Excessive Fanaticism in Sports

One of the things I love about my job is the unbridled passion of our fans. I’m continuously in awe of the many ways people express their love for the San Jose Sharks. When was the last time someone tattooed the logo of a technology company or bank on their body?

Being a supporter of a team gives a person a psychological connection to the team and a sense of belonging. In a very real sense, they feel like a member of the team. It’s why fans refer to the team in the first person: ‘we won’ or ‘we lost.’ Research by Daniel Wann, psychology professor at Murray State University, shows that the more someone identifies with a team, the less they feel alienated or lonely and the more self-esteem and positive emotions they have.

The challenge is when passionate fandom evolves into excessive fanaticism. It’s one thing to have unwavering support for your team; it’s yet another to lash out against supporters of another. As Tamryn Spruill wrote,

A fan has a measure of control about his or her enthusiasm; a fanatic does not. A fan may not like seeing a person wearing a rival team’s jersey in their city, but it’s a fleeting moment of disdain. An [excessive] fanatic, however, will mad dog the rival fan until he or she challenges the person to a fight or gets the hell out of there.

There’s an old saying that ‘sports don’t build character, they reveal it.’ If people are already angry, sports gives them an outlet to express their emotions – often by hating the opposing team. The hate is based on little more than team identification. Sadly, there are way too many incidents in which it has escalated to violence. This is simply unacceptable and there is no place for it in sports.

According to Kathy Samoun, founder of the non-profit Fans Against Violence, “fan violence is really an adult form of bullying.” To help combat bullying, the San Jose Sharks have teamed up with Pizza Factory to educate kids about the negative impacts of bullying. The theme is ‘be a buddy, not a bully.’ For every win in the 2019 playoffs, the Sharks are donating a buddy bench to a local-area school. Education might not stop fanaticism in sports, but it does help show people the [unintended] impact of their actions.

So, go ahead and root for your team. Be loud and proud. Just live by the Golden Rule and treat the opposing fans the way you would want to be treated. With respect.

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

You Should Be Using the Eisenhower Matrix To Make Decisions

The most urgent decisions are rarely the most important ones.
—Dwight Eisenhower

In light of our always-on world, it’s natural we focus on time-sensitive tasks; the seemingly non-ending list of things that have to be done. At work, these tasks include responding to emails or voice mails, generating a report due later in the day, or attending a mandatory meeting. In your personal life, it might include getting gas when your tank is almost empty, paying a bill, or even stopping on the way home to get something for dinner. A former colleague of mine used to call this the tyranny of the urgent.

While there will always be urgent tasks to deal with, we must be vigilant when faced with urgent decisions. Decisions made in the spur of the moment are rarely as impactful as those with enough time for careful consideration. While I’m definitely not advocating paralysis by analysis, I do believe you should prioritize both tasks and decisions by importance rather than urgency.

Important decisions are more strategic. They tend to have longer term impact, even if they don’t have short term effects. Psychologically, important decisions are often put off because we are worried that we might not make the right decision. Instead todo lists are littered with urgent but less important tasks.

As a result, we run out of time for things that are important but not urgent.

One approach to avoid this incorrect prioritization is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. The Eisenhower Matrix is a two-by-two grid that characterizes decisions/tasks by both urgency and importance:I update my decision matrix weekly, sometimes more frequently during high-intensity periods. First, I focus my items on the upper left-hand quadrant – items that are important and urgent – making time to work on them as soon as possible. If there is a large number of items in this quadrant, I know something systematic has gone wrong: either I’ve taken on too many responsibilities or I’ve been working on the wrong things.

Given my role, I usually delegate the urgent and unimportant items (bottom left). It’s key to recognize importance is subjective; it might not be important for me to personally decide but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important to resolve. By delegating, I free up my own time and empower someone else to make a decision.

The previous two steps ensure there is time for items which are important but not urgent (upper right). These are items that many people overlook or just never get to. I schedule specific timeslots to work on them and, when that time comes, make sure it’s protected from the tyranny of the urgent.

The Eisenhower Matrix isn’t perfect – the nature of work means that sometimes you’re forced to work on seemingly unimportant tasks – but it’s highly effective. I recommend you try it for a few weeks, especially if you’re in a situation in which you’re struggling to manage your time. It may change how you work.

Adaptability may be more important than IQ or EQ

For most of my career, I have favored candidates with high Emotional Quotient (EQ) over those with high Intelligence Quotient (IQ). Just like my mantra that culture eats strategy, I believe situational awareness often trumps pure smarts.

Of course, I’ve never known any candidate’s IQ test score let alone their EQ score. (Yes, you can test for EQ.) But, in my experience, success on standardized tests has rarely translated well into the unpredictability of the business world.

Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, has some startling evidence to back up my experience: people with average IQs outperform those with high IQs 70% of the time. Furthermore, he claims 90% of top performers have high emotional intelligence while only 20% of bottom performers have high emotional intelligence.

Studies have shown high emotional intelligence is the strongest predictor of performance among a wide variety of workplace skills. EQ explains “a full 58% of success in all types of jobs”. Bradberry summarizes:

You can be a top performer without emotional intelligence, but the chances are slim.

While I still favor EQ over IQ, over the last few years, I’ve felt like there’s something missing. We live in a world of constant change and neither high EQ nor IQ seem to be good predictors of a person’s ability to thrive in this new environment. Change means we can’t rely on what we’ve learned in the past as it often no longer applies. Lately, I’ve been using the rallying cry: “what got us here won’t get us there.” We need to be more adaptable.

Because being adaptable is increasingly important, I wonder whether there should be an adaptability quotient (AQ). A high AQ would suggest someone is less bothered by new situations, can extrapolate from seemingly unrelated experiences, and embraces new ideas rather than resisting them. Different roles require varying levels of AQ.

Actually, this isn’t a novel idea. Eight years ago, HBR declared that adaptability was the new competitive advantage. Five years ago, a UK study found that 91% of HR decision-makers thought it was likely people would soon be recruited on their ability to cope with change and uncertainty. And a Fast Company article earlier this year suggested a blended measure of IQ, EQ, and AQ as the way to screen employees.

While the term AQ pops up frequently in articles and many people seem to agree adaptability is important, there isn’t a commonly-agreed way to measure it. Until there is, I recommend asking interview questions designed to understand the adaptability of candidates. For example, ask a candidate to describe a time they were unprepared for a situation, how they reacted, and what was the ultimate outcome. If the candidate relied solely on standard approaches, it suggests they are less adaptable. If they changed strategy and showed resourcefulness, it’s likely the candidate will do it again when faced with uncertainty in the future.

IQ to EQ to AQ. Adaptability is everywhere.

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.