Articles and insights related to happenings on the global stage.

Size doesn’t predict significance!

The day after America celebrated its 170th Independence Day in 1946, French designer Louis Reard unveiled a daring two-piece swimsuit that would forever liberate legions of water-bound women: the bikini.

Proclaiming a two piece swimsuit wasn’t a bikini “unless it could pulled through a wedding ring,” Reard capitalized on the sensation of his invention and ensured its lasting success. Although comprised of only 30 inches of fabric, the impact of the bikini was felt worldwide — much like the shockwaves from the nuclear bomb tests that took place on Bikini Atoll (the suit’s namesake).

According to a Smithsonian article titled The Bikini’s Inventor Guessed How Much It Would Horrify the Public, “He chose the name because he hoped that the raunchy two-piece would elicit the same shock and horror that the atomic bomb did.”

The birthday of the bikini is a reminder to small businesses that they can overcome the odds and atomize their adversaries. No matter the size, the potential for success of an organization and the individuals that comprise it is unlimited.

The secret to their success is about captivating people with clever storytelling; once an organization uncovers clarity, embraces creativity, and commits to consistency in its communication, the possibilities are limitless.

“Roger, go at throttle up.” — Commander Dick ScobeeSTS-51-L.

Today I showed a The New York Times documentary from June 2014 titled “Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster: Major Malfunction” in my MGT 205, Organizational Behavior class at the American University in the Emirates.

The documentary is about the Space Shuttle Challenger and Space Shuttle Columbia disasters; it explores how poor decision-making resulted in the death of the astronauts in both ill-fated flights.

Notably, the documentary is complimented by an article about the same subject matter from January 28, 2016 titled, “The Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster, 30 Years Later.” I shared this article with my students to provide background information and to ensure their understanding of both tragedies.

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In addition to watching the documentary and discussing the article, I asked my students to get into small groups. I then gave them a worksheet with the following five questions to pair and share:

  1. What was the external image of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) before the Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986 – and how did that influence the internal culture at NASA?
  2. How did the need for NASA’s Space Shuttle program to be self-funded influence it’s organizational culture, managerial operations, and decision-making process – especially as it relates to their willingness to take risks?
  3. How did pressure to launch the Shuttle and “amorally calculating managers” result in the death of the 7 astronauts?
  4. What changes were made to the Shuttle program as a result of the Challenger disaster? Did any of the recommendations address changes that needed to be made within the culture at NASA?
  5. What were the similarities between the Space Shuttle Challenger and Space Shuttle Columbia disasters? Why did NASA’s engineering culture, leadership philosophy, and safety policies still cloud its decision-making and lead to the second disaster?

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After 30 years the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster still brings tears to my eyes; I was 11 (almost 12) when it happened and it affected me profoundly. It shattered my innocence.

The Columbia disaster was equally as emotional, though by that point, I had experienced many other trials and tribulations of adult life, so it was a less shocking. Knowing that many of the same organizational issues caused the loss of a second Shuttle and her crew made me equally as frustrated and sad.

As a child of the 1980’s, the Space Shuttle program was a pivotal part of my early life experiences; it defined my generation to a large degree. When Space Shuttle Atlantis landed at Kennedy Space Center on July 21, 2011, it signaled the end of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program.

Although a troubling topic — one of my students commented that it was “heavy” — challenging my students to think about something significant revealed many insightful observations. They were intrigued and engaged; I’ve never had a class as quiet as the one today.

Catfish fools? Since April 1st is widely celebrated as April Fool’s Day I wanted to share a post that, while not a prank, is a bit out of the ordinary: it’s a case of catfishing and catfighting. So, get your rod and reel ready and prepare to pull in a catfish!

On social media it can be hard to tell who is real… and who has reeled you in. As an example I present the following case of suspected catfishing and catfighting. Can you help solve the mystery?

Image via Flickr; Courtesy of Brent Moore

Two people — let’s call them Mark and Nate — met on Twitter and subsequently became Facebook friends. Nate is a writer known for experimenting with social media as a channel for creative fiction. Keep that in mind for now. They met thereafter in person. They had some mutual business together and discussed a potential partnership.

