current operational problems are extraordinarily demanding and will consume all your time.  It’s good and right to talk about and solve them, but to borrow from Jim Collins, this is a perfect time for the “genius of the and”.  To remain viable in the long-term, we must effectively manage the organization today AND successfully position it for tomorrow.


The employees in my organization share my passion for the business.

  • You’re the boss, no one will care more than you – right?  You might be surprised.  Social scientists assure us that engaged, empowered employees will go far beyond just punching the clock.  Clear, concise communication and commitment to an overarching purpose are the starting place.


I know where we are vulnerable to competition.

  • A correct assessment of the competitive environment is much more than examining the companies that do the exact same thing you do for the exact same set of customers.  It also involves examining companies that compete for the same disposable dollars.  It involves surveying replacements for your good or service.


My employees know what success looks like in our business.

  • This might seem apparent, but unless you’ve assembled an easy-to-understand scorecard with hard and soft metrics, employees with very narrow job responsibilities might not know if the enterprise at large is succeeding or failing.


If I was gone tomorrow, the business would continue to function.

  • At the risk of sounding harsh, if the organization can’t run without you, you’ve built a cult, not a business.  Skilled execution of a strategic plan will force you systematize the business, building it around principle instead of personality.


I have a steady stream of new clients coming into the business and they are the clients I want.

  • New revenue streams, both from new products and from new customers are the lifeblood of any organization.  But as organizations mature and are better able to identify and serve the customers to whom they deliver the greatest value surplus, they can narrow their focus.  This focus allows them to build relationships with customers who are willing to not only grow the relationship, but also act as an advocate for the brand.


I have a process for identifying changes in the organization that would allow us to deliver our product better, faster or cheaper.

  • The inward-looking part of a strategic planning exercise focuses on the component parts of the value creation process.  How does the organization transform inputs into desirable outputs deriving the greatest amount of utility from the resources available?  The strategic planning process is about challenging the status quo, asking probing questions about procurement, people, processes, money and more.


I have a reliable feedback mechanism for customer sentiment.

  • Sam Walton observed that customers have the ability to fire everyone in the company from the CEO down.  That being the case, it’s critical to understand their perception of your products, people and processes.  A reliable feedback loop is the lifeline to these important stakeholders.


I have a plan of action to break and rebuild my business model to keep it fresh and safe from new, innovative entrants.

  • If you’re making money and satisfying an important customer demand, there are competitors who would love to take those customers and their money away from you.  If they can satisfy those demands better or more economically, your business is in jeopardy.  With an existing business relationship, you have an enormous advantage.  However, an unwillingness to innovate or even re-invent your business, product or service can be a shortcut to irrelevance.


If you answered FALSE to any of these, I believe you should very seriously contemplate a strategic planning exercise. It’s incredibly easy to cling to the status quo and not deliberately create and execute a plan to build a healthier organization going forward.

Convinced and ready to go or still have some questions?  Either way is fine.  Click here to schedule a free, no-obligation thirty-minute conversation with me.  I look forward to learning about you and your business.

The Truth

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
-Aldous Huxley

“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
– Flannery O’Connor

“It is better to disappoint people with the truth than to appease them with a lie.”
– Simon Sinek

“and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
– The Holy Bible

No one questions the value of the truth, but in our businesses we sure have a hard time nailing it down. Most of us have read Jim Collins exhortation to “confront the brutal facts,” but reaching consensus on what those facts are can be challenging. How can this be? How can something so vital be so elusive?

I’m afraid we engage in some dangerous “truth-hiding” behaviors –

  • Have you ever told a subordinate, “Don’t bring me problems, only bring me solutions”? I understand what you were after – you want that employee to think for themselves and take responsibility for their work. Great, but you might be telling them that you don’t want bad news and if they don’t have an answer for a looming problem, you’d prefer not to hear it. You’ve just shielded yourself from a bit of the truth.
  • Have you ever spotted a new competitor on the horizon, but because you knew the principals in the organization from sub-par work earlier in their career you dismissed the threat? Maybe that earlier sub-par work motivated them to pair up with new capable partners or maybe they learned from their earlier missteps and are now a formidable competitor. You’ve just dismissed some truth.
  • Have you ever received a call or email from “that customer” – the one who is never happy – and dismissed the content of their communication as more sour grapes? What if this time they’re calling with a legitimate problem about your product or service or about a real misstep by one of your employees? You’ve just ignored some truth.
  • Is there a problem that keeps resurfacing in your organization and someone (peer or subordinate) has had the nerve to suggest that part of the problem might be you (your style, your time management, your lack of planning – you fill in the blank)? You discounted their observation because you’ve successfully run your division for more than 10 years and only have this problem with one person. Maybe there’s some truth there that you’re unwilling to hear.


If some of these resonated with you, great. If not, create your own list of other behaviors that could be keeping you from getting to the truth in your organization. You can even share them at the end of this post.

So, what are some positive steps we can take to make sure we’re getting a steady diet of the truth in our organization?

  • Make sure bad news can easily travel up and down in your organization. Make sure there are no reprisals for “truth tellers.” As a matter of fact, recognize their efforts in getting all the facts on the table.
  • Proactively ask for feedback from employees, customers and suppliers. Make phone calls and send surveys. Take the totality of the feedback to make a balanced, accurate picture of what it’s like to work at your company, purchase products or services from your company or sell to your company.
  • Engage the services of a third party who can bring a fresh perspective. Maybe a consultant, an advisory board or business-owner peer from a networking group.
  • Engage in vigorous discussions. Build enough trust inside your team so that you can talk to each other about failures in execution, faulty plans and blown opportunities. Commit first and foremost to the purpose of the organization. That makes the momentary discomfort of discussing individual lapses subordinate to the importance of resolving nagging problems or the exploiting of looming opportunities.
  • Squash every form of defensive behavior. When you hear things you’d rather not hear about your organization, your product or your people, resist the temptation to defend. Instead, figure out what you can learn from the feedback and teach your team to do the same.


