Forward Thinking

By Marta Bright, Bobbie Hartman, Christopher Null, Tara Swords, and Alison Weiss, May 2009

Lessons from a Legend

Over the years, baseball legend Willie McCovey has learned a thing or two about teamwork and collaboration. As the San Francisco Giants first baseman from 1959 to 1973 and 1977 to 1980, he earned himself a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame—and has a lifetime of experiences to share.

Those lessons also come from his time as co-owner of the thriving McCovey’s Restaurant in Walnut Creek, California. In 2004, after more than a decade of planning and research, the doors opened to an amazing family-style restaurant that—in addition to showcasing an extensive collection of sports memorabilia—radiates the same type of energy that only a day at the ballpark can deliver.

McCovey shared some insights from his life on the field and in the front office—and explained why teamwork is an essential ingredient to success in the dugout and the business world alike.

Profit: What did you learn about teamwork, collaboration, and success during your years as a baseball player?

McCovey: I learned that you always have to work as a team, and you cannot have any missing links in the chain if you’re going to be successful.

I was just 17 years old when I left my home in Mobile, Alabama, to play baseball. We had quite a few guys in the same age group who signed on at the time, and we went through some tough times together, working our way through farm leagues and into the big leagues during what was then a period of segregation. We played a lot in the South, and back then we couldn’t all stay in the same hotel and there was a lot of name-calling from the benches. All the guys on the team stood behind us, though, and they kept us going. By the time many of us got to the Giants, it really was like a family for a lot of us. I learned during those years that teamwork is about standing together in any situation.

Profit: How have those lessons translated into success as an entrepreneur and a business owner?

McCovey: Again, it’s about standing together as a team. I’ve always been very patient, but I’m also a perfectionist. My business partner, Rick Dudum, was really anxious to get out of the starting gate. I told him he needed to just slow down, do his homework, and that he had to start from the bottom and work his way up. Before we ever opened the doors at McCovey’s, we met with a lot of prospective employees and quizzed them a bit—first on whether they knew who I was, and second, naturally, about how valuable it is to be a team around here.

Profit: What are some of the challenges you deal with as a business owner?

McCovey: Keeping the place full and keeping the regular clients happy is always a challenge. It’s a tough business, and a lot of restaurants fail. McCovey’s is very much a family restaurant. We do a lot to cater to the kids, and we offer a lot to keep them coming back. I found this out early in my career: I appeal to kids and little old ladies. One of the things kids in particular love to ask me is, “Hey, Willie, if you are already successful in baseball, why would you want to open a restaurant?” I tell them that I wanted to be successful at both baseball and business and that they have to reach for their goals.

Should You Give Your Child a Cell Phone?

This question has plagued parents since handsets became ubiquitous.

The benefits of arming your child with a phone are obvious: Your child has a way to contact you when he or she needs a ride home from soccer practice and, of course, a way to call for help in case of emergency. Numerous phones now include GPS locators, which means nervous parents can actually track their child’s whereabouts. And eventually a cell phone becomes a social necessity, so you’ll have to cave in at some point.

But the risks of giving your child a cell phone merit serious consideration. Cell phones are often used to cheat in school, can cause distractions in class, and can be lost or stolen. While most studies have found that adults need not fear any health risks from moderate cell phone use, the impact on younger users whose brains are less developed is still an open question.

We polled about a dozen parenting experts—educators, doctors—to see when they felt it was appropriate to give a child a phone. Answers varied, but 12 years old was the average recommendation. Most experts felt that the general maturity level of the child was the biggest factor. Simple convenience was the most cited reason for giving a child a phone, and at least one expert said that a cell phone helped kids learn about financial responsibility.

Eat, Sleep, and Be Rested

Sleep is a precious commodity. Here are a few tips and busted myths that could help you get on the road to a leaner, more rested state of being.

You need eight hours of sleep each night: False. Seven hours of sleep is just fine. The American Cancer Society monitored the sleep patterns of 1 million people aged 30 to 102 over a six-year period (taking into consideration variables such as diet and exercise). They found that those who slept seven hours a night lived 12 percent longer than those who slept eight hours. (Source: Archives of General Psychiatry)

You get extra credit for weekend snooze-ins: False. Getting seven hours of sleep during roughly the same time period every night (for example, between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.) prevents fatigue. However, if you attempt to make up for a late night out on Thursday (say, 4 hours of sleep) by sleeping in until noon on Saturday, you disrupt your body’s natural circadian rhythm and end up making yourself even more fatigued. (Source: Your Guide to Healthy Sleep, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)

Fatigue promotes mindless eating: True. Researchers at the University of Chicago allowed people to sleep five and a half hours one night and eight and a half on another and then measured how many extra snacks the participants downed the next day. On average, people consumed 221 more calories when sleepy—an amount that could translate into gaining almost a pound of fat over two weeks! (Source: Annals of Internal Medicine)

Food before bedtime equals tossing and turning: False. A small, well-chosen presleep snack such as cheese, yogurt, or whole grain crackers can actually help you sleep. For example, the tryptophan in dairy foods increases brain chemicals melatonin and serotonin, which make you feel drowsy. (Source: the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition)

For back pain, a firmer mattress helps you sleep better: False. According to a study published by the British medical journal the Lancet, patients with chronic back pain who switched from firmer mattresses to softer ones had a whopping 75 percent increase in sleep. (Source: Lancet)

Fight Hunger Without Leaving Your Desk

Freerice.com is the brainchild of Indiana computer programmer John Breen, who also created its sister site, www.poverty.com. Since its launch in October 2007, freerice.com has become a phenomenon with up to 500,000 people a day playing the game. The concept is simple. Players answer a series of questions on topics such as vocabulary, art, chemistry, and mathematics. For each correct answer, the site’s sponsors donate 10 grains of rice to the World Food Programme.

“It’s been an incredible gift for us,” says Jennifer Parmelee, public affairs officer at the World Food Programme. “It took off so fast and in so many unexpected directions.” Parmelee believes that the Web site has helped raise awareness of the gravity of world hunger. Affecting more than 850 million people, it is a bigger threat to health than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined.

“I think it shows people what’s possible,” says Parmelee. “It’s really a stroke of creative genius, and in this environment, this kind of creative thinking is much appreciated.” To play the game and feed the hungry, go to www.freerice.com.

Innovative Filtering Software Makes YouTube Safer

A 2002 report by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting shows that children between the ages of 6 and 17 spend 2.9 hours each day on the internet, so there’s plenty of time for mischief.

With its Safe Eyes parental control software, InternetSafety.com offers a solution that will prevent your youngsters from seeing unwanted content. Aaron Kenny, InternetSafety.com’s CTO, explains, “Until now, typical filters have completely blocked YouTube, which means it’s been an all-or-nothing situation. Safe Eyes provides a middle ground where each video is looked at on a clip-by-clip basis.”

The software uses 35 Web site filtering categories, purging everything from pornography to e-commerce. Because many videos are shared through online channels other than YouTube, Safe Eyes filtering software also evaluates videos embedded in e-mails, blogs, and sites such as Facebook and MySpace. “We’re really tied into customer feedback,” adds Kenny, “and we added this filtering feature as a direct result of customer requests.”

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May 19-22, Las Vegas, Nevada
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