Nate also had friend — Molly — who became friendly with Mark through Nate’s Facebook page. Mark and Molly soon became Facebook friends.

Mark and Molly developed a strong friendship, but never physically met. However, Mark wondered — and still wonders — if he was being catfished by Molly (with Nate possibly having been Molly). Details include:

  • Absence of Authentication: Molly allegedly worked overseas as a lawyer for the United Nations. However, here was no record of her being a member of the bar in the state from which she claimed to be. There was also no information about her anywhere in association with the United Nations.
  • A Shallow Digital Footprint: Molly has NO digital footprint beyond her Facebook account — despite presumably working in a position of some prominence. Countless Google searches for her name yield no results. Who has no search results on Google?
  • Missed Meeting Opportunities: Molly claimed to have flown back to her home state in the United States, but never contacted Mark during an extended layover while in the city where he lived. She told him of her travels after she had presumably arrived back home.
  • Mysterious Medical Maladies: Molly would occasionally disappear for stretches of time. Usually when she resurfaced, she had some amazing story about almost dying or having some other medical malady. Again, no proof of any kind, just creative storytelling.
  • Odd Area Code: Molly called Mark from an area code in New Jersey — not a number remotely related to her stated overseas location or her home state. Molly explained this as due to her using a prepaid calling card. They did speak on the phone a few times, and her voice was female, but there is no guarantee she was who she claimed to be.
  • Unable to Video Chat: Molly was never available to Skype; there were always technical limitations or issues. She shared some pictures, but they were clearly dated by at least five years; maybe more.

Consider the concerns above in relation to the points in the video below:

Mark and Molly eventually had a falling out and defriended each other on Facebook. Nate later defriended Mark in solidarity with Molly, but never directly discussed the situation with Mark.

A year or so later Mark and Nate reconciled and reconnected on Facebook. A short time later Mark and Molly posted replies right after each other in one of Nate’s Facebook threads, randomly “bumping into each other” in the process.

Wanting to resolve the past issue, Mark messaged Molly with a conciliatory message. Molly replied positively and they agreed to put the past behind them. Mark and Molly were once again Facebook friends.

Mark and Molly began to message each other, catching up in the process. However, Molly had stories about what she had been up to. They all seemed overly dramatic — or at least lacking in some logic and details. Mark overlooked this in an effort to be optimistic.

Strangely, upon realizing Mark and Molly were again connected on Facebook, Nate became incensed and messaged Mark with a very confrontational direct message. The edited exchange follows:

Nate: “Leave Molly alone. You bugged Molly once before. That betrays my trust, and uses my friends for your aims.”

Mark: “I bugged Molly once before? Please, Nate; Molly is an adult who can make their own decisions. Why do you feel it is your place to intervene if you don’t know or understand the specifics of our previous interactions?”

Nate: “Buzz off, predator.”

Nate then blocked Mark on Facebook; Mark disconnected from Nate on Twitter and LinkedIn. Mark defriended Molly on Facebook as well.

Consider the case above and share your answers the questions below:

  1. Was Mark being catfished by Molly — and was Nate possibly involved?
  2. Should Mark have asked Nate for permission to re-friend Molly?
  3. Was Nate justified in his communication to Mark?

“You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world…”

— The Beatles, Revolution

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As 2014 draws to a close people start listing resolutions they intend to achieve in 2015. Although well intended, 77% of people who make new year’s resolutions abandon them — many as early as the end of January.

I’ve never been much for making lists of resolutions, though as 2009 started I was inspired by Chris Brogan’s call to list three words that would inspire me and inform my decisions.

Ironically, in the months that followed my life took an unexpected turn that forever changed who I am and how I see the world. My three words were incredibly relevant some of the time, yet totally irrelevant at others. I survived a shock to my system that jarred me out of my comfort zone.

I learned that nothing is certain except the uncertainty of life. Yet, looking back over those five years I also realized something essential to my philosophy of lifelong learning: I evolved. What does that mean?

evolve

If you look at the definition to the left the word that pops out at me is “gradually.” This means change takes time and therefore requires something we all could use more of: patience.

Because most resolutions are transactional they are nearly impossible to achieve unless you precede them with a transformational realignment. If you don’t change how you see yourself and your situation, any short-term goals are doomed to fail because you won’t have an accurate benchmark.

