The New York Jets Illustrate What Happens When an Losing Organization Tries to Copy a Winner


Organizations try to copy each other all the time. It doesn't always work.

Manufacturing: A plant manager visits another factory and sees neatly organized tools and then comes home and tells everybody “to do 5S.” They've thoroughly missed the fact that the good factory engaged everybody in the 5S process and was using the methodology to solve problems that mattered. as part of a broader Lean management system. The top-down mandate isn't embraced and then the copying plant manager decides “Lean didn't work here.”

Healthcare: A hospital CEO (or another leader) goes looking for “best practices.” They might mandate that all surgeons use “checklists,” using a checklist purchased from a consultant. They've thoroughly missed the point that checklists (or any “standardized work”) work best when they are developed by the people who will be using them. And, those people (like those in the factory) should be in agreement that there's a meaningful problem to solve.

People love copying solutions, but often botch them up by not understanding the whole context around a given tool or solution. The same tool, implemented two different ways in two different cultures might have wildly different results.

The New York Jets are, to put it mildly, a losing franchise that hasn't seen much success in a while. They have a record of 1-7 this year and the organization is a bit of a mess, with quarterback controversies and the types of dysfunctions and fighting you tend to see in badly performing organizations.

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 9.24.55 AM

In a bit of desperation, on Sunday they tried to copy a trick play, a kickoff return that had worked reasonably well for the TCU Horned Frogs (a winning college team). It didn't work nearly as well for the Jets, as described here at the Business Insider website.

As shown in the video and screenshot below, the Horned Frogs were wearing very dark uniforms – purple and black, with dark helmets.

The announcer has circled where the TCU player was hiding in the endzone. By laying down, he blended into the paint on the end zone grass:

horned frogs fake out

He's laying in the middle of the “O.” Their hope was that the kicking team wouldn't see the player, who would then get up to receive a long cross-field lateral pass from the player who caught the kick. It worked relatively well for TCU and was sure to get on SportsCenter (a sports “vanity metric,” if there ever was one). TCU beat Oklahoma.

Then here come the Jets. They were wearing all green uniforms (jerseys and pants). But, they have white stripes on their shoulders and white helmets.

They tried the same thing (lay down in the green) but apparently didn't fool anybody.

Here is the view the kickoff team had:

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 11.30.24 AM

See how the circled player stands out? It looks like he is doing a pushup or laying down, but the white contrasts against the green from that angle.

They didn't think this through. It seems like they didn't test this out on the practice field.

The results:

Not nearly as good as the Jets' results. The Jets, of course, lost the game.

Here's head coach Rex Ryan's explanation (you can also see video of the play there).

Lessons? Don't copy somebody without 1) fully understanding what they did and 2) trying it out yourself, first, in a low-risk setting. Don't be like the Jets.

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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. You cannot learn from other peoples examples,as the good Dr Deming would say.

    At Saturn that never made a profit.The only real profit center from the car was launched thru about 1994 was a tour a company could send people to that was a day thing that was composed of a 2hour morning plenary session followed by a golph cart tour for 1K.If you wanted aone or two hour chat with the president of Saturn that was an extra $55.00 or the local union chairman same price.Those tours were always going on and were a function of the Saturn O.D. department.


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