Last night, New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin hit a three-point shot with under a second to play to lift the Knicks to a win over the Toronto Raptors -- the Knicks' sixth straight, the last five with Lin starting. In each of those games, Lin scored over 20 points, becoming the first NBA player in history to do so.
Since Lin began starting for the Knicks on February 5, Madison Square Garden (MSG), the team owner, has seen its stock rise 13% and its market cap increase $227 million. According to investment site Seeking Alpha, Lin's emergence "may actually add a lot of long term value to the company's stock price." Plus, since Lin entered the starting lineup, traffic on NYKnicks.com and KnicksNow.com has increased more than 550%, reaching 4.7 million page views, the highest week-to-week increase in the site's history.
Before Linsanity began, Lin was the very definition of an NBA nobody. Undrafted, he was signed by Oakland's Golden State Warriors last year, saw little playing time, and was sent down to the D-League (the NBA's minors) three times. He was waived by the Warriors and picked up by the Houston Rockets. They released him. He was signed by the Knicks last December and relegated to the bench. The Knicks reportedly considered cutting him before February 10 when his contract (the league minimum for a second-year player) would become guaranteed.
The obvious question is why?
Why did no one in Oakland or Houston or even New York see that Lin could play? At 6 feet 3 inches, he's not short. At 200 pounds, he's not small. But he is Asian-American, and there are no Asian-Americans in the NBA. So when coaches looked at Lin, they saw "Asian," and that did not translate to "player."
Also, Lin went to Harvard. The last NBA player from Harvard was Ed Smith in 1954 (thank you, Wikipedia). When coaches looked at an Asian-American from Harvard, they couldn't see that he could shoot, pass, and dribble rather well. They were blinded by prejudice.
Prejudice is a business risk. Had injuries not forced the Knicks to start Lin, MSG's market cap would not be what it is today, and its shareholders would not be enjoying their windfall.
Here's another form of prejudice and another business risk. A Pew study of long-term unemployment reports that in the last quarter of 2011 "more than 42% of unemployed workers older than 55 had been out of work for at least a year, a higher percentage than any other age category."
The obvious question, again, is why?
People over 55 can shoot, pass, and dribble rather well. But when businesses see people over 55, they don't fit their preconceived notion of what a new hire should look like.
I was out of work from the beginning of 2008 until CFO hired me last spring. During that time, I applied for scores of jobs for which I was well-qualified; I was interviewed dozens of times. Invariably, someone younger than I (I'm now 62)got the gig.
Meanwhile, the flow of articles mourning the retirement of the baby boomers -- and the impact their loss will have on businesses -- is unabated. A recent Financial Times article, for example, cited research finding that a shortage of managerial skills due to boomer retirement already was adversely affecting organizational performance.
There are people out there who can help your business if you open your eyes. Don't miss your own version of Linsanity.