Friday, December 6, 2013

Resilient Organizations

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”    -Robert A. Heinlein

Rosabeth Moss Kanter once wrote an essay comparing, era-by-era, the characteristics of America's favorite sport with the business practices of the time.

Baseball dominated the scene for the first half of the last century.  Baseball is sequential, one actor at a time and managed top-down.
  1. A pitcher...who does virtually nothing else...throws the ball
  2. Then a different person either decides to do nothing or to swing at the ball
  3. Then, 75% of the time, a third person catches the ball.
  4. Then a coach in the dug out makes a series of arcane motions, some of which are repeated by a base coach, some of which are repeated by the catcher.  The pitcher scratches some body parts and the communication reverses.
  5. Five minutes later, the pitcher throws another pitch.
  6. If the batter actually hits the ball, the game hits a high-water mark of thrills because two people (maybe even more!) will be doing something.
This was a fair description of the American business model.  It was an outgrowth of how George Washington ran  his plantation.  He called all the shots.  Things happened slowly enough that the model worked.

After WWII, football burst onto the scene.
  1. Make a plan
  2. Execute the plan
  3. Evaluate results
  4. Make a plan
  5. Execute the plan
  6. Evaluate results
  7. Make a plan
  8. Execute the plan.
  9. Evaluate results
  10. Change out players
  11. Punt
  12. Change out players again. 
That is how we won The Big War.  The running game looked like North Africa and Europe.  The passing game looked like the South Pacific.   That is how businesses, conglomerates, were run.

Something interesting happened in the late 1970s, Basketball and Hockey gained prominence.

The speed of play increased.  There are no huddles.  There was no five minutes of anatomy scratching.

There were no plays.  Rather, there was the seamless and fluid recognition and exploitation of opportunities.

The demands on the players was relentless.  Every player had to be able to shoot, and rebound and dribble and pass.  And to think.

What other game could have a guard (Magic Johnson...a rookie) step in and fill the shoes of the center (Kareem Abdul Jabbar) in a championship game? 

An Example

In the 2000 NCAA Basketball championship game, Michigan State University was cruising toward a victory when Mateen Cleaves....widely considered to be the heart and soul of this team.... was chopped down by an opposing player.  It appeared that he may have broken a bone in his lower leg.

Most fans expected the Spartans to collapse and for Florida, which trailed by 6 points, to get back into the game.

The injury occurred at about 3:50 in this video link.

But MSU did not fold.  They increased their lead while Mateen was out.  The sail bellied, adjusted and stiffened under the load.  Then, MSU brought Mateen back into the game, even though that essentially meant they were playing 4 vs. 5.

And they still found a way to succeed.

That is what Resilient Organizations do.


  1. The excitement in reading increased as the intensity of the sport increased. Thank you. Also, I figured out how to leave a comment. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Hello Elizabeth:

    Thank-you for reading and thank-you for commenting.

    We live in exciting times.


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