Wednesday, May 31, 2006

They zigged when everyone else zagged

In his article on the writing of In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters reveals that the defining idea of the book came from the 1970s-era Oakland Raiders.

Here's a confession that will only mean something to the Oakland Raiders football fans of the late 1970s: I owe it all to Mark van Eeghen. (And if you weren't an Oakland Raiders fan and you never saw Mark van Eeghen play football, all I can say is, that's your tough luck.)

Mark van Eeghen was a big, strong, in-your-face, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust running back for the Raiders. We were about to run around 10,000 copies of our report, and we needed a picture for the cover. We had originally taken a picture right out of Sports Illustrated, but at the last minute, we decided that we couldn't steal from SI at that level. So we went across the bay to the Raiders' office and looked through their archive, and we found the perfect image: a photo featuring Mark van Eeghen.

It was perfect in a lot of ways. The photo said three yards and a cloud of dust, and our book said the same thing: Love thy people. Love thy customers. Keep it simple. Lean staff, simple organization. Get the bureaucrats out of the bloody way. Pay attention to the "real" people with dirty fingernails. That was the Oakland Raiders. They were the guys flying the Jolly Roger
What is interesting is that while the rest of the world got on the ISOE bandwagon in the 1980s and 1990s, the NFL went the other way. Instead of sticking to their knitting, teams became more and more focussed on elaborate, complex game plans and playbooks. They devoted more and more effort to detailed analysis. Coaches and coordinators became remote, cerebral strategists when CEOs were trying to become better leaders who managed by walking around.

I have no idea what this means. But it is interesting.

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