What Jack Taylor can teach us about strategy

Half-way between the cities of Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, IA sits the Darby gymnasium. In its cozy rafters hang banners that tell of the records set by Grinnell’s men’s basketball team. The banners point to an unusual style of play: Grinnell has more “point champions” than national championships.

Grinnell’s strategy is simply to take as many shots as possible, defend the entire length of the court for the whole game (full-court press) and wear the other team down. In a game on November 18, 2013, Grinnell’s Jack Taylor scored 109 points and took 70 shots. The team won by the score of 173-123.

For anyone who has played basketball, you know just how difficult it would be to take this many shots and how unorthodox Grinnell’s style of play is. In an interview with Jack Taylor, he was asked, “it’s clearly successful. Why don’t other schools run this system?” Taylor responds as follows:

I think it’s difficult to implement. It’s hard to get a lot of players to buy in to such a unique system. Because it is such a crazy way to play the game. Our team it just so unselfish and we have all committed to it and I think that is what makes it successful.

There are a many lessons that could be drawn from Taylor’s words and Grinnell’s strategy, but I will pull out a couple.

First, sometime winning requires that you play the game in a way that the rest of the world sees as undignified. I can just see players, coaches and fans of opposing teams saying “this isn’t basketball!” as Grinnell is handily defeating them.

In your life or in your work, what does unorthodox play look like? Are operating the same as the rest of the world? Or have you picked a strategy that relies on key strengths that you have. Are you willing to do things that others are not?

Second, the more shots you take the more you will miss. Jack Taylor missed 35 shots on his way to scoring 109 points. Most players would be humiliated with 35 misses, but Taylor knows that part of his strategy will entail missing shots.

Are you willing to take a lot of shots? Can you live with failure if it means learning and having more wins? Are you accepting of the failures in others? Taylor’s team continues to pass him the ball, even after he misses five, six, or seven shots in a row. IT DOES NOT MATTER, they keep passing him the ball because they understand and buy into the strategy. Do you operate like this?

There is much to be learned from Grinnell and Jack Taylor. In fact, Malcom Gladwell has written an entire book about these kinds of stories. I just finished reading David and Goliath a few weeks ago and would I’d highly recommend it.

Push yourself to do something unorthodox and learn to embrace failures.

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