The Risky Shot

Posted by Steve C on March 29, 2010 under The Blog | Be the First to Comment

It is March as I write this and the NCAA basketball tournament is now down to its “Final Four” teams. Every year there are remarkable stories and this year is no different, especially with all the upsets. This year there was actually a special shot that caught my attention, and generated a host of controversy. It occurred in the final minute of Northern Iowa’s upset of number one seeded Kansas.

Northern Iowa led by one point and in-bounded the ball. There was a little over 30 seconds left in the game. Conventional wisdom ordered Northern Iowa to keep the ball moving, burn a bunch of time off the clock, and force Kansas to foul them. Control the ball and the clock. That was the best strategy to win.

So what happened. Northern Iowa’s Ali Farokhmanesh got the ball on his side of the court and immediately took a daring shot from three-point range. Ali had a pretty hot hand all day and apparently decided why not. If he made it, the points would virtually ice the game. If he missed, it would not be a pretty picture. None of his team mates were under the basket to rebound the ball, meaning Kansas would get the ball and be in a great position to hit take the last shot to win the game. Fortunately Ali made the shot, and the Northern Iowa David slew the Kansas Goliath.

So here is what created the stir about this shot. Was he an idiot for not following conventional basketball strategy, or was he a genius for taking an open shot that he had great confidence he could make. Had he missed, the stories about Ali would have no doubt contained the word goat much more than hero.

let’s move beyond the basketball court and into the workplace. One of the key challenges for businesses today is Innovation, and innovation requires risk-taking. Conventional Wisdom argues for following well established procedures and staying safe. But success and staying safe are not always convenient bedfellows in today’s world. So leaders, are you grooming people who are confident enough to put their reputations on the line to win? Are you giving people the leeway to make some risky decisions, when they have proven capable to do so? Do you want people with the guts to “take the risky shot” of innovation? Are you strong enough to take the hit, if they miss?

I’ll let you decide if Ali was right or wrong. But remember this. You will not always be successful when aiming for innovation. Your people will miss and disappointment (and unfortunately second guessing, criticizing and blaming) will occur. Yet, there will be times when you do hit the jackpot after deliberately making a controversial, risky decision, assuming you have people willing to step up and make the attempt in the first place.

You must always do your homework and never fly off half-cocked, but sometimes you have to simply go for it, in order to end up on top. Good luck and hopefully you will hit more than you miss.


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