What you can learn from the Wildcat

Earlier this year, I read a provocative article titled How David Beats Goliath by Malcom Gladwell.  One story he told concerned the full court press’s effectiveness in basketball.  He points out that an inferior team (athletically) can beat a superior team if it employs a full court press.

Why? Because the superior team isn’t used to such pressure (usually they get to advance the ball over the half court line) and loses composure over time — resulting in turnovers and bad shots.  Gladwell doesn’t make the leap of connecting the full court press to business, but I did.  I realized that this sporting move could be valuable in bizlife if you used it to respond to competitor’s releasing new products. If you pressed their claims from the launch on, instead of waiting for it to gain momentum, you might improve your response to it over time.  Anyway, for the purpose of this blog, I’ll look at another sporting innovation that could be applied to business.  

The Wildcat offense was honed at several university programs, most notably the University of Arkansas. As you can see from the above graphic, the Wildcat hikes the ball directly to a running back, who has another running back he can either hand off to or not. This reintroduced the option play to college football with a notable exception: The quarterback doesn’t take the snap, the running back does.  As an article at ESPN pointed out, it speeds up the game and puts intense pressure on the defense.  The result? Same as the full court press.  

Last year, the Miami Dolphins began to use the Wildcat — and succeeded due to having two great running backs and the element of surprise. They had a record low fumbles per running back touches and an improved running game which led to an unlikely playoff appearance.  Watching a recent game, it occurred to me that there are two powerful business applications of the Wildcat: 

1.  Give the “business ball” directly to the running back (sales executive or account manager) not the quarterback (manager). In other words, give the running back ownership of the customer experience. Give the running back the discretion to hand it off strategically, so long as the handoff capitalizes on a unique gap in competitive “coverage” (think benefits, features, terms).  Too many companies put too many layers of touches between the customer and the running back.  This results in fumbles, delays and the inability to seizes opportunities in the field. 

2.  Speed the game up to take control. Build a go-to-market strategy that emphasizes speed and attack instead of a slow plodding approach. Make instant product, price, terms or services decision in the field, and motivate the running backs to always run forward (no need to drop back and survey the field). 

Could the Wildcat work for any business situation? Much like football, no. You need several skilled running backs in the field to take the power away from the quarterback without turnovers and missed goals. You may not have a culture that rewards fast and bold. Your competitor may be better at speed than you.  But, if you think you have the right personnel package, you might try this for your team.