Still Keeping Score?

suited-skateboarderPreparing to take the game winning shot – the player repeatedly looks at the scoreboard – only seconds remain.  “I have to make these points,” he thinks. He looks at the coach who has anxiety written all over him.  “This is for the championship!”  He looks at the scoreboard again knowing he’s got to sink this free throw shot and put another point on the board.  He looks at the bench – his teammates are anxious.  He wipes the sweat from his eyes.  He looks at the scoreboard again. The referee hands him the ball.

Every day, sometimes twice a day, the sales staff is getting emails with the latest sales numbers.  “Sales are down.”  And they have to attend weekly conference calls, “We need to close $X by month’s end.”  Then there are the sales meetings, – “We’re running a contest for the most sales between now and the end of the quarter.”

All of this score keeping is actually interfering with the ingenuity needed to put points on the board and increase the numbers.

Have you ever watched skateboarders?  Have you ever noticed how they work, almost tirelessly, to perfect a trick?  Over and over and over they practice the same move repeatedly.  Where do they find the motivation? No leagues. No teams.  No uniforms.  No coaches forcing them to “run the play again.” No parents yelling from the bleachers “keep your eye on the ball!”  No scoreboard.

While many of the traditional “ball” sports remain stagnant, following the rules and paradigms fixed by previous generations, skateboarding, and other “extreme” type sports have changed, innovated, and grown so that they barely resemble their original forms.

Skateboarding is one of the fastest evolving sports in the past 100 years – and no one is keeping a record of strikes, errors, fouls, interceptions, or fumbles. No one is keeping score.


  • Are  intrinsically motivated
  • Value individual responsibility for performance, yet participate in a –
  • Highly cooperative, open-source community of learners that readily share “best practices”
  • Maintain a very flat power-distance peer structure
  • Foster a culture that challenges the status quo, questions paradigms and rules, and promotes innovation, creativity, continuous improvement, rapid development and growth.
  • Are highly resilient – quickly bouncing back from repeated “failure” (think lean start up strategy: iterate & pivot.)

Aren’t those the qualities that are needed in today’s highly volatile, disruptive environment?  Aren’t those the qualities you want for your organization?

If you choose a sport as an analogy for your organization – as so many leaders (especially sales managers) do – why choose football, or baseball, or basketball?  Those scoreboard-oriented, sports are essentially the same as when they started 100 or more years ago, pitting players against each other.  Is that what your looking for?  Competition among your employeesIncreasing anxiety?

What would happen if you stopped keeping score?  What if everybody took their eyes off of the scoreboard and focused their full attention on innovation, ingenuity, generosity, and cooperation? Could you and your team think and work more like skateboarders? What if you adopted the “skater style” one day a month or one day a week?  – a day where authority structures were dis-regarded, rules were questioned, “tricks” were shared, and having the courage to fail was applauded.

For more on this – check out Rodney Mullen’s TED talk on skateboarding and innovation.

Categories: Blog

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