On Dec 29, 2014 I wrote about being on the lookout for that big opportunity, something retired Harvard Business School professor John Kotter calls The Big Opportunity (TBO). It is a window into a winning future that is realistic, emotionally compelling and memorable. In business it can be new markets, advances in technology, new products, new people, or anything that becomes a new TBO. We all need to be on the lookout for our next TBO.
As an educator I highly value metaphors or models which help envision some potential reality. The model could be from some other industry or exist in an unlikely setting, but the point of comparison can be readily realized.
Such is the case of the 1987 McFarland High School (California) cross country team. In that year this unknown high school won the state championship and went on to attend the state meet for 24 straight years.
The town of McFarland is just north of Bakersfield in the heart of California’s fertile Central Valley. Most of the inhabitants of the town are of Hispanic origin and they are employed in the fruits and vegetables picking industry in the region. They and their families believed this to be their destiny. That is, until 1987.
It was that year the new coach Jim White moved into this community, and though an imperfect mentor and coach he saw “The Big Opportunity”. These high school kids of this Mexican American high school had exceptional running ability. They ran to school; they ran home from the fields after work; and they were fast! Coach White (‘Blanco’ to the kids), saw the TBO: maybe he could coach them to be successful in cross country running. And maybe that would lead to greater things. Maybe the next generation would not have to be pickers.
Coach Blanco saw something others did not see and said to the seven best runners, “There is nothing you can’t do with that kind of strength and with that kind of heart.” He formed a fledgling team of unlikely runners who bonded together and become a championship cross country team and created a legacy for themselves and for the community.
The story is told in the movie “McFarland USA” and is well worth the watch from the perspective of its redeeming qualities such as family, culture, motivation and pathways to success. But watch to see what results when an opportunity is discovered and created. The story is real, compelling and emotionally laden. It demonstrates what can happen with a TBO which is recognized, developed and relentlessly pursued.
Seven members of the team went on to college and to professional jobs (totally unheard of prior to TBO and Coach White – and all totally unexpected). The story is a model for TBOs in business because it is inspiring and a metaphorical key to what will build entrepreneurial companies today.
Photo credit: thanks to photographer and cross country dad, Brian Archbold!
Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures