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October 10, 2018

Sam Presti

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

SAM PRESTI: On behalf of the organization, I want to thank Legal Shield, obviously Mick and everybody involved with this. I'm really honored. There's a few people here from the Thunder this morning, as well. I want to make sure that I thank them. I really feel like I'm a representative of so many different people with the organization.

I really do think it's important that we recognize the architects of the Renaissance. This was part of my comments, although I think Mike did a really good job of it, and Mick is incredibly eloquent speaker, but the architects of the Renaissance deserve so much credit. They've created an incredible platform for so many people here to really write the next chapter of the city, and as Mick was saying, the seeds that have been planted here are just remarkable.

I like to think being in a leadership position, obviously not in public service, but the amount -- everyone that knows about the big decisions that were made during the maps during the period, but I can't even fathom the amount of really, really small incremental decisions that nobody really knows about that led up to these grand slam moments that everyone realizes, and especially in the world of politics and getting things done in communities. As I said, Mick and his predecessors, they've moved mountains here, so it's a tremendous responsibility for all of us to try to build on top of or paint on top of that canvas going forward.

So in thinking about these remarks, I was asked to speak about entrepreneurism, and I was having a hard time figuring out how to go about this. I had one thing done, and I was like, no, it's not good, and then some people might know my wife and I just welcomed two twins, baby girls, into our lives, and when my wife initially came home from the hospital, she couldn't go up and downs stairs, so my office became the temporary nursery, and in order to get things ready, I was going through a bunch of boxes and files and came across a booklet that I had prepared in May of 2007. I put it together because Clay Bennett called me and said -- asked me to interview for this job.

So it was probably the most entrepreneurial document I had written. At that time I was 29, and I really -- it was written with the confidence of someone that had never done anything or led anything in the world. So it's very idealistic. But I went through and I read it, and there was a couple things that stuck out to me as to why I thought I would read it today. So bear with me. It's a little bit of a trip down memory lane, but it's a bit of a synopsis of kind of what I was thinking in advance, May 2007. I'm going to connect it to some things that I think are important for the city going forward. It kind of dovetails really well in a lot of things that have been said here this morning.

I might pop around a little bit just in the interest of time, but I started by saying, "I believe that the separation between good and great in both business and basketball rests with an organizational culture and identity. The collective must pound away at the principles of their organizational identity and culture every day. These principles should flow through every level of the operation. They should be the threads that pull the group together in times of success and struggle.

"Culture and identity cannot be created from one grand slam solution or sole defining event. They do not take hold through the written word or hollow vocal references. An organization with an opportunity to win is an organization that possesses an appreciation for the unspectacular and the incremental. They seek incumbent the individual that gleans reward and validation from their daily grind and not from the end result.

"A winning culture is a culture of discipline. It's a culture of self-awareness and understanding of how individuals, no matter at what level, can affect the greater good. This is true both on the court and in the office.

"Building an organization in this fashion requires foresight and discipline. The entire organization must have a deep and intimate understanding of the team's timeline and financial position. In the world of the salary cap, each move must set up the next, and the team's ability to minimize risks and identify value is pivotal. A team has to do their job to project and forecast where their organization will be when the next threshold comes about. This takes intellectual integrity. It takes honest self-assessment and acceptance that the plan the never go perfectly.

"One makes the best decisions they can with the information they have, and they adjust if need be. After that, it's about identity and culture. It's about following your plan and never shortcutting your plan on account of impatience or adversity, being tough, stay the course, and never cheat your organization or yourself by violating your ethics."

So this was, as I said, for -- I was 29 and didn't really have the opportunity to put any of this to work. But as I was reading this, I had a section -- I will say one thing. I will a little section on this. I heard that Clay Bennett really liked OU football. Because I had never been, I did a little research; how can I connect myself to OU football. So I was like, oh, this guy Bob Stoops was young when he got hired. So I kind of looked at me, oh, you guys hired a young person before. I look at Switzer, and I was like, I don't have anything in common with Barry Switzer. I couldn't try anything there.

And the other interesting thing about this booklet I just wanted to mention is on the book of it, this is the actual booklet, I wrote down a bunch of names of people -- you can actually see them here, that I might hire if I actually got this job, and believe it or not, there's a lot of people sitting in this room that are actually in this here, and this is over 10 years old. It's remarkable. That's why I was getting a little emotional to start with.

The piece that really hit me here was this idea of, I say, "The plan doesn't go perfect, and you make the best decisions you can, and then you adapt if necessary." And that probably is the piece that stuck out to me the most that I was blind to, which is the whole world is about adaptation. It's not adapt if necessary, it's adapt because you have to.

The world is always changing. The plan never goes the way it's supposed to go, and you have to be able to adapt. If you think about the world of 2007, Twitter had literally just been released. It was completely brand new, and you were really in vogue if you had it. And now it's getting to the point where you might be in vogue if you don't have it, because it becomes just -- it's such a common thing. Facebook was basically used for birthday parties and sharing news and staying in touch with relatives and cutting down on your landline bill, and now it's used for all kinds of things, sometimes not for the best reasons, and we're confronting those challenges.

And in taking stock of the changes in society and everything that's happened since I wrote this epistle, I wanted to share a key concept that we as an organization are really focused on, and try to tie this together in terms of entrepreneurism, and that concept is improvisation.

