Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Wisdom Of Thinking Differently

I came across this article about Kevin Kelley, the head coach of Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas.  

Since I am not a football fanatic I was not aware that Pulaski Academy is a small school of 350 students with an outstanding record in football.  But, they have an outstanding record and the coach is well respected in his field; as well respected as he is unorthodox in his coaching.

As the article states,
"Kelley has become a cult figure among both football coaches and the sports analytics community for his disregard -- contempt even -- for traditional football wisdom."
He forbids his teams from punting on 4th down and that is just the beginning!  The article continues with,
The funny thing about Kelley: He's not a mad scientist or an iconoclast, zigging where everyone else is zagging, for the hell of it. Rather, he's a relentlessly rational sort whose methods have backing in data.
The decision not to punt? According to Kelley's statistics, when a team punts from near its end zone, the opponent will take possession inside the 40-yard line and will then score a touchdown 77 percent of the time. If it recovers on downs inside the 10, it will score a touchdown 92 percent of the time. "So [forsaking] a punt, you give your offense a chance to stay on the field," he said. "And if you miss, the odds of the other team scoring only increase 15 percent. It's like someone said, '[Punting] is what you do on fourth down,' and everyone did it without asking why."
Yes, it surprises people that "thinking outside of the box" or drawing different conclusions can be very logical and rational.  If you think about it following the norm, or conventional wisdom, will achieve nothing more than mediocrity.  

Of course in business, there are benefits in mediocrity, or conventional wisdom, if you are a huge established company; you will not gain much but you won't lose anything either.  But the idea that unconventional ideas or 'thinking outside the box' is risky or only to be attempted as a last resort is wrong also.  

Sometimes the most unconventional, the most unorthodox ideas are actually the most rational and the most conservative. We spend an immense amount of time and effort trying to figure out what our competitors are doing without really grasping the logic of why we do what we do.

I have made enough presentations in my life, and offered proposals or solutions to problems that were met with, "That's Crazy!"  Then I would sit and take it step by step, documenting and proving the logic, and slowly but surely you would convince people, a step at a time, that what they initially thought was "crazy" was actually the most logical course of action.

Sometimes rules are just nothing more than outdated traditions that no one ever  bothered to question.


The Business Physician said...

I like and relate to this sentiment entirely. Perhaps it is even ironic that it was "thinking out of the box" that got me invited - with family - to transfer to the US from the UK some 30+ years ago now.

I was first invited to participate in an upstate NY meeting with other execs and the VC's of our US parent company in a joint session to discuss how to grow the business and make it sale-able or IPO-able. I made a suggestion and had everyone literally rolling in the aisles with laughter saying "You Brit's have such outlandish ideas" but 18 months later they asked me to come to the US to create from idea to reality.

But, of course, that was not the first time I'd suggested something not previously tried or proven: It's what makes life interesting. We have to always challenge conventional thinking and ask if there is not a better or alternate way of looking at things and handling things ~ in short, we need to keep on innovating; how else can we possibly stay ahead of the game and our competition?

Carl said...

If truth be known, I am quite risk adverse. But I realize that a vast majority of people confuse unorthodox suggestions or solutions with risk.

Like the old saying goes, "If you find yourself in a deep hole then quit digging..."

Conventional wisdom would be to dig harder while the unconventional is to stop.

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