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Managing Innovation in Sports

Posted By Craig Vogel, Monday, March 10, 2014
by Craig Vogel
Director of the Center of Design, Research and Innovation at the University of Cincinnati 

I have always been interested in successful managers/leaders and have extended my interest in general to design and business.  I am always looking for new ways to inspire, integrate and support interdisciplinary/cross functional innovation.

After the kick off return at the start of the second half it became clear that Pete Carroll would be declared the winner and Peyton Manning the loser of this year’s Super Bowl.  Everything went right for Seattle and the opposite was true for Denver.  Carroll is not an overnight success, but he did achieve a rare moment in management–the perfect game.  Pete Carroll, Phil Jackson, Bill Walsh are examples of sports coaches who have brought a multi-faceted approach to managing a diverse group of people with varying talents, personalities and functional capability.

Pete Carroll started with a philosophy that connected to an approach to picking players, then integrating the players into a system that balanced team goals and individual personality attributes that worked to play opponents both at home and on the road. The bonus for the Seahawks is their stadium design and the fan noise referred to as the “12 man”, it does not hurt to have intangibles compliment good planning.
Pete Carroll did not beat Peyton Manning.  The Carroll management system beat the John Fox system.  It has taken Carroll several decades to perfect a way to organize and inspire a group of professionals to play together at a very high level.  The game was a perfect example of Mihaly Csikszentmihaly’s theory of Flow where ability met challenge at just the right balance.

Here is what he did:
  • Communicate a clear down-on-the deck philosophy about winning.
  • Coach with a positive pro-active style that brings joy to practice and playing.
  • Balance overall team integration with the unique capabilities of each player.
  • Find the right blend of players and staff.
  • Make the game more than salary and stats.
  • Create clear, simple game plans trusting reaction over complex formations.
  • Combine the idea of professionalism with childlike enthusiasm.

Leading by example, Carroll has one of the youngest minds, developed at USC, while he is also one of the oldest coaches in pro-football. This approach is very similar to the approach used by Phil Jackson when he coached the Lakers and the Bulls to 11 championships and won 2 as a player with the Knicks.
Bill Walsh had a similar approach.  The Duke coach Mike Krzysewski, John Wooden and others inspire my thinking about coaching /managing teams.  I have respect for people in roles of responsibility who can inspire people to do things as individuals or in teams that transcend their own expectations.   Pete Carroll is one of those leaders who can manage with a positive, intelligent approach that is uplifting and not punitive.  If he can keep his approach working for 3-5 more years he will be one of the few leaders able to sustain successful management approaches over time.

I have had the opportunity to manage and observe over 100 teams and I know how hard it is to have highly functional diverse teams perform at a high level.  I have learned how to manage successful teams and I have been fortunate to been able to manage/coach a few teams that have reached that perfect Flow state.  Managing designers is comparable to sports teams.  It requires finding the right mix of team and individual support with a clear goal and method to teamwork. The best teams and managers use humor, are not defensive and look for feedback.  The result is an atmosphere inspiring individuals to share their ability with others in a non-competitive environment and push themselves to respond to consumer opportunity and stakeholder demands.

Tags:  innovation  leadership  management 

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