Monday, April 16, 2012

The Culture Of Start-Up

While Bob Bowman and I share the same last name, even the same initials, we’re not related, that I know of, but we sure could be kindred spirits.

My favorite of Bob’s quotes is “If there’s no tension, you’re not going to get better” which many felt was my motto during a now-concluded forty-year career spanning four different start-ups in destination marketing, one for a university and three for different city-county pairs.

The term “start-up” has as much to do with an organization’s innate culture or personality as it does with size or duration.  As I retired from destination marketing several years ago, a Durham official who had known me for more than two decades told me that the organization I had jumpstarted and led over that period always had the unrelenting sense of urgency of a start-up.

I took that as a compliment and friends accuse me now of bringing start-up intensity to my numerous passions in retirement, albeit in terms that are a bit less “life and death.”  Yup! I won’t deny it!

Twelve years ago, Bob Bowman jumpstarted what I think is the future of television as the CEO of a limited partnership made up of the club owners of Major League Baseball teams called Baseball Advanced Media (BAM.)

It is the vanguard not just for every other sports but for every type of cord-cutting video programming (forecast to reach 3.58 million by year-end 2012.)

Bowman is famous for saying that in a start-up bred culture, “You’re king of the hill one day and on the wrong mountain the next.”  The quote reminds me of a book published as a preface to the new millennium entitled 500-Year Delta: What Happens after What Comes Next.”

I recall that the authors of this book argued that to maintain a leading-edge on competitors, you may occasionally find what you’ve climbed is actually a foothill requiring a backtrack to reach the real mountain.

The slower paced alternative is to be a follower.  Bob Bowman is not a follower.  He famously remarked years ago in the midst of the boom in large-screen televisions that paradoxically the screens we’ll watch in the future were going to be much smaller, not larger.

While many of us still remember serving as the manual remote control to aid our families in switching back and forth on the three channels then available, viewing with family or friends today involves individuals viewing four or five small screens on various hand-held devices with their large screen television serving more like what Bowman terms as Muzak in the background (elevator music.)

Last year I was one of 2.2 million people who bought one of BAM’s apps and often find myself watching programs this way.

Within months of the millennium’s turn and the subsequent bust, long before Hulu and at a time when it wasn’t even clear whether websites would pay off, Bowman led Major League Baseball into what many experts call the biggest leap forward since the National Football League’s first deal to televise games in 1960.

In his incredible book On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not neuroscientist Dr. Robert A Burton explains that at the minimum it takes 200 milliseconds to react to the typical MLB pitch traveling between 80-100 miles per hour which will cross home plate in approximately .380 to .460 milliseconds.

That professional baseball pitch travels nine feet before your retina can transmit and your brain process that the ball has left the pitcher’s hand.  Once it is in flight it is too late for detailed deliberations by any batter.  The reaction and swing time alone equal the travel time.  Hitting one of those pitches is an astonishing feat.

Equally miraculous is that I will see the same pitch and the the batter’s end result within 25 seconds of its being thrown no matter where I am on the planet according to a great summary about BAM by senior writer Chuck Salter in the April issue of Fast Company.

It is definitely time to retire that old saying that “Baseball is the only thing beside the paper clip that hasn’t changed!”

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