Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Myth of Change

For the myth is the foundation of life. Thomas Mann

Today, as anyone from Pittsburgh can (and will) tell you, marks the 40 year anniversary of the Immaculate Reception.

You don't have to be from Pittsburgh or even like American football to appreciate the event that marked the transformation of a losing organization into a winner. Prior to the event, the Pittsburgh Steelers had made the playoffs one time in forty years. After the event, they made the playoffs 26 times and won a remarkable 6 league championships.

The Immaculate Reception was just a football play, except that it occurred in the last seconds of a game, in the Steelers first playoff in 35 years, in a game dominated by defense, in a score or lose situation...and, most importantly, to this date, no one knows for certain if the play was successful.

If you're a football aficionado, then you already know the details. If you're not, then all you need to know is that the play involved a bizarre ball bounce, an incredibly difficult catch and an equally improbable run that all may or may not have actually occurred.

But the details of the play are unimportant to this article. What is important is that this play was so highly controversial that it was (and still is) constantly being discussed, that patrons of a Pittsburgh bar coined the term Immaculate Reception in direct and obvious reference to the birth of Jesus and that the play became a great myth.

That myth became the basis of a cultural change of the organization and defined it for decades to come.

Yes, there were many things that went into transforming the organization from perennial losers into dominant winners. But the power of the myth to motivate, define and set expectations should not be dismissed.

Create a myth and it could BE different.

PS - if you're a fan of that team that lost forty years ago, yes, the myth defined your team too. But that's about all the acknowledgment you're going to get from this Pittsburgh kid.

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