Game On

It was October 17, 2004. The American Conference Championship series was on the line. The Boston Red Sox were in a tough spot: down three games to none in a best of seven series. Things were not looking good as the bottom of the ninth inning began. Behind four runs to three, it looked like the season was over. In sports however, you never give up until the game is over. As it turned out, Bill Mueller’s single in the bottom of the ninth allowed Dave Roberts to score; tying the game and sending it into extra innings. It took twelve innings, but the Boston Red socks pulled out the win. Then, with intense tenacity, went on to sweep the remaining games and win the series.

Sports are big business. Actually, sports are part of the entertainment business. Sports themselves, unlike business, have a well defined set of rules, typically have referee or fairness judge, and a clear start and finish. Due to a finite end to the event, and well established rules, high risk maneuvers may become reasonable as the consequences become limited. Even in blowout contests, losing participants still play hard throughout the event and never give up until the event is over. Spectators and fans expect nothing less.

Despite the persistent desire to relate business situations to sports and the constant use of sports metaphors and analogies, what works in sports does not work in business. It does however raise the interesting thought of work as a spectator sport.

Imagine the live broadcast.
“Hello and welcome to the All Work Network. I am Al Michaels here in the booth along with former G.E. CEO Jack Welsh. Jack, fill us in with the current situation.”

“Well, Al, the company has several projects going at one time. There really are not enough people to cover all the projects. Two projects in particular are behind schedule. One of those is in a dire state, with way too much work to do in the remaining time.”

“Thanks Jack. It seems like they should give up on that one task to shore up the other project that is behind. But it looks like instead they are pulling their proverbial goalie from the program that is behind to attempt a hail-mary of sorts on the program destined for failure.”

“Yes, that is going to cost them both programs”

“Lots of activity is going on now. The sales organization is complaining that they do not have the right project to sell, engineering counters that the requirements were not defined, the business development team jumps in demanding additional features. Not to be left out, finance complains that the bill of materials is too high. Everyone is getting into the fray”

“Al, everyone is working really hard. Not toward success of the other projects, but with a noticeable shift to defense. Clearly, they are aware that both programs are going to fail. No one wants to be fingered as the reason for failure, so a lot of work is going into finding fault in the other groups.”

“Oh, out of the blue, a serious allegation of failure to deliver. Looks like some tough questions coming. Yep, it looks like a full investigation is underway to determine who is at fault.”

“Quite a battle. It is an impressive competition with a lot of energy, blood sweat and tears.”

Impressive alright, until you realize that there is no competitor in sight. All this fighting is internal. The competitor already delivered.