So, with all due respect to The Beatles (see the lyrics to their song Revolution, above), evolution is more realistic than revolution, especially on a personal level.

Am I perfect now? Far from it; I am full of flaws and continuing to evolve as an individual. I suppose that’s the point, right? But I am more aware of myself and more engaged in my life than ever before. I am embracing ambiguity more than before and forcing myself out of my comfort zone.

The impact has been exceptional, both personally and professionally. Most notably, I relocated 8,000 miles away to Dubai, UAE for a full time teaching position  — just two short weeks after being offered the job(and having never before been to Dubai)!

Although Dubai is westernized in many ways, it has still provided me a wonderful opportunity to experience an entirely different culture than the one with which I was accustomed.

I am endeavoring to become the person who I should be, not who other people want me to be. I refuse to let others define me and decide for me.

I am doing this as much for myself as I am to show my two sons — whom I miss a great deal — that there is a world beyond the boundaries of the city in which they live. I want to inspire them to adventure by my actions. In the spirit of Robin William’s character in Dead Poets Society (John Keating) I embrace a philosophy of “Carpe Diem!”

I understand evolution is a process that happens  — wait for it — gradually. Ask Darwin: evolution is a transformational process that fundamentally changes something over a length of time, not a short period of time.  Just as I will never stop learning, I realize I will never be “done” evolving.

My evolution might have happened naturally as a function of maturity when I turned 40 earlier this year, but the process was was undoubtedly accelerated by the five years before it. While in the midst of the moment I was often overwhelmed with the challenges thrown my way, I now look back with gratitude for having been strengthened as a result.

Certainly you don’t have to go through what I did; you can find inspiration anywhere. If you need a little boost, however, you might enjoy reading the book “The Art of Possibility” by Benjamin Zander. You might also find insight by completing the StrengthsFinder analysis; it was fundamental in helping me realize teaching was my perfect profession.

So, will you resolve to evolve in 2015?

National Day of Unplugging 2014“Turn on, tune in, drop out.”

This philosophy, popularized by 1960’s counter-culture icon Timothy Leary, could nowadays be communicated as “turn off, unplug, get outside.”

Designed to help hyper-connected people celebrate the ancient ritual of a day of rest The National Day of Unplugging is a 24-hour period starting at sunset on the first Friday of March each year.

This year’s event took place this past weekend, beginning at sundown on Friday, March 7 and ending at sundown on Saturday, March 8. Of course you could theoretically have your own “Day of Unplugging” during any 24-hour period.

The project is an outgrowth of The Sabbath Manifesto, a creative project designed to encourage people to take one day per week to unwind, unplug, relax, reflect, and reconnect with loved ones.

To help achieve that goal members of the organization abide by 10 principles:

  1. Avoid technology.
  2. Connect with loved ones.
  3. Nurture your health.
  4. Get outside.
  5. Avoid commerce.
  6. Light candles.
  7. Drink wine.
  8. Eat bread.
  9. Find silence.
  10. Give back.

I’m unsure how long I could embrace each of these principles, but I like the idea of giving it a try — it’s only 24 hours, right?

On a related note, The Sabbath Manifesto is involved with Connected, a film exploring what it means to be connected. Conversely, they also produced “Yelp” a short film that explores the experience of disconnecting.

So are you prepared to unplug?

Déjà blue — or seeing red?

With the 2013 NFL Season now upon us (and today being the New England Patriots‘ first game) I felt compelled to look back at how the team did last year and discuss how they might fare this season. My big question: will their good or bad history repeat itself?

As you might recall — or, if you’re a Pats fan, as you might like to forget — last season the team lost their first home opener in 10 years to the Arizona Cardinals. This after having looked like the class of the NFL the week before when they handily beat the Tennessee Titans on the road.

It was an awkward reminder of their most recent Super Bowl loss, which in itself was a bizarre replay of the one they had lost four years earlier. Lately, being a Patriots fan has some striking similarities to the date made famous by Punxsutawney Phil: Groundhog Day.

