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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

By the books: How will you measure your life?

Each year, Clayton Christensen finishes his class at Harvard Business School by giving a lecture on the lessons he has learned during his life. In 2010, he was asked to give a summary of those lessons to the entire student body. Christensen's lessons were soon being referred to in academic journals and news outlets around the world - and for good reason.

How Will Your Measure Your Life? is not your typical book about success. The authors deliberately shy away from providing answers and instead give guiding principles to help readers design their own solutions to various personal and professional challenges. After reading this book, I consciously set aside time each week to review decisions I have made and anticipate making. These times of quiet meditation help me determine how I want to measure my life - and how well I am doing in meeting that intimidating goal.

Christensen and his coauthors, James Allworth and Karen Dillon, explore the pathways and pitfalls of success with an impressive combination of academic soundness, vivid examples and a friendly narrative voice. The book is divided into three sections devoted to finding happiness in careers and relationships, and a surprisingly apropos section entitled, "Staying Out of Jail."

I give How Will You Measure Your Life? a well-deserved 4.5 out of 5 stars. The book deserves a place in the cannon of success literature next to Stephen Covey's Seven Habits. Seasons veterans and new professionals alike will benefit from the thought-provoking principles and examples set forth by Christensen, Allworth, and Dillon.




The preceding text is taken verbatim from my brief review in the December 2012 edition of Utah Business.

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Postscript

The most significant - and annoying - flaw of this book is its very cheap paper. The principles found inside the covers are well worth the cost of the book, but the paper is of such poor quality I felt like someone was scratching their fingernails on a chalkboard each time I touched a page.

As much as I am determined to hold fast to my love for books in the traditional sense, the paper quality is so poor in this case I recommend you consider purchasing this title in ebook format.

Using science to fight pain and ease my "Pawn Stars" guilt

"Pawn Stars" employee Austin "Chumlee" Russell
Bucking the overall positive trend of the past six weeks, the pains from the accident over the last 10 days or so have revved up to a challenging degree. With the pains often come very long nights. Right now, I'm working on my third night without any sleep in the last 8 days.

After working up an article on Utah State Coach Gary Andersen's apparent move to Wisconsin, I've been watching Pawn Star reruns. I don't quite understand the addictive nature of the show, but it's a good show to watch if you need a combination of vegging and entertainment, with a dash of education.

But when you're watching several hours in a row to help push aside the pain, you start to feel guilty about wasting time (There's an interesting comment Max Weber would find interesting given my situation). So, I worked up a little Excel chart and am tracking some variables with each of the sales that I find interesting. It makes me feel a little less guilty about needing to use the television to get through some of the pains.

I think I'll keep it up for a few months and then post my findings for fun. I expect a degree of the show is scripted, and I've already come across at least three instances involving (1) restored items that weren't the same as the item being restored, (2) an item that appeared to be a prop which had changed from the beginning of the show to the end, and (3) a guitar apparently borrowed from another store. (I should note that these observations echo blog postings with accompanying videos allowing viewers to make up their own minds; I'll try to track down the links again and insert them later.) Another site demonstrated at least one of the "customers" appeared to be an actor who had been hired for the part.

Still, it's a maybe-scripted, maybe-not reality show that isn't the typical trash and is healthier than binging on M&M's. And strangely addictive.

My results will be pseudo-scientific, and have no validity for the reasons I just mentioned... but I think it might be a little bit of fun nonetheless.

Gary Andersen: From Utah State to Wisconsin

Photo Source: Salt Lake Tribune (AP Photo/Kita Wright)
Reports are indicating Gary Andersen has accepted the head football coaching job with Wisconsin. Various articles citing unnamed sources have indicated it is mostly a sure thing, but the greatest evidence seems to be phone calls the coach has made to his Utah State players to let them know he has accepted the Wisconsin positions.

I want to sound off on a three of four things.

First, what Andersen has done at Utah State is nothing short of remarkable.

