I once gave a presentation to a group of professional baseball managers and coaches and I opened my talk by asking them to think about the manager or coach they had as players who was the most influential in their careers. I was in the presence of some great coaches who had been pretty good players in their own days as well, and many of them had played for legendary managers. I wasn’t surprised when I heard them rattle off names like Tommy Lasorda, Felipe Alou, Tom Kelly, Davey Johnson, and Jim Leyland as the people who had influenced them the most.
Next, I showed the group this quote from Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers:
“Successful people don’t do it alone. Where they come from matters. They are products of particular places and environments.”
We then had a discussion about a concept Gladwell describes as Practical Intelligence. Practical intelligence is knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it, and knowing how to say it for maximum effect. Gladwell’s point was that beyond innate ability, practical intelligence allows people to apply what they know and use it appropriately. This practical intelligence must be taught and most of us learn it from our families.
My message to those baseball coaches that day was that they were “where their players come from” and that maybe, someday, former players would sit around in a room naming each of them when they thought about who had influenced them, taught them what they needed to know about being baseball players and successful, well-adjusted human beings.
You don’t have to be a major league baseball player or coach for this to be true. For me, it was my freshman English teacher in college who had the most influence on my life. What he taught me had nothing to do with grammar or sentence structure, but instead was about the power of encouraging people to follow their passions in life.
Each of us has opportunities to influence others, to build a culture of learning around us in our work. Think about people who helped you get where you are today and think about how you impact others each day. I’ve always been fascinated in learning about how knowledge is passed down from generation to generation, whether through biological families or “work families.” How much do you know about your job or about a sport you play or a hobby of yours? Where did that knowledge come from? And more importantly, where is it going??
Geoff Miller’s book,
Intangibles: Big-League Stories and Strategies for Winning the Mental Game — in Baseball and in Life, is now available!