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Woj vs. Shams: When Young Upstarts Overtake Established Stars...

You've seen this talent story before.

There's an established star at your company. He/she has been widely recognized as the best, the industry/company standard, the go-to person. Their run of performance has been impressive and it looks like it will never end. Clients are direct dialing this person due to this reputation, which further cements the incumbent's position and just keeps the performance/results snowball going downhill. 

Then a funny thing happens. The veteran slips a bit, and a young upstart begins to rise and challenge their position. Suddenly, it's Woj vs shams not easy to determine who's the best, and those observing start wondering what happened to the established star.

Need a visible example? Try "Woj vs Shams" in the professional basketball journalism space.

Adrian Wojnarowski is your incumbent star, known for breaking news in professional basketball space via something called the "Woj Bomb", which has been so prominent it's defined as the following by Urban Dictionary:

Woj Bomb - A breaking report made by prominent NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that comes out of nowhere to have a huge impact on the landscape of the NBA

Woj generally breaks that news via Twitter. He's so connected he traditionally has been tipped by insiders and breaks news on social media before it's reported by the team. Note this is the product of years of work. A great example of this an Instagram post I shared years back from the NBA summer league. Click on this link that shares a picture of Woj interviewing 100 insiders in a row outside a public restroom in a Vegas arena, with the following caption:

"This is Adrian Wojnarowski, known to the basketball community as "WOJ". When you're following all your free agent news in the NBA, WOJ is the guy who breaks 80% of that news. He works for Yahoo, and as evidence for how the NBA feels about both Yahoo and WOJ having the power he does, consider the scene. He's taping video segments with guests, and the NBA put him OUTSIDE THE LADIES BATHROOM on the concourse with all the fans. To his credit, WOJ doesn't care. He just powered through it and solidified his power base for further rumors/news by interviewing 200 people. If you're into Game of Thrones, he's Varys."

Translation - most dominant stars in any industry have put the work in to arrive at their position of dominance.

But nothing last forever - especially total dominance.

Meet Woj's challenger - Shams Charania, a writer at The Athletic. He goes by "Shams", a natural counter to "Woj". And in the last year, he's eroded Woj's position of dominance, breaking as much news as Woj, to the point where followers of the craft are mocking Woj for reporting news that Shams beat him to, if only by seconds or a few minutes on Twitter.  

Which begs the question - how do established stars loose their grip to an upstart in any industry?  Some thoughts:

1--They start coasting and it creates an opening for a rising star.

2--The rising star is the unique talent willing to put in the crazy amount of focus and time to present a challenge to the incumbent.

3--The market changes - and the rising star connects with a new portion of a market that the incumbent isn't connected to.

Most of the time, all 3 factors are in play. For the Woj/Shams battle, I'm not sure that Woj has been coasting. But without question, Shams has put the time in, and just as importantly, he seems connected to a different part of the information market than Woj. In the case of Shams, that's being connected to players in a direct way in addition to the front offices in the NBA (Woj's territory).

Shams put in the time and connected with a new marketplace. As a result, most consider him even to Woj, who once was 100% dominant in breaking news.

Connection to HR? Understand the stars of today in your company won't be dominant forever. Be on the lookout for the rising stars who have the work ethic and focus to be top performers and support them. Note that youth alone doesn't give someone the right to challenge the star. They have to be talented, and just as importantly, they have to put the crazy work in to get to the level of the incumbent.

Who's the Woj at your company?  Do you have a Shams?

Talent pipeline 101.

Comments

Jimmy Marion

Just over 3 years in a full-time HR role and stumbled across your blog for the first time today. I really enjoy the hoops talk and the way you tie it back into HR. Count me in as a subscriber!

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