Lessons from Brett Favre on Permission and Innovation
It's a big week for American football. Monday was the College Football Playoff championship game. Alabama, led by Nick Saban and his “Process”
One phrase I heard a lot of Monday night (and we'll hear over the weekend in the pro game) is “Run-Pass Option,” or RPO. Even if you don't care about football, I think there's an interesting story to be told in this post.
My wife really doesn't care for football, but she agreed this story was interesting from a leadership perspective.
I did a Google search to try to find out who invented the RPO. One search result was an article that claims former NFL great Brett Favre created it (or Favre claims it).
The headline tells part of the story:
Without telling the coaches? Interesting. That drew me in even more.
“Brett Favre invented the RPO because he was bored during running plays, and he didn't wait for the coaching staff's permission to test it out.”
For one, it's interesting to see how often (in various workplaces), we get small incremental improvements (often called “kaizen“) or larger leaps of innovation when people are bored or otherwise have free time.
That's just one reason why I think it's pennywise and pound foolish for hospitals to rush to send home “excess staff.” Toyota never sends people home early… they engage them in improvement activities that develop people and improve the organization. See posts like this one and this one for more about utilizing people's free time.
So Favre was bored in practice and was screwing around… and ended up creating something new. But why couldn't he tell his coaches what he was doing?
“It had to work. I wasn't going to say, ‘Mike, I'm going to do this in a game.' I said to myself, ‘I'm gonna do it and show him that it works before I ask.' Because if I asked permission, all these old coaches are like, ‘We're gonna do it the way it's supposed to be done.‘”Brett Favre
In our workplaces, how often do we have a culture that doesn't allow people to try new things? How often do we require “guaranteed success” before we're allowed to try something new?
Sometimes, we have to take risks. We have to smart about it… we shouldn't irresponsibly try new things that would likely cause harm. That said, if we require 100% success, then people will be scared to try anything.
So, in a Lean culture (or in a culture of continuous improvement), we have to make it safe for people to speak up and take intelligent risks. When we do a small test of change, we're mitigating some of that risk of failure.
“The way we've always done it” isn't a recipe for success in sports, in business, or in healthcare.
What can you do to create a culture where people are respected enough that they feel safe to bring up something without fear of being criticized or punished for having a “dumb idea?”
Here is video of Favre talking to Jon Gruden about how he started doing this, in this tweet:
I certainly didn't expect to find anything blog worthy in that search about the origins of RPO…