Tiger Team

By Leo Maselli

#1- INSIDE THE TIGER    

What follows is my first-hand account as a member of a so-called “Success Team” that was created for the purpose of re-activating our capitalistic muscles.   The story is about two unemployed professionals (a publisher and an attorney) and two struggling entrepreneurs (a retired airline captain and a retired stockbroker).  All four of us are committed to accelerated change in our professional lives.  

We organize ourselves as Tiger Team.  By definition a team such as ours is a group of individuals committed to investigating and/or solving the systemic career problems encountered in our vocations.  Members are self-selected based on experience, energy and uninhibited imagination.  We are to relentlessly track down every possible source of failure or breakdown in whatever endeavors we have undertaken or are about to undertake. 

I will describe how the team was founded and fostered by the people who would come to benefit from it the most.  It is about the emotional stakes for those participating and the occasionally brilliant and often humorous ways we cope.  Above all else these stories will be about reinvention.

The first meeting of Tiger Team occurred in the San Francisco Ferry Building.  Just inside from where the ferryboats come and go is a large area with sturdy tables and chairs that became our first venue.  The gathered team consists of one woman and three men with one thing in common.  We are all blocked and confounded.   

Our first order of business was to vote on the team’s ground-rules.  It was unanimous that: (a) we’ll be meeting for 2 hours, weekly, on six consecutive Wednesdays, (b) we’ll have a rotating role as Session Facilitator; and (c) we’ll assemble in the facilitator’s home.  Our first assignment was to come up with a 30-second elevator speech and to be prepared to pitch it at future meetings.  It’s my intention that our two-hour meetings are rigorous and meticulously focused. I expect some discomfort as well as some growth.  Thomas Edison told us, “Discontent is the first necessity of progress.” 
Next week we’ll meet out in the middle of San Francisco Bay on Treasure Island.  The unemployed attorney on the team lives in a mansion over there. It appears that I’ve becoming part of a new and interesting family. 

#2 - IF DOG IS THE ANSWER, WHAT IS THE QUESTION?        
I was the last to arrive at the home of today's host and facilitator, the unemployed attorney. An elderly Asian woman answered the door of the Civil War-era mansion with a respectful bow and a pleasant smile.  She silently indicated I should follow her up the grand staircase. Over thick Persian rugs, we moved past antique, Western European furniture and Expressionist art into a spacious, high-tech conference room. There, standing in the sunlight that pours through a skylight, sipping their coffee, was Tiger Team.  After a quick exchange of greetings, we began.  As we take our seats, fresh coffee and croissants are made available.  I’m loving this.

Our host requested the floor. He leaned forward in his chair to say in a confidential way, "I have a personal question, if I may.  How do you all get up early and ready to go each and every morning? I've failed at it miserably all my life. Lately I can't even come up with a good reason why to get up at all.  Any ideas?" 
It was the retired airline pilot that hit it out of the park when he offered, "I never have that problem.  I have a dog and he has always set my days in motion bright and early.  Without fail." The entire Tiger Team had the same immediate thought, but it was the laid-off publisher that shouted out, "Get a dog!"  The attorney grinned, "I've always wanted a dog." The entire process took less than five minutes and it promises to change his life. That's why Success Teams work. The chance of paradigm-shift is always in the wings. 
Our host turned out to be quite a brilliant man, i.e. Harvard Law and a former mayor of a large community in Michigan.  He has no idea what to do next. He's been thinking about getting a job.  He's also been thinking about going into the handmade mandolin business.  I'm not kidding.  Is he some kind of mad genius?
Our last quarter-hour was spent individually standing-up to deliver our 30-second “elevator speech.” Mine went something like this:  My name is Maselli.  Business communications and consulting is my trade.  I specialize in the entertainment industry.  My expertise is in the area of filmmaking and public relations.  How can I be of assistance to you?  I’d like to send you my contact information.  May I do that?”
Next week’s meeting will take place in North Beach.

#3 - IS COMPROMISED AMBITION, AMBITION? 
I arrived in North Beach early with an expectation of smelling baking sourdough and hearing Italian being spoken. Coffee at Trieste was the place to start. At the counter I glanced over to the corner table where Coppola sat, week after week, working on his Oscar winning film script "Patton." In his chair sat the day’s Tiger Team host, the unemployed print publisher.  With coffees in hand we headed for her apartment up on Telegraph Hill to meet the others.  She’s located on a charming alley up on Telegraph Hill.  
When we were seated around her dinning room table, things got underway when the retired airline pilot asked for the floor to kick things off.   He informed us that he realizes now that making a huge salary flying airplanes for more than 30 years would have been more rewarding if it had been a goal.  “I’ve never had a single goal in my entire life,” he admitted.  “When I got out of college, I decided to join the Navy with my buddies to fly jets off aircraft carriers just for fun.  When I got out of the Navy and saw my pals jumping into the airline business - so that’s what I did, too.”

He pledged that starting immediately he would forevermore set ‘performance’ goals each and every day.  He stressed that they would not be ‘outcome’ goals. "Seems to me you should only set goals over which you have as much control as possible. Hell, my pilot training taught me that.  I can’t imagine anything more dispiriting or even dangerous than failing to achieve a personal goal for reasons beyond your control."  Words to the wise from a newborn, goal-setting enthusiast.

