I am on record as saying that I’m not a fan of sports metaphors being used in business. I really have no rational explanation for not liking them. Even though I’d rather not see them, I still use them in conversation when I’m trying to teach or make a point. The simplest reason is that sports are so popular that they can create a common starting point to connect from. I see the same upside in using other popular culture aspects like music, TV and movies. They create a framework that people can relate to. As a way of sharing some of what I find, I’m going to add some pieces here that I’m calling Pop Culture Lean. The danger here is that I’m going to stretch too far and point out to something that doesn’t really relate, but hopefully I can share some things that may be off the beaten Lean path and draw some insights in different areas.
The first example I’m going to use on this topic is a fantastic article by Chuck Klosterman on the Triangle offense in the NBA. Anybody who has even marginally paid attention to the NBA over the last 20 years has heard of the offense. As Mr. Klosterman points out, 11 of the last 20 NBA champion teams ran the offense. Outside of referring to man to man or zone defense, it’s probably the only ‘strategy’ that a casual fan would know by name. If this happened in football, 8 other pro teams and a couple dozen college teams would already be running the offense. But for this strategy, nobody in the NBA or major college basketball is on the bandwagon.
Why isn’t this proven strategy much more widely implemented? I think part of the answer lies in Phil Jackson’s thoughts in the article. Success depends on a dedication to teaching “very, very basic fundamentals”. It requires individuals to function within the flow of the system as opposed to the standard of seeking individual glory. It is also a system that outsiders ignore because they may not like the person giving the message. It all sounds way too familiar to me. I almost feel like I could strip the basketball statistics out and use the ‘Find and Replace’ function a few times in Word and make a story asking why so few companies truly practice Lean as well as Toyota and TPS have shown it to work.
I don’t really think that the answers are exactly the same for the lack of widespread adoption of the two different systems. But I do think there is enough of a parallel there to give me more than a short pause. I also think that there is enough common ground in that article that I have already printed off a couple copies to hand out. Maybe it won’t help, but I have to be willing to try to look in different areas to find new ways to communicate. I can’t keep the Triangle offense alive, but I can try to keep the Lean journey alive.