Sunday night, there were two very different, yet almost identical, cultural events in New York City. At Madison Square Garden, the NBA held its annual All-Star Game. And up at Rockefeller Center, NBC celebrated the 40th Anniversary of “Saturday Night Live.” The two events got me, Benjamin Wey, thinking about the tension we all have in our jobs, and our lives in general, between being team players and being standout individuals.
Ideally, every one of us would be all-stars on a championship team. Very few of us ever are. When you are on a team, you sometimes have to do things for the benefit of the group that actually detract from your own performance. In basketball, everyone cheers for the high scorer, but the player who passed the ball for the assist made it possible, and the player who set the pick that got the defender out of the way was important, too. But if you are passing or setting picks, you aren’t shooting and scoring. You are sacrificing personal stats for the good of the team. And teams that don’t have players who sacrifice for the good of the group tend to wind up in last place.
Sunday night, there were a few really amazing NBA players who won’t be in the playoffs this year because the team’s performance is lackluster. New Yorkers like I, Benjamin Wey, can go on and on about Carmelo Anthony’s greatness and the Knicks’ lack of the same.
At the same time, one team will win it all this year, and of the 12 men on that roster, most weren’t at the All-Star game the other night. But because they consistently do things well as a team, they will wind up this season’s champions.
I, Benjamin Wey, have written about the value of sports in business before, however, “Saturday Night Live” gives us the exact same lesson in an entertainment environment. For 40 years, “SNL” has worked as an ensemble, which is showbiz speak for “team.” When the writers, the cast and the technical crew are all in sync, it’s an amazing show. And other nights, it can be a very long 90 minutes because things aren’t working.
At the same time, everyone on “SNL” knows what could happen to them if they really stand out. Eddie Murphy is the best example of this. He worked with the other cast members, but he said that his ambition was to be the Beatles of comedy — I don’t know if he made it that far, but superstar is the word that fits. By the same token, does anyone remember Gary Kroeger? He was on “SNL” from 1982-85, but his performing career peaked with the show. He may run for Congress now after a reasonably successful career in advertising. He was on the show, but he never really was an “SNL” all-star.
Other performers on “SNL” didn’t really click with the audience until after they had left the show. They became all-stars after leaving the championship team. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the youngest woman ever to be a cast member, blew up as Elaine on “Seinfeld.” Now, she is America’s favorite fictional vice president on “Veep.”
In business, or in our private lives, there are times when no matter what you do, you aren’t getting that championship ring. The company you work for just doesn’t have it or the relationship you are in just doesn’t work. By the same token, there are instances where you aren’t going to shine, where the spotlight isn’t on you. At those times, you might want to walk away unless there is a shot at the title.
It’s a tricky balance, and I won’t pretend to know what the right formula is, if there even is a formula. But if you understand the tension between being an all-star and being a champion, you are more likely to put yourself in a position where you can be both.