• John Chambers, PhD

We're Number One!


My New Year’s resolution was to recover from televised, American football addiction. So tonight’s college championship is just the last cheat. At least I think so.

If your eyes are watching that frenzied contest tonight, prepare for the obligatory finger.

The finger won’t occur at the tail-end of the game only, while sore and exhausted athletes hoist the trophy, their arms smudged with bruises and hair soaked in sweat. You’ll see it from non-players -- after every score when the cameras pan the stadium's apoplectic fans, pounding their seats, mouths opened wider than during a root canal. That’s when you get the finger -- the index finger.

“We’re number 1 !!!”

It might be that foam “Number 1 finger” souvenir, which of course obstructs the view of the guy behind you. Or it’s the fan’s own finger. They will wave it, and thus we – rather, they are number 1. At least for the moment.

My colleague from years ago would also become apoplectic seeing the fans' fingering behavior, but for a different reason. He was indignant that the finger, human or foam, was waved from the stands and not from the coach’s sideline or from the gridiron itself. “You’re number 1? Who the hell are you?” he exclaimed. “Did you play? Are you the coach? You look drunker than Cameron Diaz when she was elevating a different finger to the paparazzi.” His defiant exasperation was always colorful and impassioned. But what really bothered him was that “his own team” was losing. “His own team” doesn’t mean he was an owner. “His own team” meant he invested some of his own life, college tuition, and passionate pride, years before.

The fingering fans, contrary to my friend’s outcry, were legitimately entitled to shout, “We…” They were part of the school and their involvement and time investment gave them the bragging rights.

You invest time, and passion, in your company. Yes, “your” company. You may be in the management ranks, or maybe you’re a fiduciary owner. Or maybe not. Nevertheless, your thoughts and daily motions, mental exercise and problem-solving are invested in the success of the enterprise. I can hear it: “We already know all that.” But do we really? That bottom line on the income statement, which the CFO waves, is your income statement too. Your efforts are pursuant to its being in the black, avoiding the red. So when the quarter or year is a “success,” as management will state, you too have been successful.

Your time on this planet is going to be less than a century, most probably. (If you are reading this blog in the year 2165 then humanity’s medicine will certainly bequeath you more.) But a century is not a long time. It beats a housefly’s longevity, of course. But when the bones get creakier and the mind’s creativity slower, we all ask the same question, whether we are still cognizant or lost in dementia’s tragedy -- where in god’s name did the time go? These moments are brief and we expend them by helping each other through the firms we join, whether they are a firm of one or of ten-thousand. In either case, they are your firms. You want your company to be number 1, and you should celebrate when your company scores, when your firm’s value increases, when your firm helps another soul.

If you are thinking, “Number 1 or a hundred, I really don’t care as long as they pay me,” then I suggest the new year is your chance at recalibration. You’re investing minutes, hours and years that nobody but you can invest. They are your minutes, and it is your firm.

A few weeks back I resurrected the “Bedford Falls” blog (and you’ll indeed see it again, come December of this new year). The output of your company is your output. You’re more than a lifeless cog, and you should rejoice in your contribution. If your firm violated customers’ trust, and you were not privy to the fraud, then focus on your own intentions. And leave, or help to right that wayward ship. 99 of 100 employees do the right thing. If some are not, then you will move on, or you will fix it.

For the noble deliverer of service and the manager who coaches and recognizes that your firm’s position is your own doing, then wave that foam index finger in your head, and rejoice in the win. Victory is attained in many ways. It’s a cliché, but it’s still a great one – success is not a goal but a journey.

Tonight, two teams and their fans will contest their athletic and mental skills, their leadership’s coaching, and their fans’ exuberance, as the cheers explode in a 110 -decibel stadium. . By tomorrow, the Clemson Tigers or the Alabama Crimson Tide will be called “Number 1.” For the team who finishes second, there is no shame, as long as they remember their work, investment of time, passion, were toward a noble pursuit. They struggled and prepared for months, refining their skill and embracing discipline -- a worthy goal no matter what rank they ultimately are assigned.

In the briefness of life, being number 1 is all about trying, not trophies.

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