We see it and hear about it every day in the news, movies, books and even in our own lives – people and organizations and teams who are capable of magic. Not the slight of hand kind of magic, but the kind of magic that takes the seemingly impossible and makes it manifest. The kind of magic that takes our breath away and reminds us that high aspirations, committed intent, sustained effort, strength of character and unflagging faith can turn the ordinary into the sublime.
Today we call it heroism, a word that has recently been beaten down by the mediocrity of its mis-application. So, I like to call it magic. And in today’s ultra competitive and dynamic business environment, perhaps that’s what it will take to survive – a bit of perpetual magic.
When I was in High School, I played tennis. One of my frequent opponents was a guy named Roger and to be blunt, Roger just didn’t play very good tennis. And whereas I would typically win our friendly matches, I most always came away from the experience frustrated with my own diminished level of play. I wouldn’t play as good as I would against other more equal or superior players to myself. When playing against Roger I felt more clumsy, awkward, out of rhythm and made a lot more errors.
Throughout my life I’ve seen this phenomenon repeat itself as a member of teams that simply were not at the top of their game or who were aiming for mediocrity. There was an ‘energy’ lacking – a deficit of positive will and intent. And try as I might, I found that my own level of play and will and intent was correspondingly dragged down from the pinnacle of its potential.
Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics speaks about games that he felt transcended both the physical and mental and became, in his words, “magical.” These were games in which his play would rise to a new level of excellence that would surround and engage not only him and his teammates, but even the referees, the fans and the players of the other team. He goes on to say that “To me, the key was that both teams had to be playing at their peaks...”
I think that most of us have experienced this drawing down or raising up of energy and vibrancy in our personal lives and certainly within our professional careers. Sometimes, within a mediocre organizational environment, the gap between what you are truly capable of and what you deliver is subtle. Other times the feeling of angst and dissatisfaction is quite palpable and you find that you must extricate yourself from a debilitating environment in order to breathe the fresh air of creative possibility once again. And of course there are those times of true Magic when you and everyone on your team are in complete synchronicity, firing on all cylinders and incapable of anything but miraculous results.
I believe that everything is energy and that the culture of an organization has its own energetic resonance that either fosters and supports the highest aspirations and qualities of its members, or it doesn’t. Organizations that strive to create a culture that draws out and supports the best within each and every one of its members set themselves up as organizations of positive growth capable of adapting and responding to change with true innovation and stunning success.
Promoting a culture of excellence is one thing. But sustaining that magic is where true success is found. This is where the idea of perpetual motion comes in.
Perpetual motion machines have long been the ideal of engineers in a long list of industries. The concept of a perpetual motion engine that requires no outside source of energy is a dream not yet realized, and certainly not for the lack of effort.
I believe that within an organization and within teams, such self generating greatness is possible.
Why is it possible within a team and not within the finely tuned mechanics of an engine? Simple – mechanical parts simply have no heart, will, intent or driving desire for excellence. People do. When people are not only challenged to be their best but are also supported in their efforts of greatness then they typically rise to the challenge. But what does it take to sustain the magic? What helps greatly is a culture of purposeful relationships whose mission is to promote all others in their efforts to be magnificent.
If the majority of the individuals within an organization or team held as their responsibly the task of raising up the others with whom they work to a place of excellence, then the perpetual brilliance would begin to spin and grow and mature in perpetuity. This is the true experience of replacing competition with collaboration. What you achieve is a culture of co-collaborators who are all in league together to raise each other up into the rarified air of being the best they have ever been.
The organizational leaders will still need to ensure that this culture of perpetual excellence is well maintained and cared for. Just like any high performing engine, it will need to be lubed from time to time to keep all the parts operating with as little friction as possible. Providing team members with high quality tools of communication and collaboration and providing opportunities to deepen their skills in buoying the experiences and opportunities of their fellow team members is key.
Teams that are inspired from within and who radiate that inspired magic outward throughout the organization are a rare and precious thing. These are the team cultures which allow organizations to be nimble, flexible, innovative and continually in the process of becoming & sustaining – The Best They Have Ever Been.