Hockey is for Everyone, Doggonit

Research shows that businesses with more diverse workforces perform better financially and are more innovative. Similarly, diversity and inclusion is good for the business of sports. The more that sports teams embrace the diversity of the community they are in, the more likely their fans will embrace them back.

The National Hockey League (NHL) uses the international reach of the game of hockey to help drive positive social change and foster more inclusive communities. Under the slogan Hockey is for Everyone™, the NHL takes a unifying and supportive approach:

We believe all hockey programs – from professionals to youth organizations – should provide a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic status.

Over the years, the San Jose Sharks have embraced these ideals. From Sikh and Filipino heritage nights to Los Tiburones themed events as part of Hispanic heritage month, Sharks fans in the SAP Center represent the amazing cultural diversity that is the Silicon Valley / Bay Area.

At last year’s Hockey Is For Everyone Night, the San Jose Sharks partnered with You Can Play, an NHL-supported non-profit organization that works to ensure the safety and inclusion of all in sports including LGBTQ athletes, coaches, and fans. Sharks players taped their warm-up sticks with Pride-themed hockey tape and proceeds from these autographed sticks were donated to charity. The next Hockey is for Everyone Night at SAP Center will be Sunday, March 31 when the Sharks play Calgary in what may well be a battle for first place in the Western Conference.

The SAP Center also works hard to support the accessibility needs of our guests. Assistive Listening Devices are available at no charge. Guests with disabilities may bring their service animal with them. In addition, SAP Center offers safety sensory kitsto fans who have sensory sensitives (e.g. Autism, Neurological Impairment, PTSD, or Dementia).

On the lighter side, the idea of hockey is for everyone can be interpreted literally and extended in unexpected ways. Through an event called Pucks & Paws, we allowed dog owners to bring their pets to a San Jose Barracuda hockey game. While the majority of the attendees were hockey fans, many were first-time attendees who were attracted by the spectacle of bringing their dog to an arena and spending time with their pet – the hockey game was secondary.

We are all unique. Let’s celebrate our differences. You don’t even have to like hockey. Doggonit.

[This article previously appeared on Becher’s Bytes.]

The Confirmation Bias Is No Joke

Confirmation bias is the tendency to look for or interpret information in a way that confirms preexisting beliefs or assumptions. A classic joke supporting the confirmation bias goes like this:

A stranger visits a small town and notices that everyone is wearing garlic around their necks. He asks the town sheriff about the strange custom and learns it’s to keep the elephants away. “Does it work?” he asks. The response: “You don’t see any elephants around here, do you?”

The confirmation bias not only means we don’t look for information which might disprove our bias but we also ignore any evidence that might contradict it.

The term confirmation bias was coined by English psychologist Peter Cathcart Wason. His 2-4-6 experiment demonstrates “our natural tendency to confirm rather than disprove our own ideas.” In the experiment, subjects were told they would be given a sequence of three numbers and asked to figure out what the rule was that governed their sequence. To help the process, subjects were allowed to ask the experimenter whether two other sequences met the rule. Try it yourself:

The initial series is 2-4-6. You might guess that the rule is increasing numbers by two. If so, you would ask the experimenter if 8-10-12 also fits the rule. It does. This confirms your initial guess so you ask whether 20-22-24 fits the rule. It also does. Twice confirmed, you announce that the rule is even numbers, increasing by twos.

That’s incorrect. The rule is any increasing numbers.

The problem is that you didn’t challenge your own theory but only asked questions that would confirm it. You could have asked about 9-11-13 (which would have disproved even numbers) or about 10-11-12 (which would have disproved increasing by twos). In the experiment, only one in five people was able to guess the correct rule. The rest had confirmation bias.

The current discussion of echo chambers in social media is an example of confirmation bias in action. Because we tend to follow people who share our beliefs, we only see information that supports our point of view. If contradictory evidence appears in our feed, we discount it or ignore it completely. We believe what we see and see what we believe.

We can combat fake news through rigorous fact-checking and use of the baloney detection kit but overcoming a confirmation bias is even more difficult. When I have a strong point of view, I try to be open-minded by asking myself what would cause me to change my opinion and then diligently look for that evidence. I also intentionally add people to my social feeds with differing points of views so that I’m exposed to conflicting opinions. Being diligent helps but can’t completely overcome the natural human tendency to believe we’re right – despite the evidence to the contrary.

The confirmation bias is no joke.

The Pygmalion Effect in Business

In 1965 two researchers conducted a now-famous experiment in a public elementary school, dubbed Pygmalion in the classroom. The researchers told teachers that about one-fifth of their students were unusually intelligent (so-called “growth spurters”), based on results of a fictitious IQ test. Even though the gifted students were seemingly chosen at random, these students performed better in the classroom and later improved their scores on standardized IQ tests. The researchers theorized the teachers paid more attention to gifted students, offering them more support and encouragement than the others.

Fascinating. If you treat people as if they are smart, they become smarter. The Pygmalion Effect.