The Aggies could have easily beaten both Wisconsin and BYU - their only losses - this year. Some other games could probably have been lost as well, but finishing 11-2 is an accomplishment worthy of the resulting accolades. However, considering the Aggies decades-long tradition of... considerable struggles, the accomplishment spearheaded by Andersen is even more impressive.

Second, the timing of this change puzzles me.

Andersen's success the past two seasons has naturally made him attractive to other schools that live higher up on the football food chain. This year, reports indicate he was seriously considered for head coaching positions Cal and Colorado (PAC-12) and Kentucky (SEC). I wouldn't be surprised if Andersen were actually offered one or more of those positions.

But he decided to stay in Logan. He had a Utah State tattoo. He has one son who currently plays for the team and two others who I think were planning to play for their Dad in Cache Valley. I think he has family in the area. He has a sizable number of skilled players returning next year. Etc.

There was an almost palpable tension in the air as Andersen's name surfaced in connection with the aforementioned schools. In fact, as soon as it became obvious 2012 would be a special year for the Aggies, fans had reason to worry. But when all was said and done, Andersen decided to stay in Logan.

And he seemed genuinely sincere. Putting an end to the speculation after signing a contract extension, Andersen stated:

I plan to remain the head football coach at Utah State University. The interest I have received is a compliment to the quality young men in this program.... I love Cache Valley, this university and these young men, and I am humbled and excited to continue to be the coach here.

Andersen truly seemed a good fit for Utah State and looked to be the kind of coach who would set down roots.

As the details are finalized and made public, I will be interested to see what it is that persuaded Andersen to make the move to Wisconsin after shunning other offers and reaffirming his commitment to the school in an uncharacteristically (for college football coaches) sincere-sounding statement to the press.

Will it turn out to money?

The freedom to bring his assistant coaches with him?

The caliber of Wisconsin's returning and incoming players?

I'm puzzled in this case.

Third, what impact will this have on Andersen's players at Utah State - and the future of the Aggie football program? 

From what I have heard, Andersen created a really neat environment in Logan and gave his players a good role model to look up to. Especially after the comments reaffirming his commitment to the program and its players, will the players view the sudden abandoning of the ship as an abandonment of them? A head coach is often father-figure for a certain number of players.

As for the program's future, there are a good number of returning players. But there are some problems. New recruits that represent a step (or two or three) up from the standard Aggie fare may choose to transfer absent the presence of the coach they intended to play for. Just two or three days ago, an article at KSL.com identified the Aggie's returning quarterback and Andersen as "the key to future Aggie success." With the coach (and perhaps coaches) gone, player commitment shaky, and the challenge of finding an Andersen-esque coach to replace Wisconsin's new head man, will Utah State rise to the occasion or stumble under the weight of its unexpected challenges?

Lastly, I'm so disappointed with what is happening to college football. '

What happened to the love of the game, to loyalty, to tradition, to hard-work, to integrity, to so many other things that seem to be an icon of days gone by? This is a topic I'll probably address in greater length down the road. I think the end-all, be-all nature of money in college athletics is disturbing and alarming in so many ways.

Unfortunately, I don't see a single sign that suggests things are going to get any better. And I think that is a bad thing. It hurts consumers, players, coaches, fans, students. Sure, pockets may be lined, exposure may increase, but football as we used to know it on the college level is close to a tipping point where recovery may not be possible.

Look for the following things to happen over the next 15 years:
  • The formation of four 16-team super conferences
  • Average head coach salaries to continue their (disturbingly) steep incline
  • Average head coach tenures to decline
  • Neglect of non-football collegiate athletics
  • Dramatic increase in corruption
  • 2+ schools receive the "death penalty" from the NCAA
  • Overall decrease in sportsmanship 
  • Etc.

I can't guarantee all of these predictions will come to pass, but I think there is a high likelihood they will. And if I took the time to do some research and think about it some more, I could come up with a list twice as long with effects that are twice as disturbing. 

