Saturday Mar 31, 2007

One Shining Moment, Miracles and Michael Jordan

Spend any amount of time in a meeting when I'm discussing technical leadership and distinguishing talent and you'll hear the name Michael Jordan dropped more than 3-point shots in a Final Four game. I frequently ask people to fill in the blank in "I'm the Michael Jordan of (blank)." The goal is to capture a series of contributions; to express what you're good at in terms of an area you define through technical actions: how are you like Mike? The premise is that Michael Jordan is associated with basketball, from Tar Heel to Second City to wearing #45. I use the expression to help identify one area in which an engineer is distinguished; a technical track on which their professional development is riding. It's not a single defining moment, a Miracle on Ice event setting the standard for other contributions; the Jordan reference is meant to elucidate a series of contributions.

The beginning of the Jordan highlight sequence goes back to the 1982 NCAA Championship game, in which Jordan hit a shot at the buzzer to defeat Georgetown. Shining moment material, but before the vernacular's initiation. For the past decade, CBS has concluded NCAA tournament coverage with a video montage set to David Barrett's One Shining Moment. Don't let any guy tell you otherwise -- especially a guy with kids of his own, or a guy who has been to one or more March Madness games -- guys mist up at this song. Personally, I think it's because the montage covers every small moment that defines the tournament, not just the winners' highlights. It's the complete opposite of being Michael Jordan; the four minutes of highlights include cheerleaders, mascots, bands, and players on the bench. We all see bits and pieces of life reflected in the small screen as midnight approaches, the first Monday in April. One Shining Moment reflects what life is like for the 63 (out of 64) teams whose seasons end with a loss (even the wikipedia references for NCAA results show invited teams and the opponent who beat them). If there's career advice buried in here, it's that careers are built on montages of shining moments, whether they're emails from happy customers or presentations well done or difficult problems solved with maximum doses of caffeine, creativity and collaboration.

Aside from blogging while watching the Florida-UCLA game, shining moments and tournaments are top of mind because we have just concluded our youth hockey season with a tournament in Lake Placid, New York. Each year, we make the drive north to play on the 1980 Olympic rink, skating in the shadow of the Miracle on Ice. The goal is simple: play on Sunday morning in the medal games, which requires finishing in the top four teams in your tournament division. We started this morning's play in dead last, needing a win and a tie (or two wins) to play hockey into April. Our boys (and one girl) were holding onto a 1-1 tie deep into our first game of the day, when a strange turnover in our own end turned into a goal for our opponents with 2 seconds left on the clock. Our season mathematically ended with a loss, to our league rivals coached by former 1980 Soviet Olympic team member Sergei Starikov. You can read whatever connected consciousness implications you want into this. It was a tough loss, and we had barely enough time to air out the hockey bags before we had to play again.

Our tournament and season ended five hours later, with a 3-2 win that came down (again) to the final seconds. The players piled on our goalie, shook hands and skated off the ice all smiles. We broke a 7-game losing streak spanning two years of Lake Placid tournaments with that win. It's highly unlikely any of our young hockey players will be the next Crosby or Ovechkin, creating Michael Jordan highlights in the NHL, but they are likely to remember being complimented by referees and coaches for their sportsmanship, running around the hotel and town as a team, and ending their season with a win, shining moments for any 12 year old.


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