Only it may not be true. For the last 50 years, no one has really been able to replicate the study – one of the most important principles of the scientific method. In fact, some researchers claim the impact of high expectations in the classroom are significantly exaggerated while others even claim that the Pygmalion Effect is likely an illusion and the underlying research is “bad science.”

I’ll leave others to debate the science but I’ve certainly seen this effect in the business world. When a leader thinks an employee is capable, the leader usually gives the employee more opportunities to develop, and the employee’s performance often improves – creating a positive feedback loop. In parallel, if employees believe a leader is successful, the employees are more attentive and supportive – which likely improves the leader’s performance.

We could call this the Pygmalion Effect in business.

Writing this blog made me realize that the reverse of the Pygmalion Effect can be an issue. If a leader’s expectation of an employee is low, the leader will likely treat the employee (intentionally or unintentionally) in a way that will lead to poorer performance than the employee is capable of. In psychology, this is called the Golem Effect; the self-fulfilling prophesy that people live up (or, in this case, down) to expectations.

A truly great leader doesn’t just motivate their highest-potential employees but also makes sure that other employees aren’t stigmatized with the badge of low expectations. The goal isn’t to get someone to do something they aren’t capable of but rather to ensure that everyone believes they have an opportunity to meet their own full potential.  As Henry Ford is credited for saying,

Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.

The Unintended Consequence Of The Cobra Effect

Whenever plans don’t work out the way someone expects them to, I’m reminded of the cobra effect.

Coined in a book written by the late German economist Horst Siebert, the cobra effect is a cautionary tale of unintended consequences during British rule in India. The British government was concerned that venomous cobra snakes were common in Delhi and, as a result, offered a bounty for every dead cobra. As you would expect, the incentive worked – large numbers of snakes were killed for the reward.

Indian entrepreneurs eventually realized that they could make additional income by breeding cobras for the sole purpose of turning them in for the reward. The new snake-breeding industry flourished! When the British government discovered what was going on, they stopped the reward program. This, in turn, caused the snake breeders to release their now-worthless cobras which increased the number of snakes in the wild. The program to reduce the number of snakes in Delhi actually increased them.

The cobra effect is a specific example of the so-called law of unintended consequences – outcomes that are not the ones foreseen or intended by an action. Unintended consequences can result in an unexpected benefit or drawback but sometimes they simply backfire. As was the case in the cobra effect, the outcome is the exact opposite to what was originally intended.

The cobra effect – and more generally the law of unintended consequences – reminds us that we cannot fully control the world around us. No matter how much we plan, something unexpected can happen. Sometimes the exact opposite of what we planned for.

This doesn’t mean you should give up planning but it does mean that you’ll occasionally get snake-bitten.

Inspiration and Integrity from the 2018 CHURCHILLS

Every year, Churchill Club presents the CHURCHILLS — an extraordinary event which is designed to inspire us to advance innovation, leadership, collaboration, and social benefit. The Churchill Club Academy, a group of more than 700 innovation community members, name honorees for their contributions in four areas of excellence: Legendary Leader, Game-changing Company, Global Benefactor, and Magical Team. The honorees appear at the CHURCHILLS in the spirit of “giving back” —sharing their perspectives about what is needed to lead, collaborate, and contribute to the greater good.

I was honored to be Master of Ceremonies for this year’s event, held on September 20, 2018. I opened the evening by asking the audience to consider what inspires them, anchored by this quote from Prussian philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder:

Without inspiration, the best powers of the mind remain dormant. There is a fuel in us which needs to be ignited with sparks.

One of my favorite questions to ask when I meet someone new is “What inspires you?” Over the years, I’ve heard many wonderful answers:

  1. learning something new every day
  2. solving complex problems in simple ways
  3. educating the future generation to avoid the mistakes of the current generation.

But my favorite answer was “making others better.” Perhaps surprisingly, this answer came from a professional hockey player. His answer wasn’t winning a championship or getting an award, but improving the team. That’s truly inspiring.

Here are the four award-winners and what I took away from their remarks:

Legendary Leader – Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn
The spirit of this honor is, “Couldn’t have done it without you.” Jeff showed us compassionate leadership and phenomenal growth are not mutually exclusive.

Game Changer – NVIDIA
The spirit of this honor is, “You changed how things are done or viewed, and there’s no going back.” Colette Kress and Mark Stevens shared the philosophy that, no matter how successful you are, you should always think like you’re 30 days from going out of business.

Global Benefactor – Jennifer Pahlka of Code For America
The spirit of this honor is, “Thanks for thinking big.” Jennifer inspired us to help others, reminding us that we get the government we deserve.

Magical Team – Khan Academy
The spirit of this award is, “Your team nailed it.” Sal Khan, Ginny Lee, and Shantanu Sinha showed us that a one-size fits all learning approach doesn’t fit anyone at all.

I closed the evening by observing that all four honorees share something in common; a deep understanding that pursuit of their vision cannot and will not compromise their values. I urged the audience to focus on integrity, sharing with them a sign that I keep in my office:

Always do the Right Thing, even when no one is watching.

My parting thought was to take inspiration from each of the honorees. To follow their passion, overcome setbacks, and stay true to their values. We humans can and will continue to make the world a better place.

It starts with each of us.