As a Patriots fan, the proximity of the Groundhog Day holiday and the 1993 movie of the same name to the Super Bowl has a unique significance: Just like how in the movie the same day happens over and over again, on Sunday, February 5, 2012 the Patriots fell to the New York Giants in Super Bowl 46 — their second championship loss to the same team in four years.

Although disheartening, the Patriots’ Super Bowl 46 loss was nowhere near as gut wrenching as their Super Bowl 42 loss to the Giants. That failure also ended the Patriots’ quest for a perfect 19-0 season.

While emotionally I wanted the Patriots to win Super Bowl 46, rationally, I had my concerns throughout the season as the team somehow stayed alive with a patchwork defense and an inconsistent offense.

Despite being disappointed by the Patriots’ inability to bring home a fourth Lombardi Trophy, I realized failure presents pathways to personal progress and, in response, devised the seven introspective insights below — one for each of the New England Patriots Super Bowl appearances:

1. Expectations Undermine Attitude:  When you feel entitled to something, that expectation creates an assumption that you will get it because you “deserve” it. Generally, when this occurs, you become complacent and assume the outcome is inevitable. This is a recipe for disaster.

During their (almost) perfect season, despite claims of “humble pie,” there seemed to be an expectation that the Patriots would win Super Bowl XLII and make NFL history. Brady was even dismissive in response to then New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress’ prediction that the Patriots would lose 17-23.

Ironically, the Patriots would actually only score 14 points in their 14-17 loss to the Giants (though they did score 17 points in Super Bowl XLVI, but once again the Giants outscored them with 21 points — cue sad trombone).

2. Junkyards Don’t Always Make Juggernauts: No team has done more with less than the New England Patriots. Since the beginnings of their dynasty, the Patriots built from the draft and reformed players like Corey Dillon and Randy Moss who had lost their way with other teams.

Former Patriots Director of Player Personnel Scott Pioli is famously quoted as saying “we’re building a team, not collecting talent.” This is a philosophy similar to that portrayed in the recent Brad Pitt film Moneyball (affiliate link) which is ardently embraced by head coach Bill Belichick.

While this Moneyball inspired approach might’ve brought the Patriots success, two successive Super Bowl losses and a string of post-season upsets call that into question. Realistically, Moneyball never lead to any World Series wins for Billy Bean’s Oakland A’s.

The Patriots are notorious for collecting picks in each year’s NFL Draft, but then “trading down” with other teams to pick later and pay their players less. Notably, in an article titled The Clutch Enigma: Tom Brady the author argues “It’s not that Brady has lost his ‘clutchness,’ it’s simply that the Patriots’ teams (namely the defenses) have gotten worse, and Brady has become the focal point.”

Miraculously, the team traded up in the 2012 draft to select Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower. In Week 1 of the 2012 season Hightower and rookie Defensive End Chandler Jones demonstrated the potential immediate impact a top tier player can offer.

Certainly signing high profile players is no guarantee: see Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco — and also consider former Baltimore Ravens Coach Brian Billick’s warning “…each free agent should come with a warning label stamped to his chest. What should that label say? Buyer beware.” At the same time, asking players to continually do more with less is more of a weakness than a strength.

Fortunately, the 2013 Patriots rookie class is off to an impressive start, adding youth and optimism to the team — so maybe this year’s draft will bear championship fruit.

3. Win or Lose, Players Get Paid: As a fan of a sports team, there is a good chance you are more emotionally invested in the success or failure of your teams than the payers. As Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plashke pointedly explains in his February 9, 2012 article For the pro athlete, it’s just a job, “The players don’t care as much as you do.”

Even Chad Ochocinco — with his abysmal record with the Patriots of 15 receptions for 276 yards and one touchdown — was still paid (I am reluctant to say earned) a base salary of $6,000,000 for tweeting and updating his Facebook status all season instead of contributing to the team!

And, if you’re curious how much your favorite player gets paid, have a look at this interactive infographic that lets you see the 2013-2014 season salaries of each NFL player, by team and position. I’ve set it to Pats on both sides, because if I don’t it defaults to Ravens and Broncos (shudder). Make it rain!

So, since playing is a job for the athletes, does it really make sense to so heavily invest ourselves emotionally in their performance?

4. Failure is a Launchpad for Learning: When failure occurs, it is human nature to look for a reason — a scapegoat — to explain why that which was never considered possible has now become reality.

