Flexibility Of Thought And Innovation

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A couple of articles I read recently from two completely different sources but on a similar theme got me thinking.  The first article was an interview with Malcolm Gladwell, ostensibly about his upcoming book.  The initial premise of his book is how Davids beat Goliaths.  The simple answer to the question is to play unconventionally.  If you play a Goliath in the way that he is most accustomed to playing you have no chance.  You must play him in a different way.  Just like the mythical David in his battle with Goliath.  The philosophy holds in war just as in sport, as Gladwell will apparently explain to us next year.

The second article is an interview with Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.  He talked about the process he went through with his team of champions to become the champion TEAM of the NBA.  In this process he had to “look at the team through a different lens, to be open and embrace the versatility of our roster. That’s where we started to play position-less and to play faster than we were accustomed to playing.”  In a sense he embraced the philosophy of a David but with the tools of a Goliath.  At the end of his process he saw the players not as pieces to fit into a puzzle but as ingredients that he could use to build something unique.  Which he did successfully.

In the video interview Gladwell talks a lot about innovation and the conditions required for it in all fields.  One of the biggest restrictions to innovation is previous success.  The more successful an entity, the less innovation.  The longer someone is in a position, the less innovation.  That is, the greater the risks for failure, the less incentive there is for innovation.  I started to think about volleyball examples.  Two great innovators in volleyball were Matsudaira and Beal.  Both of them fulfilled the conditions described by Gladwell.  Japan in the 1960’s and USA in the early 1980’s had no history of success and Matsudaira and Beal were both in the early years of the coaching careers.

As far as the Spoelstra process goes, there are also plenty of volleyball examples.  Vladimir Alekno’s use of Mikhaylov and Muserskiy ‘out of position’ in the Olympic final is the most obvious one that springs to mind.  Another one can be found in the Italian league where Piacenza won the 2008-09 championships coached by Angelo Lorenzetti.  He looked at his team in a different way which led to him keeping both of his opposites on the bench and playing with three receivers.  In both cases, the coaches had the ‘freedom’ to be flexible due to the lack of previous success of those teams.

Here is a video of the last points of Piacenza’s championship win.  15-13 in the fifth set of match five.


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  1. Interesting, I just read a book called “Erfolgreiches Teamcoaching _ Ein sportpsychologisches Handbuch für Trainer” by German author Lothar Linz. He also comes up with the david vs. Goliath story. Linz says, David beat Goliath with

    1. courage and intrepidity
    2. trust in the victory
    3. knowing his own strengths and using them
    4. acting without hesitation
    5. surprising his opponent
    6. mercilessness

    It wasn’t unconventionally because he wanted to be like that, it was the only way to win.


    1. That is exactly the point. If you want to win, you have to choose the best way to win, even if it is not the ‘normal’ way.


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