Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lost and found: Valuable stories

  During a recent chilly baseball game (another win for the first-place Indians – Go Tribe!), my wife and I left the bleachers to stretch our legs and warm up. We happened upon a very nice monument area, Heritage Park, located just behind center field. Sheltered from mid-April winds, we strolled while reading plaques and engravings detailing notable players and achievement over the team’s 110 year history. And on a wall near the front of the Park we read about a sad story that is also a great story – a story that provides an important lesson for anyone who is responsible for the content of any organization.

Great content can be discovered without anyone dying
Memorialized on a gorgeous bronze plaque is the tragic story of Indian’s player, Ray Chapman. In 1920, Chapman was hit in the head by a pitch from Yankees’ pitcher Carl Mays. You can read more complete (and slightly gory) details here, but because Chapman played 30 years before batters wore helmets, the pitch was deadly - twelve hours after being struck, Chapman died in a New York hospital. The Indians won the World Series that year after dedicating their season to Chapman. And the next year, this beautiful plaque was struck and placed at League Park and then later, at Municipal Stadium. And because of what happened next, this tragic tale turns into a great story.

That’s because for over a dozen years, this plaque worthy of Cooperstown went missing. Long before the Indians moved from Municipal Stadium, the Chapman plaque was crated up and stashed in storage. When the Tribe moved in 1994 to Jacobs (later renamed Progressive) Field, the crate was carefully moved – then promptly forgotten. It wasn’t until 2007 that the plaque was discovered, cleaned, restored and hung in a prominent location at the stadium. And Indians officials publicly said, “We goofed.”  In fact, their oversight became a story in itself as most people commended them on their very public admission of their oversight. Much of this part of the story is detailed in the separate plague on top of Ray

But this misplacing of great stories - great content - is hardly unique in all types of organizations. Every day, great stories and histories of organizations are packed away in boxes and forgotten, never to be seen or heard again. Even worse, organizations typically don’t even take the time to record, either in words or images, the important milestones or “lessons learned” that make up the fabric of the company’s culture. Someone is always going to get around to it, sometime in the future during one of those mythical “slow times.”

In a future post, I’ll share three key strategies for ensuring that your organization’s stories aren’t locked up in some storage room – or in the memories of veterans. And if the Indians can continue their improbable first-place ways, that will be a story worth telling, too.