Monday, September 16, 2013
I watched Johnny Manziel dance around and over the Alabama defense on Saturday. He turned in a brilliant performance but lost to a Nick Saban defense that was invariably drilled to stop him. Alabama is the best team in the country by many measures and the secret to Saban's "process" has been widely celebrated and lauded as the reason why. The offense and defense are machined to a finer detail than a luxury supercar and run more precisely than a Rolex. Saban plans for every possible outcome in a game and is seemingly never caught off guard.
I promise I'm not an Alabama fan, but it is interesting how Manziel was able to defeat Alabama once and come within 15 seconds of another upset. His playing style is chaotic, improvisational. It leads to situations that cause a well-proven and rehearsed process to break down. His two signature plays in the past two years have been broken, lucky, crazy, dumb, stupid, and any other adjective-you-can-use-to-describe-it impossibilities. His play has been described as grown-up playground football. And isn't that the story of life? Chaos almost always defeats a process. No plan can stand the test of real world application. And that got me to thinking...
I work with kids. I spend an hour here and an hour there subbing in at recess, teaching lessons, babysitting, whatever. Most of the time, it's pure chaos. Just maddening craziness. But it's the most amazing thing in the world. Why? Because those children are making something out of nothing. They are using their intrinsic talent to create a structure. And maybe it doesn't make sense to us, but it makes total sense to them. Why can't we do that? I'm on record as saying uncertainty is the solution to solving problems. It lends us intuitive innovation and a perspective we would not normally have thought of in our own worlds. It's an adult's wake-up call but a child's playplace. But what if a child's uncertainty is our chaos? What if we flipped chaos on our heads and used it to innovate?
I think the best illustration of this point is how Pete Carroll coaches defense. His number one belief is that "it's all about the ball." He instructs his players on defense to play for turnovers, that is, force the other team's offense into making mistakes. Create chaos, as it were. His players are expected to play smart and with great enthusiasm, effort, and toughness. There is not an onus on assignments per se. Make a play, get the ball, and give the offense a chance to score. This wins games. This is not to say there isn't a process. Coach Carroll's fundamental pillar of coaching is practice. His players practice until there is a focus honed in confidence and trust which leads to victory.
So what am I trying to advocate here? For one, I am certainly not advocating you skimp on preparation and let chaos carry you to victory. Johnny Football ultimately lost to the process. We all will at some point. But if you are faced with a seemingly insurmountable task and have exhausted all of your process options, think about including chaos. Think about blowing a hole in the process and taking a new direction. Think about using that intuitive, intrinsic motivation we all have latent inside of us since childhood and turning the problem upside-down and inside out. Humans do not accomplish anything productive with a lack of structure and rarely do better when adhered to a rigid one. If used correctly, chaos makes us unstoppable. Haven't you seen children at recess?