I realize that what I’m advocating is difficult. It goes against our natural inclinations to defend our work and reputation. I also realize that taking feedback without defending could look like you’re being disloyal to the company, its products or its employees. There’s a great way to deal with that, but that’s another article for another day.

For now, let’s get back to the supremely important topic of truth telling. How can you develop your team if you don’t where they struggle? How can you retain clients if you don’t know where your current performance is deficient? How can you make an accurate strategic plan if it’s based on a flawed perception of today’s reality?

I saved perhaps the saddest “truth” quote for the end. In the 1992 movie, “A Few Good Men,” Jack Nicholson’s character, during a military court proceeding, told his questioner, “You can’t handle the truth.” Whether we can’t handle it or don’t want to handle it, the result is the same. We continue to live in deluded bliss while our organization perpetually stumbles along on faulty information, never reaching its full potential.

One Shining Moment

I love March Madness – three weekends of great college basketball filled with drama, athletic prowess, underdogs and Cinderellas.  Between TV, radio, print and the web, each team’s journey through the NCAA tournament is chronicled hundreds of times.  We learn about universities, individual athletes and coaches.  Often times, these stories propel people into the national spotlight and we never forget them.  I vividly remember Jim Valvano taking North Carolina State to the Championship in 1983, delivering the speech of a lifetime in 1993 and succumbing to cancer just eight short weeks later.  There was “the shot” – Christian Laettner’s last second jump shot to beat Kentucky in the 1992 East Regional finals.  How about UCLA guard Tyus Edney’s coast-to-coast drive with 4.8 seconds left to push them past Missouri and ultimately to the 1995 NCAA title?

In all the flurry of games and fascinating stories, there’s one thing I always look forward to.  At the end of the championship game, CBS plays a compilation video of the championship team’s rise to the top of the college basketball world.  There’s nothing quite like the “One Shining Moment” video.  This year (2011) will mark the twenty-fifth time David Barrett’s “national anthem of college basketball” will immortalize one team’s achievement of the ultimate college basketball dream.  I can’t wait to watch.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about “one shining moment” – not the song, but the fact that so many lives are defined by one of “those” moments – and not just in athletics.  I just finished reading Sully Sullenberger’s book.  His life will forever be defined by the moment he successfully ditched his disabled US Air passenger jet in New York’s Hudson River in January 2009 saving all 155 people aboard.  After being injured on her previous attempt, American gymnast Kerri Strug landed a spectacular vault in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.  After nailing the landing, her ailing ankle gave way and she collapsed on the mat.  Her performance guaranteed the Americans a gold medal.

Around the time of Christ, Seneca, the Roman philosopher, opined that “luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”  That thought has surfaced often as I’ve pondered “one shining moment”.  Was Sully Sullenberger lucky when he piloted the plane to safety in the Hudson?  Was Kerri Strug lucky when she landed her medal-winning vault?  Was Christian Laettner lucky when he hit the game-winning jumper?  I’ve got to think not.  That one life-defining moment was the result of hundreds of hours of sacrifice, study and practice.  While others enjoyed the love of family, the companionship of friends and the enjoyment of recreational activities, these people spent an extra hour in the flight simulator or in the gym.  For these folks, and a relative handful of others down through history, it was obviously worth all of the blood, sweat and tears.  But what about the rest of us?  More than likely, we’ll labor in obscurity until the end of our career or the end of life.

I want to spend the rest of my post putting in a shameless plug for preparation as if your “one shining moment” was guaranteed and was imminent.  If I were to orchestrate life, I’d move from one success to the next, each one building on the previous one.  But I don’t orchestrate life and that’s not the way it works.  Instead we alternate between success and failure, victory and defeat, prosperity and leanness, peace and strife.  The method of the “lucky” is to wring every bit of learning from each of these – continually adding new skills and knowledge to our bag of tricks.  We learn from those who went before us – successfully and unsuccessfully.  When we’ve leveraged everyone of life’s experiences into deeper levels of understanding, we’ll be ready when or if our “one shining moment” comes.

But what if it never comes?  Will all of the work be worth it?  A million times over – and here’s why.

  • The relationships that are strengthened, the wisdom that is gained and the discipline that is built are far more valuable than the fame that comes from the “one shining moment”.
  • In almost every case, “one shining moment” comes looking for us, we don’t go looking for it.  Our only responsibility is to be ready when it come.  The readiness for “one shining moment” makes us ready to tackle with excellence the multiple obscure moments we encounter every day.
  • “One shining moment” almost always comes in the course of carrying out our regular responsibilities.  In the examples I cited earlier, each of these folks experienced their “one shining moment” in the context of something in which they were already involved.  They were just doing their jobs and their “one shining moment” swooped in unannounced.


The odds of filling out a perfect NCAA bracket are about 1 in 9 quintillion – a 9 followed by 18 zeroes – and that’s not counting any play-in games, just the main 63.  I don’t know what the odds are that any of us will experience “one shining moment”.  But I do know the odds of getting value from a life of passion, purpose and preparation – they are 1 out of 1.

We can prepare for a public “one shining moment”.  Maybe it will come and maybe it won’t.  We might never be immortalized while David Barrett’s music plays in the background, but we can build value in the people and organizations around us.