(adapted from John Buchanan, If Better is Possible)
How Many Times have you been confronted with a problem or a task that seems impossible to solve … until someone else comes along and solves it quickly because they view it from a different perspective?
I am a great admirer of the educator and author Edward de Bono and how he challenges our conventional thinking, or at least the way we learn or are taught to think. Through such techniques as provocation, creative thinking and concept research and development – dealing in possibilities, searching for alternatives, and questioning existing ideas and paradigms – de Bono clearly demonstrates untapped human potential.
Recently I attended a workshop with Bill Jarrard www.mindwerx.com discussing “Making Innovation Happen”. For innovation to occur, there needs to be an environment first, that stimulates creativity and creative thinking. Such an environment sporns ideas; ideas can then be developed; and development will lead to some innovative outcomes.
The key role of Leaders is to facilitate the ‘creative environment’ in the first instance. To do so, requires the Leader to move away from many current paradigms of thinking in management and leadership.
So it can be in any field of endeavour. There are many examples of potential being reached through different ways of thinking in sport, but one that stands out for me is from the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis. In short, a baseball team called the Oakland A’s was finding it difficult to compete with some other major league teams, such as the New York Yankees, due to the amount of money they could spend on contracting players at draft time. The Yankees, which had at least three times the buying ability, could effectively buy the best of the draft while the A’s had to be content with lower end draftees. In essence this meant that the A’s could never compete with any consistency during the season as the depth of quality on its playing list was substantially less than other teams.
The A’s manager, Billy Bean, believed there had to be another way to look at the problem. So he went back to basics and asked himself: what wins a baseball game? Answer: scoring more runs than the opposition. Next question: how do you score runs? Answer: by getting players on base.
Bean used this information and looked at the statistics and, to a lesser extent, the scouting reports on all draftees, college and high school baseball players. What he found was that those players most effective at getting on base were not, in fact, the top end draft picks. Many of these players were less fashionable, less likely to enthuse the talent scouts, and therefore resided in the mid-to-lower sections of the draft.
But Bean directed his attention to these players and within a couple of years the A’s were playing the Yankees for the right to go to the World Series. Since that time the A’s have been consistent performers in terms of making the end-of-season play offs.
I have always felt the same way about cricket. Cricket is a statistician’s utopia, with numbers and records for everything imaginable. However, many of these numbers date back to when the game began. For example, we still look at the number of 50s or 100s players make, the number of five wickets per innings or ten wickets per match, the averages of bowlers and batters, the number of catches fielders make and so on. While these numbers are factual and are a linking thread through history, are they the best numbers to be used to gain a measure on how individuals and teams perform over time?
For instance, why should 50 runs today be considered the same as 50 made in the early 1900s when there were uncovered wickets, different outfields, less protective equipment used, less sophisticated bats available, and less athletic players? Indeed, why should a 50 scored by Glenn McGrath be considered the same as 50 scored by Ricky Ponting?
If we are to better understand performance, we need to be more like Billy Bean and look at the numbers behind the numbers. In business, these numbers are often called key performance indicators (KPIs) and can refer to teams as well as individuals.
David Parkin, who was coach of Carlton’s 1995 AFL premier¬ship team, sought out one of these KPIs and called it ‘sacrificial acts’. These were actions taken by players during a game that were done to help the team, but not represented on the normal game statistics sheet. He honed this measure to a point where he could show that if the team exceeded a certain number for the match they were never beaten. This measure is now widely used in AFL statistical analysis.
Cricket and sport these days mine a vast array of numbers. I believe in finding the ‘keys to producing performance’ which generally reside within the process of getting the result, not the result itself.
Milton Glaser, world renowned graphic designer for over 40 years spoke on how to be Creative. Paraphrased he said “…. the act itself is the path to discovery….most significant works come out of misunderstanding….the path by which you arrive at understanding is the whole point of the game, not the arrival……..”
You can view more on this short youtube clip – HERE
AS coach I constantly sought ways to better understand “what wins a cricket game”, just the same as Parkin, Billy Bean and Glaser, in his world of design.
I believed that overall team and individual performances were linked to such new KPIs as:
- scoring shot percentage – the number of scoring shots made by a batter compared with the number of balls faced
- dot ball percentage – the number of dot balls bowled by a bowler compared with the number of balls bowled
- percentage of consecutive overs of three runs and under (for test cricket), five and under (for ODI cricket) – the number of three and under, and five and under, overs bowled consecutively compared with total overs bowled
- understanding how the KPIs above are affected by phases of play (e.g. Power Plays in ODI), or by playing at home or away, or by batting first or second, or by playing day or day–night games
- better measurement of our fielding through a summation of fielding error numbers, fielding effort numbers, throwing accuracy and catches (catches are sorted by three levels of difficulty: easy, difficult, rare).
Trends across certain KPIs should emerge that directly correlate to wins and losses by the Australian Cricket Team.
The consequences of these correlations will directly impact on training, coaching techniques and, ultimately, the way the game is played. This is not to say that the numbers will supersede experience, intuition and knowledge – the numbers should be a complementary tool in the development of players and teams.
But hopefully they will challenge the status quo!
It is essential that the thinking that drives current paradigms is challenged. As Edward de Bono and John Lyons wrote in their book, Marketing Without Money: How 20 top Australian entrepreneurs crack markets with their minds, there are a number ways this can be achieved:
- Always look for alternatives – is there another way, a better way? Challenge existing ideas and develop concepts first.
- Focus your thinking – be very clear what the aim, goal and purpose is.
- Be creative – use techniques such as random entry (selecting ideas at random), concept fans (development of ideas by exploring layer after layer) and provocation (interruption of current pattern by means of word, action, statement), to assist the search for alternatives.
- Finally, the reality check – this includes harvesting all the thinking, ideas and concepts, then reviewing them for what can or cannot work.
Obviously this process is ongoing. However, if an organisation embraces the process as part of its culture, then it can be more proactive to environmental change. It can understand the type of people who are important for the organisation to meet its vision. It can change the game, or at least, have significant competitive advantage over its opposition.
The capacity for any team to look at the same problem from different perspectives gives it a range of options and a range of possibilities – all necessary for any team to give itself the best chance of continued success.
1. Challenge conventional thinking.
2. Define your KPIs – the ones that really make a difference.
3. Compile and use statistics that help measure your KPIs.