The publisher declared that she would focus on her next career-building efforts as soon as she completed the installation of her new computer system and the organizing of her extensive files, which is something she’s has been doing already for 10 months. In response to the team's skepticism, she said, "I know time is flashing by. Each morning when I look into the mirror I wonder how long I can maintain a middle-aged status.  No more fooling around, guys.  First goal, research and understand the future of publishing and where I can fit in and thrive.” 
We are growing closer as a group, and are more willing to trust, as if we are old friends. 

#4 - FOCUS ON SUCCESS

The unemployed publisher and I grabbed a cab over to the morning's meeting at the retired pilot’s loft near the baseball park.  However, on the way we got word that the U.S. Census folks had contacted him about a temporary eight-hour gig job he had applied for.  That is, I suppose, the good news, but consider this: he was instructed to meet his fellow census- takers in front of the De Young Museum at 1:30 in the morning.  Yes - a.m.  Their assignment was to count the homeless in Golden Gate Park - in the dark. We can assume we’re talking about the folks sleeping in the bushes with their pit bulls. The moment a flashlight is shined in their eyes, won't they yell something like, "Get 'em, Killer.  Attack!" 

We immediately called the unemployed attorney and told him to meet us at San Francisco’s SPCA.  The goal: to find him a proper dog.  Tiger Team promised to add octane to everybody’s individual plans and we are on target.  He was as nervous as a expectant father.  He found himself a cute dachshund with long hair and they bonded immediately.  Before he headed back to his island with his new pal (now named Ticker), we decided to grab a coffee.

It was over coffee that I was asked to explain my circumstances.  I was happy to oblige.  “During the last ten years of a career as a stockbroker, I began taking classes on film criticism, film analysis, independent film production and the essential craft of screenwriting.  I’ve had only modest success since my retirement from the world of finance: three short films produced and screened, a couple of award winning films and scripts, and more projects in development.  I’m very proud of all that but, truly, I am a for-profit business and have big, unfulfilled aspirations and growing bills.  I want a break-through.”  Some of the aforementioned octane would be to good use about now.

The publisher has installed her new computer, arranged her new filing system during one sleepless week and is now ready to investigate the new world of publishing with the advent of the public's apparent turning away from ink print on paper.  

Next week’s meeting will take place at my flat out by Baker Beach.


#5 - A RARE TIGER DAY 

Once we were seated on comfortable couches set in a large circle around the room, fresh baked cinnamon rolls and fresh ground coffees were served.  But it was easy to see that this crowd was anxious to begin.

The unemployed attorney plowed right in.  Much to everyone's surprise he informed us that during the past week he began talks with a prestigious law firm in Chicago about his possible partnership.  To me his hemming and hawing on the subject revealed his uncertainty about this surprising idea.  The entire team agreed that he might be on the wrong path and begged him to be cautious with his future.   “Under advisement.” 

Next up was the stymied, unemployed publisher.  She admitted little or no progress with her plans to become an eBook publisher - simply calling it inertia.  We suggest that she ignore all her consideration and just get to work.  Just do it.

But the big news of the day came from our retired jet jockey when he jumped in to report that, as he was trudging through the dark in Golden Gate Park looking for the homeless, enduring the drenching rain and ill-tempered pit bulls, he had an epiphany. He's decided that his, thus far useless, Degree in Business Administration acquired so long ago, could finally be put to use in a position offered to him by a former co-pilot of his.  Turns out that his friend is part of the executive management team at Ringling Brothers Circus. He informs us that, yes, he can juggle flaming objects, but that's not the goal. The position he’s been offered is to be Ringling's international tour manager. That is his fresh aspiration. Now, that's news. 

Our next meeting - our last meeting of the series - will be at the retired pilot’s loft.  Second time’s the charm.

#6 - THE TIGERS ARE BACK 

The ex-pilot’s loft is grand, to say the least.  Everything is big: the paintings, the furniture, and the antique French posters.  It’s a great setting for Tiger Team’s last meeting.  

The unemployed publisher sits on the edge of her chair, dancing nervously on her toes.  She wants to share her breakthrough.  "Imagine this," she says, "A girl of twelve sits on the hard-packed dirt floor in the corner of her family’s hut, anywhere in the world, learning how to read in any language. She opens an electronic book. Her fingers move across the bottom and the pages turn and she begins to read. When she doesn’t recognize a word, with a light touch of the screen, she can see the definition and, if she so desires, hears the correct pronunciation. She reads on and when she gets tired, the book will help her sound out the words or even read the whole story to her - or tell it to her with moving pictures.  That’s the world I’m headed for.  Thank you Tiger Team.”

The ex-pilot describes his childhood dream of joining the Ringling Brothers Circus. It had been a long forgotten childhood goal—one he never pursued —and then seemingly forgot about.  Not so.  He reports that in three weeks he'll be leaving for Orlando, his new home. He is the International Tour Manager.  It is his dream-come-true.   Joining the circus —I'm so jealous.
    

The last item on the agenda is whether or not the team will re-commit to another six-weeks.  Our original agreement stated that we would meet for a fixed period of consecutive weekly sessions and then just walk away.  A show of hands reveals, to my surprise that we unanimously want to continue on for another series.  Whereupon the publisher passes out her newly written business plan summary to be commented on next time we gather.  How did she know?  Pure intention, I’d say.  Are we cooking, or what?

Of course, going forward, the retired airline pilot will need to be replaced with a new recruit, as soon as possible.  Our pilot is off, with our fond good wishes, to Florida for two weeks, and then on to South America to set up the circus’s tour that opens in all the capital cities in just twelve-months.   

Everyone on the Tiger Team is eager to get started anew with high intentions and purpose.   We’ll soon be back at it.