Have you seen data, ‘best practice’, benchmarking, or ‘learning’ applied in ways which block innovation?

Benjamin P. Taylor
3 min readFeb 16, 2022

In the 90s, I trained to be an FA coach (soccer/football)*

I learned from the coaching and #management wisdom of the time, led by a Football Association coach/apparatchik called Charles Taylor.

They’d done analysis of every game in the 1966 world cup — the first to be recorded — and discovered two critical things.
The vast majority of goals were scored:

1- after the team winning possession had passed between a maximum of five players (and perhaps it was ‘five touches’ too)
2- when the ball was played into the ‘channels’ between the opposition centre-back and fullback (see the attached helpful images!)

What we learned from this, as coaches and players, was:
1- if you were the fifth player to touch the ball after your team won possession — SHOOT!
2- if you have the chance — HOOF IT DOWN THE CHANNELS!

This led to an entire era of failed English international football and incredibly boring, frustrating gameplay — with an understandable premium on the ‘big man’ who could get the ball in the air between the central defenders and nod it down, or the winger who could slide it in for the ‘speedy man’ to ‘turn the fullbacks inside-out’.

My point is that we make this ‘reverse engineering’ mistake with regard to attribution all the time.

What works in one context, works in one context. Please stop asking for ‘best practice’ and ‘benchmarking’ when you ask me for consultancy — please.

This is an attempt to apply ‘rationality’ — what it misses is that without metarationality — situating in context — you are being plainly ‘irrational’. I remember the moment when I stumbled on… ‘but, what, so wherever you are on the pitch, if you’re the fifth man on, you have to shoot?’ ‘Yeah! Statistics, innit?’

Any playbook can also be used against you — if others know what you plan to do, well, they can plan around it!

John Seddon has a couple of great stories, one being the application of the Japanese ‘Andon Cord’ concept in British factories. Any worker can pull the andon cord and stop the entire production line if something comes to their work station which is wrong, going to cause a problem.

In Japan, a small kaizen team forms, the product is inspected, the team goes up the production line until root cause is found and fixed, the learning is captured and rolled out into standardised work, and all other processes that can benefit from this learning are attended to.

In England, a red-faced supervisor rushes up and goes ‘you absolute twt! What the fck do you think you’re doing, stopping production? Have you effing SEEN how much we have to produce by Friday?’

Where have you seen this attempt to transfer learning go wrong?

*this is my story — all the details could be wrong. There’s rich football scholarship which I just about managed to resist getting into — so if you’re interested, dive in!