Wednesday, February 15, 2012

New York Giants and Jeremy Lin demonstrate how to accept and learn from mistakes

I'm still basking in the afterglow surrounding the Giants' recent Super Bowl win. A Sports Illustrated article mentioned something that might have helped develop the remarkable resiliency that characterized their late season and playoff performances. Here's a brief excerpt:

During the bye week following a 4-2 start, director of player development Charles Way invited fighter pilots from Afterburner Inc., a corporate training company, to address the team about the value of "debriefing" sessions. Pilots returning from missions build trust through sessions in which they sit in a room together, stripped of name and rank; each speaks openly about mistakes he made during the mission. Players also received a copy of a book by one of the pilots, James D. Murphy, the title of which expressed the ultimate goal: Flawless Execution.

Soon Manning and Tuck, respectively, were leading offensive and defensive debriefings the day after games. Coaches were not present. Meetings lasted from 20 minutes to an hour. "I wasn't coaching anybody," Manning says. "I was just coaching myself, looking at what I needed to do better and telling everybody. Then everybody would talk about what they needed to do to improve."

Says linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka, "There was a time there when we needed every single minute of [debriefing]. It wasn't about calling people out. It was an opportunity to see everybody hold themselves accountable. The big part of why we're here is that fingers don't get pointed. These kind of teams don't come along very often."

If accountability and execution characterized New York's undefeated run from 7--7, those qualities were beacons during the Super Bowl.

This practice recalls some of Robin Ely's great research on learning among oil-platform workers and Amy Edmondson's work on hospital nursing teams, as well as Justin Menkes writing on leadership. Learning and performance are enhanced when people are unafraid to share mistakes, when they look to themselves first ("owning their missteps") instead of blaming others.

In a similar vein, here's what Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin said in his postgame interview after hitting the game-winning shot against the Toronto Raptors: "I did a horrible job on Barbosa and Calderon... Shump did an unbelievable job... I let them get into a flow early, and that's on me. He bailed me out." Very little about his good performances, a lot about what his teammates did well, and what he can improve. Here's the interview:

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