Arguing over whose fault it was is relatively meaningless: in my opinion you can win a game on one dramatic play, but losing a game is the result of an accumulation of errors.

This occurred after the Patriots’ loss in Super Bowl 46, where pundits pondered whether Wes Welker dropped what could have been a game winning catch or if Tom Brady threw an inaccurate ball. The argument can be made that consistency kills competition, and the Giants were the more consistent team that day.

This is not easy to do, but the upside is excellent if you can turn adversity into opportunity. Regardless of the reasons for failure, if you treat it as a learning experience, you never really lose — at least philosophically; I realize they keep score in sporting events!

5. Family — not Football — Comes First: I was most concerned about my younger son, Maxwhen the Patriots lost Super Bowl 46. When he went to sleep just before half-time, the Patriots were rolling.  The next morning he awoke to reality, but he just brushed it off  and was on to his next adventure.

He took their loss to the Ravens in last season’s AFC Championship Game harder (likely because he watched it unfold in real time), but again by morning the sunrise had dried away the tears.

It’s amazing what adults can learn from kids if we pay attention. It’s also amazing what a good night’s sleep can do!

Poignantly, following the Patriots, Bruins, Celtics and Red Sox — the teams my Dad grew up with — was a way for me to maintain a connection with him even during a long period when we were estranged.

Having that unique shared interest with Max (my older son, Jacob, has little interest in sports), creates a similarly compelling connection.

Talking about Boston sports teams with him and having been able to attend a Red Sox/Dodgers game last month is priceless Father/Son time.  A trip to Foxboro is in our future.

Notably, in a touching Los Angeles Times article published four days after Super Bowl 46, Chris Paul shares lessons on the importance of family in his life — in a very similar way as I wrote about my maternal grandfather, Papa.

6. Being with Friends Lessens a Loss: The next best thing to family are friends, and through a mutual love — or is it obsession? — of the Patriots I’ve found my way to a great group whom I would have otherwise never known.

Me watching the Patriots at TGI Fridays with AnnetteBoth virtually (via Facebook or a fan message board) and personally (at TGI Fridays or an equivalent place to watch a game), I’ve connected with a network of fans who are also friends.

Many of them have been there for me during challenging times and moments of celebration as well.

I’ve spent Thanksgiving with some of them and shared my first time watching a Patriots game with my younger son, Max, with the same “football friends.”

While I hope to never watch the Patriots lose another Super Bowl, watching it happen at the home of my friends Tom and Coni made the loss less significant because my friendship with them and their family is so significant.

7. There’s Always Next Year: Many Patriots fans didn’t expect the 2012 team to get as far as they did; so any of the wins after the regular season felt a bit like bonus content on a Blu-ray DVD. Despite that, it was hard not to get caught up in the moment and start believing (but see “Expectations Undermine Attitude” above).

On the bright side, the team “almost” won the Super Bowl with marginal talent in key positions. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick remain a powerful pair and, if they can finally add a deep threat receiver (or two) and actually field some quality defensive backs, who knows — they could make an eighth trip to the Super Bowl this season.

Rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins already seems to have the makings of the next Randy Moss — let’s hope without the drama. Perhaps there is hope for #85 to rise from the ashes of Ochocinco? [Update after the game: put that hope on hold — with a dash of optimism]

Imagine if I liked the Chicago Cubs or any team in Cleveland?!  I’d really feel a sense of déjà vu like  former Major League Baseball first baseman Keith Hernandez in the short video below:

In Conclusion

To summarize the seven points above:

  1. Expectations Undermine Attitude
  2. Junkyards Don’t Always Make Juggernauts
  3. Win or Lose, Players Get Paid
  4. Failure is a Launchpad for Learning
  5. Family — Not Football — Comes First
  6. Being with Friends Lessens a Loss
  7. There’s Always Next Year

Given all the insights above, the one remaining question: should the Patriots replace Tom Brady with Punxatawney Phil? More importantly, will the Patriots return to — and, if they do, win — the Super Bowl this year?

  • January 19, 2014 Update: One game away from returning to the Super Bowl; a good run for a team with so many injuries and off-field issues. I am proud of what the Pats were able to do with the limited resources they had. And, of course, there’s always next year!

