I was watching a fascinating 30for30 documentary the other day on one of my least favorite networks (ESPN - the epitome of cookie cutter personalities) about the 1980 Miracle on Ice but told from a different point of view (sound familiar?). This time, instead of perfectly diffused camera shots of former-USA Olympians retelling one of the best underdog stories (sports or otherwise) of our time - the viewers were presented with the Russian perspective. A grainy recount of the events leading up to the Miracle on Ice as told by weathered former Red Army Warriors. If you haven't watched it, find some time - it is well worth an on-demand search.
Like most things in life, competition fuels the creative process and the Soviets were no different as they quickly had to figure out a way to transition from their ice sport of Bandy (a sort of hybrid of traditional hockey and field hockey) to the Canadian game in order to compete on the World Stage (i.e. Olympics) at the International level. Their coach at the time, Anatoli Tarasov was a brilliant team builder and creative mastermind. He asked Soviet management to gather all of the information, film, and game strategies that they could find so that Tarasov and his staff of assistants could study how the Canadian's played the game they invented.
To Tarasov's surprise, the eager to excel Soviet management declined his request. The Soviet's knew they had one of the greatest coaches in the game and instead of asking that coach to study, learn and imitate the Canadian game, they gave Tarasov a few rulebooks and told him to build a program from scratch. No playbooks, no film, no shortcuts. To be the best, the Soviets knew they had to choose the path less traveled. They had the resources, the leadership and the knowledge to build a better game than the Canadians and they didn't want Tarasov's creativity and game planning to be tainted by studying a program that was years in the making and set in its ways.
Tarasov was up to the challenge and he focused on conditioning, teamwork, chemistry, speed, and creativity. At times he implemented unconventional practice plans that bordered on the absurd, never losing his courage to forge ahead despite the doubt cast by those who thought they knew better.
"They" didn't know better. "They" seldom do. Those doubters sitting on their lofty perches would soon grow uncomfortable as the Red Army won championship after championship on their way to being considered one of the greatest hockey teams of all-time. Tarasov's re-invention of the sport would have such an immediate impact that he single handedly fast-tracked the evolution of the game, it's coaches and it's players. Give the Soviets credit, they believed in their leadership enough to provide unheard of autonomy, unparalleled patience, and a unbending faith that they would succeed. That belief, coupled with Tarasov's courage to stand alone and build something the world had never seen before, created a system that many in professional hockey imitate today.
In business (and universally) we need more Originals. More men and women willing to be autonomous while choosing the path less traveled. I worry that we are losing a generation of coached-up kids to military-like schedules demanding conformance to a system that is created from someone else's playbook. We are faced with a generation of graduates that comply when they should contest, they wait when they should instead act, and they trace instead of pushing the boundaries of their creativity.
Take the toothy buttoned-up Harvard MBA clones who stole JFK Jr's hair and Brooks Brother's fashion. Give me the independent ones, the outliers, the cowboys, and those who will challenge the status-quo. Give me the ones who aren't afraid to make big mistakes because they have the confidence to know that they will eventually get it right. Give me the ones who can just as easily stand with the crowd as he or she can stand above it. Give me the mavericks, the Tarasov's, the doubted, and the underdogs.
Give me the Originals.