Published on: December 13, 2011by Michael Sansolo
Allow me to let you in on something: I’m a massive liberal. Then again, I may be a huge conservative. More likely, I’m very confused.
A report released last week identified the television shows most favored by folks at either end of the political spectrum. Armed with that list I find myself a mess. Apparently on Wednesday’s when I watch “The Middle” I’m feeling conservative. Only 30 minutes later I change political orientation to watch “Modern Family.” Silly me, I thought I liked comedy.
It gets worse. Because I like “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” I’m a liberal again. So how to explain my affinity for “Mythbusters,” a darling of conservatives if not the neighborhood in California recently hit by a loose cannon ball from the show. In truth, I like both sarcasm and big explosions.
In our non-stop political silly season, we have a need to label everything. In business and marketing, we can’t do the same. A simple reliance on labels and well-studied tendencies can help in some cases and kill in others. Luckily for all of us, a classic case in thinking beyond labels is playing out this fall in the National Football League. And whether or not you like the NFL, start paying attention to the curious case of Tim Tebow.
Tebow, a wonderfully successful college quarterback, entered the pro ranks with diminished expectations. To hear the sports’ cognoscenti explain it, Tebow had no future because of his size, his poor throwing mechanics and even, inexplicably, his devotion to religion. For his first season and a half with the Denver Broncos, Tebow seemed to prove the doubters right. He got few chances to play and frequently looked ill-prepared for the professional game.
After pre-season games this year, Tebow was relegated to third string, but during the regular season everything changed. The Broncos weren’t doing well and Tebow’s coach, John Fox, gave the quarterback a chance. In his first eight games, Tebow has led the Broncos to seven wins an absurdly high level of success in any sport.
But this is more than a feel good story about a talented athlete who made the most of an opportunity. It’s a story about a manager learning to optimize the talent he had rather reading the labels and cursing what he was lacking.
What Coach Fox saw in Tebow is a quarterback who needs to play the position differently than his peers. Tebow’s is a big and powerful runner, but a frequently inaccurate passer. So the Broncos switched their offense to emphasize his strengths. What’s more, the Broncos’ coach recognized that despite his young age, Tebow has natural leadership skills. Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins recently wrote about the intangibles of leadership in a column profiling how Tebow talks to his teammates before a game, rallying their focus and energy.
Now it’s impossible to say whether the Broncos will continue to have success or if this entire experiment will flop. It’s impossible to know how much Fox likes Tebow or just how comfortable he feels with the new approach.
This much we do know: Whatever his feelings, Fox recognized that the talent on his team could not win by using the football strategies and philosophies that now dominate the game. So he created a new game plan based around the talents of his young quarterback and in the process provided a lesson on the importance of flexibility in management. It’s a lesson managers all over the business world should admire. The talent on our teams is rarely a textbook mix of successful ingredients. So the challenge we have is to find a way to get the job done with the folks we have.
Sometimes labels need be ignored.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
- KC's View:
- To me, in some ways it is even more interesting to gauge the way that John Elway - the former Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the Broncos, and now the team’s executive vice president of football operations - has approached the Tebow questions. The sense that most experts seem to have is that Elway is really uncomfortable with Tebow’s physical talents but is growing to appreciate his leadership abilities; in other words, he’s a lot more enthusiastic about Tebow’s heart than he is about his arm.
Elway has been saying lately that he wants to help Tebow learn how to play the QB position better, and he’s probably thinking that he needs better performances from Tebow during the first, second and third quarters ... if only to reduce the agita being suffered by fans and ownership during the early parts of games.
But while we don’t yet know how the season will end (and this Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots and Tom Brady will be a must-see), one has to wonder how much Elway should be tinkering with Tebow’s game. The current Broncos quarterback is getting results, his teammates believe in him, the opposition has to be thinking about how to stop him, and Broncos games have become hot tickets.
Elway is a Broncos legend, but he is the past. Tebow is the present, and he may be the future. It will be fascinating to watch how these tensions will resolve themselves ... as well as a lesson for marketers caught between their own pasts and futures, trying to decide when and how to move forward.