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A Hockey Game, Perspective, Objectivity, and What We Do…

Our own Dave Rinn has a debilitating, incurable addiction that he’d be glad to tell you about almost anytime but preferably over a beer. Or ten. Dave is a Washington Capitals fan. He lives and dies with the Caps. Which is a problem because the Caps are roughly the NHL equivalent of the Boston Red Sox before 2004. They come close to success, when they don’t win they do so in a manner guaranteed to rip the hearts out of their fans. No lose a series in four straight for them, they lose in seven, overtime is preferable.

Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby (87) takes a hit from Washington Capitals’ Matt Niskanen during the first period of Game 3 in an NHL Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinal hockey game against the Washington Capitals in Pittsburgh, Monday, May 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Because of Dave’s obsession, we became aware of a situation that occurred just over a week ago, along with the (endless) media coverage and speculation around it, and knew immediately that the whole thing had a very real, very tangible relationship to what we do for and with our clients … every day.
It goes like this: There was a collision during the Washington Capitals – Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup Playoff game. One above and beyond the usual hard playoff hit. It involved Pittsburgh’s all-world Sidney Crosby, a hockey stick, and Crosby’s much-concussed head.
A lot of people watched it live, it was available to everyone over the next few days in an endless loop on every sports and news show on TV and social media. It was viral. Crosby, one of the games fastest skaters (that’s important here) skated across the Caps’ crease, was bumped, started to fall; the Caps’ Matt Niskanen had him lined up for a hard (read: nasty but legal) chest-high check, couldn’t adjust in time, and ended up cross-checking Crosby across the top of his head.
Crosby, has a long, scary history of head injuries. He went down, seemed to be out. Cold. After a long five minutes or so, he wobbled off the ice. Niskanen was ejected from the game. The NHL reviewed the hit the next day and decided no further discipline was warranted. So, officially, it was a legal hit. A hockey play.
Meanwhile, fans and media of the team came to their own conclusions:
From the Pittsburgh media:
“The Caps resorted to one of hockey’s cheapest tricks, take out the opponent’s best player.
“While playing for the Penguins, Niskanen was a sneaky, borderline, dirty player who crossed the border.”
“A deliberate cross-check to the face.” (the Penguins’ coach).
From the Washington media:
“Wasn’t dirty, he was falling anyway.”
“A bang-bang play with the guy falling into him.”
“It was a hockey play.” (the Capitol’s coach).
All to be expected in the Information Age we live in. Also, indicative of something else altogether, something that we find in life beyond the ice and playing fields; something we should always be aware of – particularly when it comes to running our businesses.
Everything is a matter of perspective and objectivity … or lack thereof. A few days after the hit the Washington Post carried a great piece titled There is No Such Thing as Objective Truth. Just Look at Sidney Crosby’s Concussion.
The discussion was straightforward – “people are both consciously and unconsciously biased as a result of being a fan, a team member, someone who would like to see the world the way they would prefer to see it … We sincerely believe that we saw what we think we saw.”
To put it in simple terms – the day after the hit Penguin fans hated the Caps, Caps fans, and The District of Columbia, more than they did before the game started. For their part, Caps fans were “incredulous at Pittsburgh’s reaction.” As in, ‘it was clearly a solid, hard, legal hit and Niskanen’s a great guy, why can’t Pittsburgh see that?”
“Anyway, Crosby may be a great player, but he’s dirty, and …”
Flip it all around and you have the Pittsburgh fan side. The article makes it clear that when it comes to fandom (put your business and business family here) there is a tendency to assign positive attributes to one’s ‘side’. You’ve seen this a million times, “Brady’s a great guy and would never cheat!’ “Brady’s an awful human being and a spoiled millionaire who would do anything to win.” That’s been out there for years… and, of course, no one taking either side has ever met Tom Brady, never mind talked to him.
We work with businesses very day. Many of them are family owned. All have similar issues, similar goals, needs, stories. All, of course, are dependent on the people who work there, in every capacity. People gravitate toward people who share their likes and dislikes and everything that goes with it. It is inevitable that different people in different generations, different levels, different everything, talk, share, commiserate with the people they relate to. Even if they don’t realize they do.
This very human thing, in and outside of businesses – now greatly facilitated by social media – creates completely different objectives and perceptions. Think of it this way, it’s like a Penguin fan complaining to other Penguin fans about Niskanen and his hit on Crosby. The narrative is reinforced. Only. Then entrenched. Objectivity is gone, if it ever existed. No Penguin fan is going to defend the hit.
A lack of objectivity and perspective is a fine when it comes to sports. Actually, it’s kind of fun. When it comes to business planning, lack of objectivity and perspective is almost always costly – financially and emotionally – and occasionally fatal to the business.
One of our most important duties to our clients is to break seal of ‘fandom’ and provide perspective and objectivity to move through the business planning process as expeditiously as possible.