“And you may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?'”

— The Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime

As Randall Woodfin and Protective Stadium get ready to welcome the world to Birmingham, we need to to remember that the journey towards the World Games started way before either were on the scene. The Games are coming to Birmingham because of the actions of three men – Edgar Weldon, Scott Myers, and David Benck – dating back to 2013 and 2014. Those actions, almost 10 years ago, are bearing fruit today. At that time, UAB hadn’t stopped playing football, no one had even thought of Protective Stadium, and Randall Woodfin was just in his first term on the school board.  When you look back at just how we got to host the World Games, it’s one of those “funny how things work out” moments.

And this is not unique. I recently did a search in my email for “coronavirus.” Yes, I know that it’s now called Covid-19, but we didn’t know that then. The search brought up emails in that fateful time in 2020, and when I scrolled through and saw what I was doing in the month before the lockdown – who I was interacting with professionally, what projects I was working on – a smorgasbord of names and interesting (and not so interesting projects) popped up.

Image source: Reddit

That email search reminded me that business is not a straight trajectory of accomplishments. It is instead a series of plays — some that work, some that fail. If you go through your own emails that are more than a couple of years old, I bet that you will find a mix of good and bad, wins and losses, the positive – “damn, I was working on that” – and the negative – “damn, I was working on that.”

I encourage you to take a few minutes and try a “coronavirus” search. Or, really, just pick a random day three to ten years ago and briefly go down an email memory lane. You might be surprised by what you find. 

Kudos to you if you find meaningful insight: deconstructing the good and the bad, the wins and the losses, is always helpful in growth. In the business world, we often hear about staying in the first quadrant – the important, not urgent – and how we work best if we use our time to focus on these value-creating activities

Unfortunately for me, that is not the case, and while I wish I could say that randomly looking back in time sharpens my sword and makes me focus more of my time on creating value, more often than not, it doesn’t. For me, the trip is more of a side quest into a series of interesting times, a reminder to reconnect with some and disconnect further from others. And I gain a greater appreciation for the sheer randomness of human (and business) interactions: most of the time, you have to sow many seeds to see something grow. In the meantime, I find joy in helping people, having them help me, and getting to know my fellow humans.

Maybe this is an appreciation for that fourth quadrant that no one dares spend time in professionally: the not urgent, not important. And maybe that is a lesson to learn from how the World Games got to Birmingham. We cannot say that hosting the World Games was communally urgent or important in 2013 and 2014. However, it was important – extremely important – to some. If Brookings or the Hoover Institution came in 2013 and told civic leaders to find a large but not well-known sporting event and lure it here, we probably would not have listened. And if they had said to be sure that event included Sumo Wrestling and Drone Racing, we would have told them they were crazy. Yet here we are.

And maybe that is a key professional lesson for us here: just because it does not create value, don’t scoff. Maybe we shouldn’t disregard things even if they have negative monetary value. In that space where seemingly nothing is happening, in that relationship or call that has no purpose, or that rabbit trail that has no point, maybe something is happening – perhaps a relationship is forming, an idea germinating, a project beginning from which something of significance will happen. Often what we do – be it sales or networking or business planning – is plant seeds, and the fruits of our labor are not measured in quarters but years or even decades, as I would imagine that Ed Weldon, Scott Myers and David Benck would say as they look back on their emails from 2013.  And for those emails, we all owe them a debt of gratitude.

For more on how the World Games came to Birmingham, check out this article in Village Living