It's become an organizational fundamental for us, and the reason why we're so focused on this is simply because of technology. Technology has sped our lives up and shortened our attention spans. It's shrunk the time we have to adapt, recover and reconvene, and we still have the expectation to perform as accurately and efficiently as always, but we have to do it with about 50 percent less time, and this is everyone. This is not just people that work in a silly sport like basketball.

Things are only going to get faster, and most likely they're going to become automated. That's a whole 'nother speech for the next person that's standing here 10 years from now.

But this is the reason why developing leaders and having really clearly defined values becomes so important, because you do need to improvise, and you don't have the time to reconvene every time something gets disrupted.

So there's a lot of assumptions about improvisation, mostly that it's random or off the hip or ad hoc or made up as it goes along, when in reality, the environment that we have right now has made improvisation an art form, a true art form, because it's the ability to respond in real time by utilizing a set of values or fundamentals that are deeply engrained. It's anything but shooting from the hip. It's actually having the commitment to those values to such a degree that when you see an issue arise, you can respond immediately, without having to go into a boardroom for two hours and figure out what's next because the rest of the world is flying by you as you're doing that.

So it saves time, but it also creates time, and the more people you have in an organization that can improvise, the more time people in upper management can spend time thinking and asking questions, which is an area that I think all of us wish we had more time to do.

So there's also a ton of issues that come with improvisation. One, if you have a collection of people just ad hoc solving problems on their own without any set of core values, you just become a collection of people but not an organization, and you can really dilute the value system that you have because there's not a common thread that's running through all this problem solving.

When I speak about this topic, I always find the best way to clarify it and to show that it's not -- improvisation is not some sporadic reaction is to use music. I'm a big music fan. John Coltrain wrote -- excuse me, performed "My Favorite Things" in 1961, okay. Ironically, this is the time that -- anyone remember the Jetsons? George Jetson. That was about the same time the Jetsons was created, and we're much, much closer to living in the world of the Jetsons than we are living in the world of the Flintstones, which was created around the same time, as well.

So Coltrain does this version of "My Favorite Things". Now, the actual song was written by Rodgers and Hammerstein in 1959. Coltrain's interpretation of the song is masterful. I had a drum teacher that used to bash all the music I was listening to in high school and he used to shove all this stuff and say, you have to listen to this, you have to listen to this, and when I listened to it for the first time, I understood what he was saying. It was pure art.

But in terms of improvisation, every time Coltrain would play this song, it was in the same key as the other musicians. It was at the same tempo as the other musicians. And the beginning of the song and the end of the song were exactly the same as Hammerstein and Rodgers had written. But in between was his opportunity to improvise. But he wasn't up there ad hocking. He was just transmitting all of his practice. He was working off a confined space of the notes that were available to him in all the times that he had actually strung all these things together.

So it wasn't random. He was actually innovating, but he was staying true to the values of the notes that were written for him to work off of.

So how does this apply to the future of this city? I think about Mick, I think about Ron Norick and Governor Keating and all the people -- the architects of the Renaissance. So how do you honor those people? You have to stay true to form, just like Coltrain did to Hammerstein and Rodgers. What that looks like for us, to me, is never losing the human touch of Oklahoma City.

And that brings me to the standard. Mike talked about it briefly. I do think -- and Mick talked about the youth, and everyone here I think understands that the future of the city is really wrapped up in the youth of the city.

We have to equip the youth of our city and the state with the values of the standard. First time I came in contact with that was when I went to the memorial for the first time, and in fact, we were literally just at the memorial two days ago with a lot of the new players and staff members. If you see Nerlens Noel out there -- Nerlens Noel was captivated by this museum. He asked questions. He was so interested. He grew up a few towns over from me in Boston, Everett, Massachusetts, and I know where he's from, and there's nothing like this where he is now. But he was as interested in this history as he was in the history of the city he grew up in.

So keep that in mind the next time he misses two free throws. (Laughter).

The 20th anniversary of the bombing, we created this Oklahoma standard award, and it was to recognize a young person in the state that was inspired to create acts of kindness, honor and service, and we have some plans to boost this up a little bit further for the 25th anniversary coming up. There will be some news about that come out later.

But as Coltrain modernized "My Favorite Things", he didn't change it, right? He didn't change it, but he modernized it. As leaders, we have to empower the future leaders of our city and our state to never lose touch with these values but to express it in their own way. They have to think fast, but they have to problem solve from the roots of the city.

I think there are three things that we can do, especially people in this room, to help preserve the essence of the city but still keep it moving forward. Number one, recruit young people to Oklahoma City, okay. The other thing is recruit the young people that are here to stay here and to contribute in all areas and aspects. Be intentional with those young people about what the standard means to you, how it's affected you and your history, but don't judge them based on how they interpret it themselves. Meet them where they are. Inform them, express to them the importance of it, but release them to kind of take the baton from us.

As long as they're improvising from the human touch that has made the city what it is.

The goal ultimately if we think of our city is preservation through improvisation, and I would just kind of end my comments on this by saying, encourage the young people of Oklahoma City to channel their inner Coltrain, but remind them they're playing in the key of OKC.

I just want to, again, thank everybody for recognizing the contributions that the team has made to the city and also allowing me to uncover this relic that I found in my office, which was really something to go through.

And the other thing I want to thank everybody for is the opportunity for us as a team to recognize the architects of the Renaissance, making everybody else that made a difference in allowing the team to come here. We're so very blessed to be a part of what a great platform has been created, and we're going to try to do everything we can to try to carry the torch and create great memories for everybody that comes in contact with the Thunder.

Thank you.

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