Success & Dynasty (#97)

It is not enough to simply have talented individuals, success only comes from bringing all together for a shared purpose, working collectively to win, a chance to create a dynasty.

A golden medal on a pedestal, sunlight reflecting off the surface
Success & Dynasty, JLP

Trying to nail down a measurable definition of the term "sports dynasty" seems an impossible task. Yet we intuitively appreciate that it is a sustained level of success above the competition. Missing from this definition is any sense of timeline. Also missing is an indicator of what level of success rises to dynastic heights.

Is it enough to win 14 straight division titles but only a single World Series, like the Atlanta Braves did from 1991 to 2005? Maybe. Is it enough to win four consecutive AFC championships, as the Buffalo Bills did from 1990 to 1993, and lose all four subsequent Super Bowls? Likely not — especially when two of those losses were to the Dallas Cowboys, who are, less controvertibly, considered a dynasty (1991-1996), becoming the first team to win three Super Bowls in four years.

Dynasties aren't just for American sports, of course. Liverpool F.C. famously won eleven English Championships in eighteen years (1972-1990). A Dynasty. F.C. Bayern Munich have won the last eleven Bundesliga titles. A Dynasty. We'd be remiss not to mention the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team. The All Blacks are likely the most successful sports team ever, since forming in 1903 they have won 77% of all their matches. Certainly a dynasty.

If it's hard to win a championship, repeating as a champion seems exponentially daunting.  Somehow the Chicago Bulls won two three-peats (a portmanteau meaning three consecutive championships) in a span of eight years. A Dynasty. It certainly helped to have a superstar named Michael Jordan on the team. Although Bill Russell might remind us that his Boston Celtics won a cool eight championships consecutively (1959-1966 — can I get an "octopeat" anyone?) on their way to 13 titles in 20 years. Serious Dynasty.

Well, it's safe to add the Oklahoma Sooners women's softball team to the dynasty list. With their 3-1 win over Florida State this past week the Sooners capped a season that saw them win 53 consecutive games (a season record of 61-1), crowning them national champions once again, a three-peat. They've won five titles in the past seven years, and six titles in the past 10 years.

For every dynasty the pressure mounts with each victory, fans become emotionally vested in seeing the giants get toppled, cheering on the underdog. When Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso was asked how she was feeling after the victory she said, “the expectation is overwhelming, the pressure is overwhelming. This really was the roughest (title run) I’ve ever had to go through just because with lots of fans and the growth of the sport comes a lot of pressure. I think I’ve felt that." One thing for certain, her next season will ramp up the pressure to yet another level.

At some point every dynasty must come to an end, the landscape shifts, another team begins to make a run at history themselves. One season ends and the planning, recruiting, training, and coaching for the next season begins. Sports really aren't so much like business. Matches and seasons are finite, with clearly defined starts and ends. Sports have well defined rules of competition, success is defined by a score, and eventually, crowning a champion.

Our workplace isn't this way. Sure we have wins, and maybe we use metrics to proxy a score, we might measure our profit or transaction counts to compare with our competition. However, there are no champions, the season never ends. Ours is an infinite game, where the rules continuously evolve, the talent often act like pools of free agents, and success is not defined so easily by a calendar. Yet even in this type of environment we can create dynasties too.

The best of corporate dynasties are more than financially successful and are defined by an underlying purpose and mission to the work. Here are a few traits to dynastic businesses:

  • a sense of belonging where community matters and inclusiveness is expected and nourished
  • alumni hold the company in reverie, nostalgic about the time they spent working there
  • products and services provide a common good
  • brand affinity is high and trustworthy, they operate not just lawfully but ethically

The Sooners softball team found success by leveraging the incredible talents, skills, and hard work of the players and coaches. Every player and coach interviewed talked about the camaraderie, what it means to lift up those around you, to be a great team player. Every dynasty in sports and in business will have this common theme, it's not enough to simply have talented individuals, success only comes from bringing all together for a shared purpose, working collectively to win. Dynasties of one don't exist, because you can't get to the top by working alone.

The Paradox Pairs series is an exploration of the contradictory forces that surround us. A deeper study finds that these forces often complement each other if we can learn to tap into the strength of each. See the entire series by using the Paradox Pairs Index.