Why Do People Fail to Adopt Better Management Methods?

It is confusing to know that better methods exist but to see those better methods being ignored. It seems that if there were better ways to manage, people would adopt those methods. But this just isn’t the case; sometimes better methods will be adopted but often they won’t. People can be very attached to the way things have always been done. Or they can just be uncomfortable with the prospect of trying something new.

In this post I will look at a very visible example of free throw shooting. A few details in this post might be a bit confusing if you are not familiar with basketball but I think the underlying idea can still be understood.

For shooting free throws the evidence seems pretty clear that results can be improved by using an underhand style of shooting. I won’t go into it here, the data is sparse so conclusions are perhaps not absolutely conclusive yet. In addition to the data, there are good explanations on the physics of why the underhand shot is more likely to be successful.

Personally, I just wish the Wisconsin Badgers would adopt the better method and everyone else can keep ignoring it. Rick Barry’s son can continue using the style (he plays for Florida Gators now and uses that style successfully – see video). His father was one of all time most accurate free throw shooters (using the underhand style). I believe, Chinanu Onuaku, a little used player, is the only current NBA player using the underhand style (he is 2 for 2 this year).

Sadly if Wisconsin did use this improved method, then others may copy them. But that isn’t certain, as you can see this better method has been known for decades without most people taking it up.

The reluctance to use better methods can be very strong. Just as the USA auto companies didn’t use known better methods until Japanese automakers were dominating them in the marketplace my guess is other teams will ignore adopting better free throw methods until a team, or even several teams, have most of their players using the better method. Often the reluctance is very similar to adopting the free throw improvement. It isn’t done just because it feels uncomfortable to do something in a new way (whether it is a different way to shoot a free throw or a different way to manage).

At some point the marketplace stops permitting you to ignore better methods. And in basketball that will happen at some point. But it is hard to say when. It is also hard to say when the marketplace will no longer allow better management methods to be ignored by your organization. USA car companies finally had to adopt some better management methods (even if they still have plenty of room to improve) or go out of business.

Wilt Chamberlain was 28 for 32 from the line shooting underhanded in his 100 point game (the most points anyone has scored in a NBA basketball game).

He was a career 51% free throw shooter.

But he had a good reason not to use underhand style more often. He felt like a sissy using that style and making them.

I felt silly, like a sissy, shooting underhanded. I know I was wrong. I know some of the best foul shooters in history shot that way. Even now, the best one in the NBA, Rick Barry, shoots underhanded. I just couldn’t do it.

I am sure the Boston Celtics were happy to let him focus on being scared of looking foolish while they won championships. You are correct if you don’t think I really meant he had a good reason.

How often is your organization losing out because better methods are ignored?

Organizations should take steps to help managers adopt better methods: Educate New Managers on Their New Responsibilities, Getting Known Good Ideas Adopted. Good management is good management: it doesn’t matter if someone figured out the good idea 100 years ago or last week. One of the most costly mistakes in management is neglecting methods that have been known for a long time due to the mistake belief that if it was better everyone would already be doing it. Plenty of better management practices exist. All you have to do to gain an advantage is start using them.

It became statistically pretty obvious that 3 point attempts were more valuable than regular field goal attempts (the expected value was greater – that is you score more points). That is an over-simplification but it is basically accurate. Some teams took far more 3 point shots than others but they were seen as reckless and the traditional 2 point shot was seen as key. The 3 point shot seen as a way to diversify a bit and open up lanes for 2 point shots. It took maybe 20 years for teams to start prioritizing 3 point shots and once a critical mass was reached the strategy became common.

There are issues, foremost that while the expected value is higher the variation is also higher which means it is a riskier strategy in a game by game basis (and shot by shot basis). At the professional level the use of data has exploded to go far beyond these simple ideas to look at the value of uncontested 3 point shots, slightly contested etc.. The use of data has allowed teams to significantly improve their performance. And I believe most teams heavily rely on data (even though some personal seem reluctant to admit it – they feel sports are not data driven but expertise and skill driven).

It is amazing the lower expected value overhand free throw style has survived this emphasis on exploiting opportunities to improve. But even in very visible, very competitive arenas well known better methods can be ignored by most everyone.

Video of me shooting baskets on the court at my condo when I lived in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

Basketball free throws are like the opposite of the Fosbury flop. The simplified story is Dick Fosbury used a new method for the high jump, dominated everyone and then everyone copied it. Underhand free throw shooting isn’t so big an improvement so it makes it possible to ignore it and survive. It was essentially impossible to ignore the Fosbury flop method and be successful.

Still, at some point nearly everyone is going to be using the underhand method and will wonder what those people that ignored this improvement for decades were thinking.

If I were a coach today I would mandate that any player shooting under 80% on free throws and taking more than 3 a game had to practice the underhand style. And after they improved their performance using that style they would use it in games (it takes a bit of practice to become successful using the new method). If I were a player today, I would just use the better method myself.

Related: Lessons for Managers from Wisconsin and Duke BasketballTaking Risks Based on EvidenceChange Management: Create a Culture Seeking Continual Improvement or Use Band-Aids?Acting Without Theory Often Results in Wasted Effort

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5 Responses to Why Do People Fail to Adopt Better Management Methods?

  1. Roz Luna says:

    Nice article john,
    It’s so true that people get attached to their methods that they fail to adopt better ones.

  2. John Hunter says:

    Since this post, Barry set a Florida school record by making 39 straight free throws using the underhand free throw style.

    How much longer do you think it will take for others to adopt this better method?

  3. John, I really enjoyed this post. Rick Barry and his underhand free throws is a great example of a better method on display for all to see yet not being adopted because it is perceived as not cool.

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