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On University of Colorado Football, the Fiscal Cliff, and Deliberate Problem Solving

We see so many institutions solve problems in crisis mode. Let's not do that in our own lives.

Toward the end of the year, everything feels like a mad dash, so it's hard for me not to compare one mad dash to another. So often, institutional crises result in a rush to get out of the crisis and into stability rather than putting a real focus on solving problems deliberately. We can learn from that.

Here's an example.

For a few years, I held season tickets to University of Colorado football. I don't know how many games I saw them win, but it certainly wasn't many. (I knew this was coming, which is why I had bought tickets with a nice mountain view, in case the action on the field got too ugly to watch.) That's been a bit of a trend for them of late, and this year in particular was really ugly: They won one game and lost the rest, mostly by crazy margins like 69-14, 51-17, 50-6, 70-14... you get the idea.

So what happens? Well, they fired the coach, Jon Embree, who'd been around for two years. There's some debate over whether that decision was the right one, whether it was racist or whether it was just plain stupid. What's clear is this: It created a crisis. In fact, almost any leadership change in sports is what you might call a "weird, mandatory crisis," because the university is suddenly on the hunt for a new coach.

Embree was fired on Nov. 25. The university offered the job to a new candidate on Dec. 3—eight days later.

Watching the mad dash for a solution has reminded me of the mad dash we're watching play out on TV (and whiteboards) every morning: The ongoing rush to solve the fiscal cliff crisis. As The Guardian's Heidi Moore points out, there are real consequences to Congress not resolving the crisis currently facing the U.S. economy, as there would be real consequences to a football team not having a coach, his staff, his vision for the team. But as Citizens for Tax Justice wrote here on GOOD, it's at least as important to get it right as it is to get it done.

Here are Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, authors of the wonderful book "Soccernomics," on what generally happens when a sports team fires its coach and begins the search for another:

The New Manager Is Hired in a Mad Rush

In a panel at the International Football Arena conference in Zurich in 2006, Johansson said that in "normal" business, "an average search process takes four to five months." In soccer, a club usually finds a coach within a couple of days of sacking his predecessor. "Hesitation is regarded as weak leadership," explained another panelist in Zurich....


Guess what? Often, the rush results in a bad decision—or a decision that leads to another, similar crisis in just a couple of years. And the crisis looks like a living hell. Hesitation—which I'd rather call deliberation—can be good leadership.

You know what crises are on the horizon for you personally and in your job—start planning. Start solving.

Photo via Flickr (cc) user Chris Corwin.

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