So what do you get a social network for its 7th birthday?

It was on this date — March 21, 2006 — that Twitter was born. Launching the service Jack Dorsey sent the very first public tweet — “just setting up my twttr” — back when Twitter was called Twttr (sans vowels).

Twitter Logo

Imagine if he had tweeted Watson to come join him in the room? Incidentally, it was another day in March — the 10th — in 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell made that famous first call to Mr. Watson.

And there certainly would never have been Twitter if there never had been a phone: thanks, Alexander Graham Bell!

Speaking of Alexander Graham Bell, I had actually tweeted my above idea in 2009 — and (as you can see below) @Jack replied to the post, correcting me that, the first actual tweet he sent on Twitter was simply “inviting coworkers.”

Using a service called MyTweet16 I found the first tweets for two of my Twitter accounts: @generative and @dadsamore.

I located some of some of the earliest tweets for @matthewagilbert (which I started using as my primary Twitter account in June 2011). I also found some of the earliest tweets from @doctorious when I made my account public again in 2010 after making them private for part of late 2009 and early 2010.

Regardless of what my first tweets were or when they were sent, since I began using Twitter on November 20, 2008 — from the DeVry University in Bakersfield where I was teaching — it has been one of the main subjects about which I teach. Notably, it is also the reason why I was hired for at least one teaching job.

Twitter has grown exponentially since that first tweet. According to their blog post celebrating the anniversary:

“we have well over 200 million active users creating over 400 million Tweets each day. The steep trajectory of Twitter’s momentum is something @jack, @ev and @biz only dreamed about back in 2006.”

So what DO you get a social network for its 7th birthday, after all? Honestly, I still have no idea, but Sir Richard Branson had some interesting things to say about Twitter — and that’s as good a gift as any!

“Beware the Ides of March!”

This was a soothsayer’s warning to Julius Caesar before his assassination by members of the Roman Senate on March 15, 44 B.C. Although the term “Ides” merely refers to the date of the event – not what happened – it is a reminder of the dark side of humanity and a significant date in history.

Ironically, two days later on March 17, people joyfully celebrate the death of St. Patrick – the Patron Saint of Ireland. A few days after that, on the 20th, the world welcomes the birth of spring with the vernal equinox. And, for college basketball fans, this is the month of March Madness!

Come on, feel the noise!

The juxtaposition of these different events suggests a balance of positive and negative energy. Intriguingly, the month of March seems to encapsulate the cycle of life: birth, life, and death. Notably, the first domain name, symbolics.com, was born (registered) on March 15 in 1985 — and given my involvement with the Internet, this is especially interesting.

On a more directly personal level, March has always held a unique place in my life; consider the following:

One of my most meaningful March memories was that day in March when I finished my last college final. After finishing the test, I gathered in the hall with a classmate for whom the exam was also her last. We improvised a celebration with a small bottle of champagne she mysteriously had with her and an over-sized brownie I had purchased before the final. We talked, laughed, and wondered what opportunities and obstacles our futures held.

Looking back on that moment within the context of the themes discussed in this post, I realize that while you can’t always expect to succeed in life, if you work diligently towards a clearly defined goal, you are more likely to make progress.

Of course, the great paradox of life is that, the achievements for which we are entitled to claim responsibility are rarely those to which we had originally committed ourselves. Nevertheless, you need to remain open to whatever opportunities the universe avails you of. Without question, you never know where something could lead. So take a leap of faith on occasion and reach for the stars.

Isn’t it better to have tried and failed – knowing you made an attempt – than to regret never having tried and not knowing what might have happened?

When you first hear the phrases “Miami Heat” and “Oklahoma City Thunder” do you think someone is talking about the weather?

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If you do, you would be wrong. As right as that might sound, you would be wrong: On Tuesday, June 12, 2012 the NBA Finals will feature the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder (formerly the Seattle SuperSonics) vying for the title.

Full Disclosure: I am a Boston Celtics fan so, since the Heat beat them to advance to the Finals, I am rooting for the Thunder (my enemy’s enemy is my friend). Coincidentally, last year I was also rooting against the Heat and for the Dallas Mavericks (due to my virtual acquaintanceship with Brian Cuban, brother of the team’s owner, Mark Cuban). Maybe I am just not a fan of “heat” in general?

