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    Friday, December 19, 2008

    Brett Favre, the Packers, and "Zero Defects Mentality",

    In an agile development book assigned to me by Rob, a co-founder of mine and CTO of 750, there is a brief mention of the danger of a "Zero Defect Mentality" (ZDM) culture. Essentially, a ZDM culture cripples any organization (for bigger, entrenched companies, it will do so over time as it prevents innovation; in smaller companies or, as the book speaks of, Marine units, it will be total suicide) because it paralyzes every individual in that organization from making judgment calls for fear of being wrong.

    "Demanding such a rigid standard produces timid leaders afraid to make tough decisions in crisis, unwilling to take the risks necessary for success in military operations," Perry said. "This zero defects mindset creates conditions that will lead inevitably to failure …." CLICK HERE for entire article.

    In (my own) behavioral terms, the fear of making even one small mistake is greater than the reward of making a big impact.

    Obviously, I think about things such as these a lot as an entrepreneur. Item one of our "culture credo", which lists out the principles that we as individuals and as a collective company work and live by, is: "We are a learning culture." Part of that is accepting that we will make mistakes. We had a great talk the other day at an all hands that sometimes we don't always seem to exhibit those behaviors, and that sometimes we seem to act as if we are deathly afraid of making mistakes. It was a great conversation to have amongst a group of new entrepreneurs, and I'm looking forward to continuing it down the road.

    But I thought I'd also apply that concept to a more accessible domain: professional football. As most know, I'm a die-hard Packers fan. This year has been tough, with the Brett Favre saga, the trade, and then the 5-9 record and many "almost" games the Packers have lost this year.

    Some fans and columnists have made the point that Favre's leadership is missing from the Packers, and that the Jets rise from a losing record last year to being on the verge of making the playoffs this year is due to Brett. While the stats might show otherwise--the Jets have a top running game and top defense, while Brett hasn't played all that great for a couple stretches of the season; meanwhile, Rodgers has top-10 quarterback stats, yet his team's defense and special teams seem to collapse in big moments--I wonder what effect Brett Favre has on motivating his team in light of the idea of zero defects.

    Brett Favre is famous for boneheaded interceptions. But he seems to have an uncanny ability to shrug off mistakes, even if they cost the team a playoff game, a trip to the superbowl, or the superbowl itself. He always had fun, he always (seemed to) worked hard at his craft (those two go hand in hand, I believe), and he always gave it his best shot.

    Goto 1:20 of this video for a classic Brett Favre throw into double coverage, just giving his receiver a chance, that Javon Walker caught for a TD

    Sometimes that meant throwing up a jump ball for a receiver named Taco Wallace, who the Packers' previous GM all but called out as not having the talent to play in the NFL. Do you think Brett Favre, a hall of fame quarterback with some of the most talent a quarterback could ever have didn't know from practice exactly how talented Taco Wallace was? And yet he still threw the ball to him, still gave him the chance, still believed in him more than anyone else. Why?

    Perhaps it's because he believed his talent was enough to compensate. Or perhaps it's because his search was for greatness--even at the play level--rather than perfection. Or maybe it's both of these, and more. But the bottom line is that every player on the Packers knew that Brett Favre had enough confidence in them to give them a chance to carry the team, and that they might be needed at any time. Think of the effect that has on a person's training, practice, preparation, and gametime attention to detail. Contrast it to how you felt when your boss micromanaged you on some job (it's happened to us all, and we've all done it too).

    Effects such as those can't, by nature, show up in stats. But I think they are very, very real. And I think that might be the main reason the Packers are out of the playoffs and the Jets are in. That is, it is not despite Brett Favre's interceptions that the Jets are going to the playoffs, but because of them.

    Recall: Brett Lorenzo Favre has the NFL all-time records for touchdown passes, yards, and completions. But he also has the NFL all-time records for pass attempts and interceptions.

    Brett Favre is NOT perfect; he's great. And it's become apparent to me, as I study and analyze people who have achieved greatness in their lives, that perfection will never lead to greatness. We try to live that concept everyday at 750, as hard as it can be to be wrong. And I'm trying to live my life in the same way.


    Catherine said...

    Trying to be perfect leads to crazies in the brain. Go for greatness! You are wonderful BK:)

    JHB said...

    i agree and i disagree. i think it is how you approach a zero defects mentality ... it is "over you" (fear based) or "under you" (an enabler). for instance, micromanagement is fear based and squashes innovation. Toyota production system however, uses it as an enabler. they will spend upwards of 24 months slowly ramping up a production line until all defects are worked out. the cycle time will get faster as people get more comfortable. and the line workers are empowered to identify defects, stop the line, and innovate to eliminate them. you might counter that this is incremental versus discontinuous innovation -- perhaps. but i think it is OK to differentiate in this case a production environment from perhaps an entrepreneurial environment (probably still not a good enough distinction). in a production environment, it is how you approach the defects like you talked about ... but to be great (aka not just make the playoffs but win the super bowl) you need to be both able to shrug off the defects but viciously eliminate them, viewing them as an enabler to greater heights. thoughts?