Thursday, October 08, 2009

ESPN - The Company

One of the latest books I read is ESPN The Company - The Story and Lessons Behind The Most Fanatical Brand in Sports by Anthony Smith.

I am not a sports person (there is a difference between being active which I am and loving to watch sports). I did, however, find the book interesting.

ESPN certainly created an awesome, well known brand. They deliberately set out to cater to sports fanatics(their words - not mine). They are passionate about it. They also set out to create sports fanatics.

One thing that makes ESPN unique is there is not a single person behind it. There have been a succession of owners and leadership. There is no icon behind the brand. Culture can continue to drive an organization regardless of the leader. From the book:

"It is easy to get mystical about leadership. To generate alchemical formulas to explain its wondrous power. The reason is simple. Leadership is confusing and messy as hell. It comes in many difference circumstances and personalities. So we want to distill it."

All the leader does is start minor course corrections which have impact over time if they are continuously reinforced. One thing I learned from running larger companies is culture takes time and vigilance to change. It is likely the most important aspect of a company and at the same time, the toughest. I try hard to let people make decisions but coach on culture.

The book talks about Smith's Stages of Organizational development. Startup - Survival -Ramp Up Growth - Institutional. Smith implies that different stages of companies need different leaders. What interests me currently is thinking of which phase I am best at. I have been through all of the stages although my institutional experience still involved quite a bit of growth (I am a big believer in growth as the painless way to drive efficiency).

I like the "Key Points" at the end of each chapter (all business books should do this). If you really wanted just to get the business message and not the story.

Some of the chapter summary points (and the book has a lot more detail than this):

Let insecurity drive achievement.

Deviate from the start (a version of my Fail Often, Fail fast, Fail cheap). Plans are meant to be broken.

Follow your values and challenge the rules.

Seek transformational - not transactional partnerships.

Like relationships - partnerships require work.


At 9:41 AM, Blogger Robyn McMaster, PhD said...

Jim, I look forward to tapping into what's on your mind, such as Anthony Smith's look at ESPN and what's behind the brand.

Great to meet you at World Business Forum and to hear some of your thinking.


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