business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

I am hesitant to quote Woody Allen these days, but the fact is that he offered a solid and indisputable business lesson when he said, “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.”

That’s true. But in addition to showing up, it is critical to be ready to embrace whatever opportunities are offered to you.

I thought about this last week when I read about the passing at age 78 of a former hockey player named Stan Mikita. That’s a new story you might have missed unless you were a fan of the Chicago Black Hawks or the original Wayne’s World. Personally, I always admired Mikita because his rather average size gave me hope as an athlete. What I didn’t know was he was also an important innovator and inventor - not because he was a scientist or philosopher, but rather because he just learned on the fly.

According to a story told in Mikita’s Washington Post obituary, he broke the blade of his stick in practice one day, which was hardly unusual in the days of wooden sticks. Mikita inexplicably kept playing with the misshapen blade and discovered that it gave him greater control of the puck and a faster shot.

According to a 1969 story in Time, Mikita and his far more famous teammate, Bobby Hull, jumped on the discovery and took to bending their blades through whatever means possible, including soaking them in hot water and wedging them under doors.

It’s hard to know the exact impact of this serendipitous discovery, (and as my column last week showed, I don’t know much about the physics of centrifugal or centripetal forces) but Mikita suddenly became one of the top scorers in the National Hockey League. Today, virtually all players (at any level) use sticks with curved blades.

Mikita also became one of the first players to wear a helmet, but that was due to getting hit in the head with a puck, not because of some freak discovery.

Simply put, Mikita became a superstar both by showing up and by having his eyes wide open to new possibilities.

There’s something incredibly inspirational in that story. All of us are exposed to so many challenges in the course of an ordinary day, but few of us examine those challenges to find new and better solutions. We know that while necessity is the mother of invention, but happenstance can play a big role as well.

After all, Alexander Graham Bell didn’t set out to invent the telephone nor did Columbus intend to bang into an entirely new continent on his way to India. Discovery happens in all kinds of ways.

Obviously, Mikita’s lucky discovery hardly ranks at the top of any scientific list, but it’s a reminder to us and our teams to keep our eyes firmly open because you never know what we’ll see or discover.

Showing up is great, but doing so with our eyes open is far better. You never know what you’ll see.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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