I recognize I may be in the minority on this issue, but I believe if things continue as they are, we will see negative repercussions touch society in ways both quantifiable and not.

The BS of the BCS and the unhealthy obsession with profit in collegiate athletics is not good for the sport, its participants, or its fans.

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Postscript

A sports columnist and radio show host in Salt Lake, Gordon Monson, wrote an article earlier this year regarding a football game between BYU and Weber State (a lower division school) that I find relevant given my final point above.

I like Monson quite a bit and especially appreciate his "tell-it-like-it-is" approach.

In his article, "BYU wins its own practice, wastes everybody else's time," Monson makes many of the same points I raise here - and that I plan to address in the future.

However, the overall tone regarding the simple joy of watching a football game saddened me.

"What a waste of blue skies, light breezes, and temperatures in the 70s," wrote Monson. "Only desperate men with no other options but cleaning a grimy garage could have appreciated watching this mismatch. It was Sominex in helmets and pads."

"What we saw on on Saturday, then," continued Monson, "wasn't real competition. It wasn't real football. It wasn't fun or fair. It was a useful BYU practice. Otherwise, it was a waste of time."

Read Monson's article. I think you will come away agreeing with much of what he says.

But I think it also highlights one of the problems I see with the evolution of college football. Yes, teams aren't always balanced. Yes, many games are played to cash checks, to pay another team to waive their expectation of sportsmanship and give your own fans a good show. Yes, yes, yes. BYU v. Weber State in 2012 was not an ideal game.

But you know what? I enjoyed it.

I enjoyed it because I like college football. I like to take those "blue skies (and) light breezes" and top them off with the sounds of pads crushing into each other and fans cheering for great plays and touchdowns. 

I will continue to enjoy football for the sake of the very fact it is football. But with the direction college football is going, I fear this rare perspective may ultimately become extinct.

And when the essence of a sport finally dies, what reason is there to keep it around?

Oh yeah, I forgot.

TV deals.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

University of Utah basketball: Is Larry Krystkowiak the answer the Utes have been looking for?

Photo Source: collegebasketball.rivals.com
University of Utah basketball in the 1990s was something special. The team won. A lot.

The last decade has not been so kind. Since the departure of Rick Majerus, Utah has been through one coach after another.

When Larry Krystkowiak was hired to coach the Utah men's basketball team last year, hopes weren't very high - and justimfiably so. Several players abruptly transferred (with good reason), a star player was injured, the Utes were transitioning from the Mountain West to the Pac-12, etc... All of these forces combined led to a dismal 6-25 record.

Most everyone likely assumed that first year would be bad. However, even when you expect a bad year there is typically a hope somewhere the team will surprise you. A record that bad always seems to sting more when it has been realized than when it was merely being contemplated, or even anticipated.

Fast forward... not very far. In Krystkowiak second year, the Utes so far are a 6-2 team. Granted, the competition hasn't been extraordinarily stellar, but Krystkowiak's boys did beat an impressive Boise State team.

And through eight games, the University of Utah men's basketball team has already equaled its win total for all of last year.

The competition will become more intense as the Utes enter into their second year of Pac-12 play. However, if Utah were to maintain it's current win percentage, they would comfortably finish the year with 20+ wins. And if the Pac-12 has an up year, that would almost certainly mean an invitation to participate in the madness of March.

To go from a six-win season to a 20+ win year that results in a NCAA tournament invitation would be remarkable.

However, it's important not to put the cart before the horse.

There is a lot of basketball yet to be played. But what Krystkowiak has done with this Utah basketball team is impressive and much more than I expected.

No disrespect to those coaches who attempted to fill the gap in the culture of winning left by the complex Rick Majerus. Each of them gave it their best shot, and for whatever reasons, fell short of what was expected and desired of them.

Perhaps Utah fans will look back on Krystkowiak as the coach who finally restored the university's culture of winning on the basketball court.