Allegiances aside, as a teacher and writer the aspect to this match-up I find most fascinating is both team names are what is called a “collective noun.”

According to Grammar Girl, collective nouns — of which there are approximately 200 that take a singular or a plural verb — are “nouns that describe a group, such as ‘family,’ ‘orchestra,’ and ‘board.'” Another source further explains “collective nouns, a special class, name groups [things] composed of members [usually people].” Interestingly, Americans generally treat them as single units (e.g. “the faculty is meeting today”), but in England, they are considered plural (e.g. “Cambridge are winning the boat race.”).

According to another source: “the names of sports teams, on the other hand, are treated as plurals, regardless of the form of that name.” Therefore, you would write “the Boston Red Sox are the best baseball team in the world” and not “the Boston Red Sox is the best baseball team in the world” (another disclosure: I am a Red Sox fan). Likewise, when you refer to a team by the city in which it is located, you use the singular form of the noun (e.g. “New York is attempting to sign two assistant coaches Boston hopes to keep.”

Is there are a finite number of traditional plural nouns after which you can name a team? There seems to be a growing trend towards sports teams using names that are collective nouns. Teams from various U.S. professional sports leagues — Arena Football League (AFL), Major League Soccer (MLS), National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL), Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) — and a few noteworthy college teams whose names are collective nouns include:

  • Atlanta Dream (WNBA)
  • Chicago Fire (MLS)
  • Chicago Rush (AFL)
  • Chicago Sky (WNBA)
  • Colorado Avalanche (NHL)
  • Columbus Crew (MLS)
  • Connecticut Sun (WNBA)
  • D.C. United (MLS)
  • Georgia Force (AFL)
  • Harvard Crimson
  • Houston Dynamo (MLS)
  • Indiana Fever (WNBA)
  • Kansas City Command (AFL)
  • Miami Heat (NBA)
  • Minnesota Wild (NHL)
  • Montreal Impact (MLS)
  • New England Revolution (MLS)
  • New Orleans VooDoo (AFL)
  • New York Liberty (WNBA)
  • Oklahoma City Thunder (NBA)
  • Orlando Magic (NBA)
  • Philadelphia Soul (AFL)
  • Phoenix Mercury (WNBA)
  • Pittsburg Power (AFL)
  • Seattle Storm (WNBA)
  • Spokane Shock (AFL)
  • Stanford Cardinal
  • Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL)
  • Tampa Bay Storm (AFL)
  • Tulsa Shock (WNBA)
  • Utah Blaze (AFL)
  • Utah Jazz (NBA)

I am not a grammar expert, despite my having earned a BA in English from UC Santa Barbara. However, having been writing since as far back as I can remember, I have a feel for “good” grammar. And, while collective nouns might be perfectly proper, they always sound awkward to me as team names.

From a branding perspective, these types of team names sound odd. I believe a team name simply sounds better as a standard plural noun. Maybe I am “old school” but then again, if you look at the preponderance of team names that are collective nouns they are frequently newer organizationserhaps.

Maybe I am the only one — or one of very few — who noticed this trend towards collective nouns in team names, but it nevertheless strikes me as something about which a discussion is at least relevant.

Speaking of Grammar: regardless of whether or not you are not a fan of either team in this year’s NBA Finals, consider watching the 2000 movie Company Man. According to Wikipedia, the plot of the film is as follows:

In the 1960s, Alan Quimp is a school teacher of English grammar and married with the very demanding woman Daisy Quimp. In order to avoid the constant mockery in Daisy’s family, Alan says that he is a secret CIA agent. Daisy tells everybody, the CIA acknowledges the lie, but due to a coincidence, Alan has just helped and hidden the professional Russian dancer Petrov who wanted to leave Russia. The CIA decides to hire Alan as an agent, to get the credits of bringing Petrov to USA, and immediately decides to send him to a very calm place, Cuba.

A humorous, grammar-laden scene from the film follows — enjoy:

So, in regards to (with regard to?) the information above, who (whom?) do you want to win the 2012 NBA Finals?