How can you make sure that Common Practices are always Best Practices?

You’ve developed common practices you take for granted. B ut, when was the last time you examined whether those “good practices” still represent “best practices”?


Do you punt on fourth down because you always do?

Several years ago when my father was in his final days, his bonhomie in full bloom, I sat in the room while the doctors administered a few basic tests to assess his cognition.

“What country do you live in,” they asked and Dad answered correctly.

“What city do you live in,” they asked. Dad answered “Grand Rapids,” correct again.

“What state do you live in,” they continued. Dad, ever alert, laughed and responded …


I think my father would agree that the “state of discombobulation” is still a pretty good word choice today.

So, how do we shake things up?

Maybe it’s also a good time for some fresh thinking … to banish the state of discombobulation … shake things up, tip them upside down, innovate.

[pullquote]“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I … I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” ~ Robert Frost[/pullquote]

In other words, take a few calculated risks to see if we can generate some new ideas.

I read recently about Kevin Kelly, a high school football coach in Arkansas, who has developed a few football rules that most of us would find ludicrous, to wit:

  • His team hasn’t punted since 2007, when it did so as a sportsmanlike gesture in a very one-sided game.
  • They don’t kick field goals.
  • They don’t run back punts. They don’t even try to catch them.
  • They love onside kicks.

There’s more, but you get the gist.

Much of the basis of his game plan originated with a documentary he saw, supported by the work of David Romer, a Cal economist who published a study conducted covering three NFL seasons.

Mr. Romer’s academic interest emanated from his curiosity about how firms react to competition and whether they truly act to maximize their chances for profitability.

He thought football offered an empirical way to test strategic decision-making, since there are myriad details about the situations faced by teams when those decisions are made.

I downloaded his white paper in which he closely examined the fourth down decisions made in the NFL on whether to punt or go for a first down. You’ll find a more current and very detailed analysis, 4th Down Study, from Advanced Football Analytics by Brian Burke.

If soccer is your sport, visit Google and look up “penalty kicking in soccer”. You’ll find dozens of studies that conclude that current strategies are inconsistent with the results of those strategies … yet those failing strategies still prevail. Here, too, goalies are rewarded by standing in the middle of the goal awaiting the kick … anything else would look stupid … and yet, that strategy fails much more than it succeeds. ESPN’s Sports Science series illustrates this data.

Check out these metrics

What are some of the metrics that Kelly and Romer uncovered for each of the four enumerated situations?

  • On the team’s own half of the field, going for it on fourth down is usually better as long as there are less than four yards to go.
  • Moreover, within the opponent’s five-yard line, a team is always better off by going for it, yet we rarely see that happen.
  • Particularly in high school where the punts don’t go so far, Mr. Kelly has concluded that the risk of fumbling or a penalty outweighs the value of punting.
  • According to Mr. Kelly’s figures, the receiving team after a kickoff takes over on its own 33-yard line on average. After a failed onside kick, the team assumes possession on its 48-yard line. Since they typically recover about 25 percent of their onside kicks, he figures you’re giving up 15 yards for a one in four chance to get the ball back, a risk he says he’ll take every time.

Are you always taking the easy road?

For most of us, it’s convenient to take the easy road and make the decisions we believe are expected of us rather than ones that are more unconventional and may be challenged.

In many ways, we’re like football coaches, acting conservatively because, like them, we might get fired for “going for it” and missing, but we’re rarely fired for punting on fourth down.

Maybe that’s the wrong approach in this competitive business environment.

Maybe it is time to go for it.

Question: What practices are you following that you suspect no longer represent best practices?

How would you answer that? Let me know and we’ll build on that to expand our discussion of these ideas and concepts. If you’re active there, you can connect with me on LinkedIn. You can also find me on our Building a Business page on Facebook or on Twitter.

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