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80s TV shows, Taking a Pay Cut and Minding the Other

Updated: Apr 30

I grew up with Dallas. Or rather, I grew up trying to watch Dallas, mostly my parents wouldn’t let me. There was something compelling about those glamorous Texans, and JR was the defining baddy of the genre. My dad, in fact, had a little bar in his office with a tot of whiskey for guests, just like JR.   


Dallas with its ranch and its oil and its drama and its intrigue was the first real TV Dynasty. As a first mover, it spawned rapid imitators and rivals, most famously Dynasty. And Dynasty had a not-so-secret weapon: Alexis Colby, the deliciously evil woman played so memorably by Joan Collins. A Dynasty, by the way, is defined as: “A succession of people from the same family who play a prominent role in business, politics, or another field.”  

These shows had a central character that was compelling to watch, supported by an interesting cast of characters, each with their own story. By the 90s, this formula was scrapped in favour of the ensemble where everybody is supposedly equal (but I still tuned in to Friends to watch Jennifer Aniston, to be fair).   


Got me thinking. There’s an interesting line to be drawn between dynastic TV shows, era-defining sports teams and businesses that survive across multiple generations. Can I have a go at connecting the dots?  


Tom Brady and the New England Patriots  

Arguably the GOAT of American football, Tom Brady’s superstar talent and leadership contributed to the Patriot's incredible run of Superbowl titles. Listening to The Gap and the Gain the other day, though, I realized another thing: He took a significant pay cut in the latter stages of his career (close to $60 million – yep, MILLION) so that the team management could afford to buy additional resources in the second string linebackers. Why? Because a star quarterback can only shine if he has enough protection. He figured out that, in the latter part of the season, the teams with good second-string resources tend to win out, as the first-choice players get injured and need to be replaced. Does this sound familiar? It’s a lot like the Rassie Erasmus “Build the Bench” strategy, right? The games are won by the backup players, not the first-choice stars. Isn’t this also true for business, where succession planning is critical to ensure longevity?  


Duane Vermeulen and the Springboks  

In a recent conversation with Duane Vermeulen, retired rugby superstar who now heads the mobi-unit in SA rugby, he highlighted what made the current team so successful: It was the culture of "minding” the other. Of respecting differences, of being curious, of accepting that we’re not all the same and that’s ok. And how that mindfulness built trust, how that trust built synergy, and how that synergy unlocked double World Cup wins. Siya Kolisi is the superstar of the Springboks, but it is interesting to note that, by some fluke of fate, the acting captain in the WORLD CUP FINAL was, for 10 minutes while Siya was off with a yellow card, a previously unheralded flanker playing as a hooker Deon Fourie. The 38-year-old journeyman found himself out of position, in the role of decision-maker, in the biggest game of the sport. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. But he rocked it out because the management had INVESTED in those second stringers. And because of the trust, and the synergy, created by mindfulness, it was easier than one might think.  


Those old TV shows told a compelling story. And it’s no accident that, in the current success stories of our time, whether it is Apple, the Springboks or Tesla, there is a story – a narrative – that is compelling. It usually has a hero (Steve Jobs), it has a villain (Bill Gates), and it has a darkness before the dawn (1997). Do you think Rassie and Jacques Nienaber were intentional about the way the Springbok story was told in the lead-up to the 2023 World Cup? We don’t know, but we do know that the result was spectacular. Here’s how it might have happened in the world of dreams…  


They were back, and it felt like an interesting pair: Steve and the guy with the phone.  


Steve looked like the last time. Black turtleneck, blue jeans. His standard uniform. Phone Guy was dressed in some kind of space suit and had psychedelic makeup on.  


He gave the Coach a cross look. “I don’t want to be here. I’m in the middle of my annual retreat at Burning Man, and this is not my preferred trip.”  


“What’s Burning Man?” asked the Coach.  


Steve shook his head. “Don’t ask. Now tell me, how’s it going?”  


The Coach smiled. “It doesn’t get easier, does it? But you know what? We’re on the right track. Our strategic imperatives were Results, Public Perception, Transformation. And we’re doing well on all three, although our win record still isn’t what we would like it to be.”  


“Boring!” spat out Phone Guy. “Update me. What did you do after our last talk? Did you burn down the house?”  


“Pretty much. I made a video that was leaked to the public. It caused quite a stir and really pissed off the powers that be. In fact, I was banned from international participation for a year, they muzzled me on social media. Luckily I have a strong team, so we are still seeing results. And we did end up winning that particular series.”  


“What happened?” asked Steve.  


“Well, what I wanted was a better channel with the referees. They were just not giving us the same odds on the field, and we wanted to understand why. After the video, they did. In fact, they almost overcompensated. I did a naughty thing,” said the Coach.  


“Well, spit it out!” said the phone guy.  


“I implied inequality. That they were treating our team – our captain – differently from the other team. And that it was partially because the other captain looked the same as the referee.”  


“You played the race card?” asked Phone Guy. He almost smiled. “That’s smart.”  


“Not explicitly, no. But I think the underlying message landed. We won that series, but now they hate me. I worry that it will be worse on the team in the long run, and there will be recriminations on the field from the authorities.”  


Steve shook his head. “You’re making it about you again. Let me understand this. You blew up the house, took a personal hit, but cleared a communication channel for your captain to be able to talk to authorities? And he happens to be black?”  


“Well, yeah. He has a great story, actually. Came from nothing. Super humble, everyone loves him, he’s not just a winner but a family man and a great role model. He is a true South African fairytale.”  


Steve seemed to think about it for a second. “You know that I started the movie company, right? Where we make modern-day fairytales?”  


“I did,” replied the Coach. In truth, he had somewhat forgotten about it, in between this man’s other accomplishments. Including the phone in the hand of the other guy.  


“At this point, it’s not about you. How do you create the story? How do you make it impossible for them not to talk to you? You have this guy – this fairytale story – in your stable. I would stop thinking about me, and start thinking about him.”  


Phone Guy looked up from his game. “You can listen to this man. Right now, I’m playing a strategy game on this device he built. It’s amazing. Addictive, even. And it’s all about building up superior resources and capability to the others. You have this amazing human as a resource. I think you should lean in harder on telling his story. And make it a South African story.” He became even more excited. “Look, I gave up on this place a long time ago. But your captain is a great example of someone who succeeded despite the odds. Who leveraged weaknesses into strengths, who saw the opportunities, who built something amazing right here. Make it a South African story. And make them believe it!” Then he faded away.   


Steve looked at the space where Phone Guy was. “And that is the man that now seems to carry on my legacy.” He shuddered. “And people thought I was crazy…”  


His voice grew firmer even as his image started to fade. “Coach, you are at an important moment. Lasting results, lasting change, versus a short-term win. You need to stay humble. You need to tell the story. Over and over again, inside and outside. And keep on doing what you’ve been doing, but add some layers.”  


After he had disappeared, his voice carried in the wind:  


“Tell the story!”  

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