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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Fast Five: Setting Standards

"What is unacceptable in defeat is unacceptable in victory." - Don Meyer


In James Kerr's Legacy, he describes the ethos and culture of the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team. One of their standards, borrowed from another club is "No Dickheads". They do not tolerate low character teammates. They borrow the V - formation of birds who work together for aerodynamic efficiency but signifies the life-giving power of the spearhead. Individual accountability reigns central to "better people make better All Blacks."  

Dynasties have accountability as a primary value. Accountability means to hold yourself to a high standard. Bill Walsh had his "Standards of Excellence" with the 49ers. Phil Jackson taught tribal priorities with team achievement valued over individual excellence. He advocated a "one breath, one mind" approach. Nick Saban has his famous "Process". The New England Patriots have "do your job". 

Another element of standard setting is continuous improvement, the Kaizen of Japan. Continuous improvement demands tracking relevant metrics. At one extreme you have Anson Dorrance's 'competitive matrix' that he developed inspired by Dean Smith. At the other, new Marlins co-owner Derek Jeter is not an analytics adherent but strongly believed in sports psychology...I met his sports psychologist at a trading conference. 

Improvement comes via detail and compounding small gains. Darren Hardy's The Compound Effect is the classic reference for incremental gains. But compounding increasingly enters professional sports. Most NBA teams have analytics programs seeking an edge. The Patriots bought a pair of Boeing 767s to improve players' rest returning from road games. The Red Sox installed a sleeping room to allow players more rest. McLaren's F1 "marginal gains" program is designed to save 'tenths' of a second. They micromanage assets of fuel and aerodynamic efficiency. British cycling leveraged gains in strategy, cyclist performance, and incrementalism into multiple Team Sky Olympic golds

Sir Dave Brailsford commented, "We had three pillars to our approach, which we called “the podium principles.” The first one was strategy. The second was human performance; we weren’t even thinking of cycling, but more about behavioral psychology and how to create an environment for optimum performance. The third principle was continuous improvement."

Teams are even leveraging real-time technology. Fluto Shinzawa describes how the Pittsburgh Penguins use iBench, real-time video to score more power play goals. They can show players how opponents are defending using video during TV timeouts. The Penguins scored on over 20 percent of their power plays, which they believe reflects real-time adjustments. 

But in our programs, can we convert concepts into durable gains? What areas lend themselves to macro and micro gains? Some obvious choices are field goal and free throw percentage, turnovers, and rebounding efficiency. Dean Smith described scoring scrimmages according to shot selection (e.g. layups and open shots counted more, and poor quality shots and turnovers scored negatively). When we have tracked individual and team shooting percentage and turnovers, we have seen improvements. 

But Brailsford's critical message is aspirational. "Perhaps the most powerful benefit is that it creates a contagious enthusiasm. Everyone starts looking for ways to improve." 

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