The Sun Devil Suggestion System


My wife is an Arizona State alumna, so we're watching the annual Arizona St / Arizona rivalry football game (well, I'm watching it, she just cares if ASU wins… sort of).

The sideline announcer just told a quick story about how ASU coach Dennis Erickson is a different type of coach because he'll watch film with the players and the players will make a suggestion, and he'll let them try it out in practice… and the players like that. She then mentioned how the former coach (fired last year) would have never done that. Must have been the “control freak” style of coach.

How would Norman Bodek coach a football team? I'm sure he would run his “quick and easy kaizen” system on both offense and defense, don't you think? :-)

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. My father was a professor at the University of Wisconsin. I remember one time we wanted the football coach to randomly select the play for certain situations. They would have say 4 plays for 3rd and 3. Instead of making the decision of which to run he thought they should just randomly pick from those 4. The idea was that would eliminate their bias which the defense could predict and plan for. The theory was being more unpredictable would lead to more success. They didn’t go for it.

  2. This is an interesting school of thought that plays in to a much bigger “Lean” principle than you probably originally thought. The concept of Long Term vs. Short Term thinking.

    ASU is now coached by Dennis Erickson. The guy has won a National Championship, coached in the NFL, and, if he is fired or quits, could either retire or be coaching at another major college within a year while collecting his multi-million dollar buyout. His cost of failure is really low and it allows him the security to try to explore these opportunities.

    Their previous coach was a supposed up and comer by the name of Dirk Koetter. His resume was less spectacular than Erickson’s and therefore his price of failure was much higher.

    Major college football is an environment where the coaches are paid millions of dollars and fired when they fail to meet (usually) unrealistic expectations. Unlike Toyota, it does not encourage people to think long term and develop a 500-year vision. Much like most manufacturing environments, football coaching is a profession that, by its very nomadic and unsteady nature, develops and attracts “control freak” or micro manager types. They are environments driven to meet the numbers at all costs or be the one to face the firing squad.


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