Sunday, January 18, 2015

Business Strategy: The Contrarian Offense

"If you want results others don't get, you need to be willing to do things others won't do."

The most consistent, profitable, and FUN companies in the world don't exactly follow the blueprint that the vast majority follow. With all due respect to Peter Drucker (Management: Tasks, Responsibilities and Principles) and MBA Business 101, the most admired organizations march to a different drummer. They innovate simply by finding incredible ways to delight (not satisfy) their internal and ultimately their external customers. These companies are also a bear to compete with. There is absolutely nothing scarier than an entire organization of people who behave like the owner. Just take a look at how the best companies take care of their internal customers, who in turn hardly ever fail to delight the external, bill paying customers!

There are many examples of football programs across the country that have been very successful by running "contrarian offenses". Simply put, they run an offense that is extremely different from what everyone else runs. Most teams at most levels like to use multiple formations, spread the field and pass much more often than they run. Football thinking (like business thinking) has gotten more and more complicated, and in many cases overly complex and confusing.

The single wing offense was conceived by Pop Warner in about 1907. Simply put, the ball can be snapped to any of 3 backs, everyone on the field must know how to block, and the ball is hardly ever passed. After a few decades, it was seen as overly simple and out-dated and lost popularity as the T-formation, the wishbone and the passing game took over. 

Fast forward to today. Every year, almost every state crowns high school champions who got it....the Single Wing.  Many of these programs have won multiple championships. Also, teams that adopt it often experience very rapid turnarounds. If you are interested, here is just one example:

Here are a few observations of why this might be the case:
1). How do you prepare for them? If my team runs the same offense everyone else runs, my defense probably has a good idea about how to stop them. My scout team is used to prepare my defense for the upcoming opponent by simulating the upcoming team's offense in practice. They probably do it fairly well because it isn't that far from their own offense. Now you are faced with playing a single wing team next do you simulate the precision and speed? (Same problem if you are playing a team that runs a wishbone). 
2). Teams that run contrarian offenses KNOW who they are and what they are truly great at. Instead of running 200 plays marginally, they run 10-15 plays PERFECTLY. They don't out-trick you, they simply don't sabotage their own progress by over complicating things. If I only run 18 plays, there is less potential for defects (illegal motion, delay of game, 6 men on the line of scrimmage, interceptions, etc. etc.). They know who they are and they go about the business of doing what they do with the confidence that comes with good preparation. 
3). Teams that decide to run the single wing are usually teams devoid of "stars". Nobody is any more important than anyone else. Everyone on the field will be asked to block on any given play, and the team depends on every single player on every single play to do their assignment (which they have done over and over and over in practice....remember there aren't too many plays).

The two pillars of the Toyota Production System are simple in principle, like the single wing. Continuous continuous improvement and respect for people need to be practiced by everyone every day to do it well. Companies I work for did thousands of improvements (kaizen) last year, using A3 thinking (via self-directed work teams) to continuously improve every aspect of their business, to the delight of their customers. Managers worked hard to demonstrate respect for people by being coaches, not bosses, and by asking not telling. This is the true spirit and intent of TPS, not periodic (when we have time) kaizen "events" and leaders who command and control. This is, in fact, a contrarian offense and a strategic weapon. It is very difficult to compete with a company that has no silos!

If you want results others don't get, you need to be willing to do things others won't do!

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