Better than Gretzky?!

These are the dog days of winter.  This is the time of year that many of us yearn for the hot humid summer days we complained about.  There is no question that this winter has been brutal.  It has been so cold that this winter even got its own name, Polar Vortex.  To top it off, “Frozen” received the Oscar for best animated picture.  Now that’s cold.  In the face of global warming, the polar vortex helped to keep the winter in Winter Olympics.

After two weeks of honoring Jack Frost in Sochi, I’ve come to the obvious conclusion.  Canadians are pretty good at Hockey.  The Canadians won gold in men’s and women’s ice hockey.  Although it should be celebrated, it is not all that surprising.  Most of the best hockey players in the world come from Canada.  Not only do most of the best players come from Canada, the best player in history came from Canada.

image If you are a hockey fan, there is general consensus that the greatest player in history was Wayne Gretzy.  His unique combination of speed, skill and awareness made is clear that he was the best.  Basketball may have their debates.  Is it Jordan, Kobe or Lebron?  But in hockey, it’s clear as, well… ice.  Wayne Gretzy scored 894 goals and had a whopping 1963 assists.  That’s a total of 2857 points.  He just had a knack for scoring and creating scoring opportunities for teammates.  The data is daunting.  His statistical dominance is overwhelming.  Or is it?

In hockey and basketball they track a statistic called plus-minus.  +/- for short.  This is a measure of how your team does when you are on the ice or court.  It is calculated by adding goals scored and subtracting goals scored against the team.  Weaker players tend to have negative numbers and you would assume that great players have higher positive numbers.  It is true that Wayne Gretzky had a very high +\- number.  It was 518!  That number seems to be appropriate for a guy that had such an impact on his team’s offense.

imageHowever, if we use this number to measure greatness, Gretzy is not necessarily a standout.  If we use +/-, the best player in history would be Larry Robinson.  Who?  Larry Robinson, aka Big Bird, was 6′ 4″ and 225 pounds.  He was a hall of fame defenseman.  He won numerous Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens.  Compared to Gretzy, he had over 600 less goals and over 1200 less assists.  How could this guy be considered better than Gretzky?  It’s simple.  When Larry Robinson was on the ice, it was more likely that his team would score and less like that his opponent would score.  Therefore, Gretzky may be the greatest player in history, but Robinson may be the greatest teammate in history.

Our world is obsessed with individual success.  We applaud those individuals who are the best in their craft.  We want the best doctor. We want the best engineer.  We want the best lawyer.  How often do we want the best teammate.  Companies take a group of talented people, lock them in a room and expect great things.  That may not be the best way to do it.  It is more likely for that team to score goals, but it is also more likely for that team to get scored on.  What we should do is compose groups of teammates.  With a team full of Larry Robinsons, it is more likely for the team to score goals and less likely for them to get scored on.  It is intuitive, but it is very hard to do.  After all, Wayne Gretzky is a household name, even outside of Canada.

That’s the beauty of it.  When you have a group of teammates, the team is successful.  Each member of the team may not get their name in lights, may not be considered the greatest in history and may not become a household name.  However, that team will be far more successful than the team full of scorers.  Ultimately, you have two choices.  You can put together a group of goal scorers or put together a group of teammates.  You decide.

Slightly different,

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