The Transformation Goal
Even for Wilt Chamberlain, change was hard. The results are worth it.



A seldom-told detail from the legendary basketball game in which Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points makes for a fascinating story, as told by Malcom Gladwell on his “Revisionist History” podcast.

But it also offers some cautionary lessons for supply chain leaders about how hard it can be to transform processes—even when there’s a demonstrated, huge benefit to doing so.

First, some background: Chamberlain was one of the greatest basketball players ever but also one of the very worst free throw shooters. In his first two seasons, he managed to make only about half of his foul shots. To put that in perspective, Rick Barry, that era’s best free throw shooter, regularly hit more than 90 percent of his free throws. In his last season, Barry missed only 10 shots for the entire year; the year before that, he missed nine.

Rick Barry became great at foul shots by lobbing the ball underhanded, what players dismissively call a “granny shot.” Science says that’s a better way to attempt a free throw: The shooter begins from a relaxed position instead of arms overhead, and the ball is just changing from its up to down momentum as it reaches the rim. So, it hits the basket more softly and is more likely to go into the hoop, even when the aim is a little off.

Before the 1961-62 season, Chamberlain became desperate enough to solve his free throw problems that he was willing to consider any solution. So, the most imposing player in the NBA began shooting like a granny. And, it paid off as his free throw average approached 70 percent.

On the legendary night of March 2, 1962, Chamberlain scored on 28 of 32 free throws on his way to 100 total points against the Knicks. It’s a record that many think will never be equalled, and it never would have happened without the underhand free throw innovation.

So, what did Wilt do after that? He reverted to his old, overhand shot because he said he “felt silly” throwing underhand. He finished his career with a 51 percent free throw average and became one of only two players ever to miss 5,000 free throws in a career (the other is Shaquille O’Neal).

Gladwell says this is a case of what sociologists call “threshold.” Even if you know something’s better, you may not try it unless other people do, too. High threshold people like Wilt Chamberlain need lots of others to make them feel comfortable with their decisions; low threshold people like Rick Barry could care less.

We regularly see this same dynamic in our supply chain transformation practice. Disruptive ideas like outsourced inventory and data-driven transit redesigns can yield huge cost savings and productivity improvements. Yet, it can be hard for enterprises to commit to changing whole processes, even when the data shows they clearly should. It’s a lot easier to settle for incremental gains by squeezing suppliers or otherwise cleaning up a current, suboptimal system.

When Wilt Chamberlain retired, he had amassed one of the most impressive statistical careers ever and put his name into the argument as Greatest of All Time. Still, think how much better he might have been if he had added several thousand more free throw points to his line. How unbeatable might he have been if opponents hadn’t been able to foul him intentionally late in games, knowing that he was helpless to make the penalty bucket.

Gladwell sums it up: “Rick Barry was the best basketball player he could possibly be. Wilt Chamberlain could never say that.”

In supply chain, the difference between being great and achieving your best possible result can be millions of dollars and untold value in customer satisfaction. If you’re ready to make your supply chain the best it can possibly be, contact us today for a free review of opportunities and data analysis.




WHILE YOU WERE SHIPPING
Stories you may have missed that recently caught our eye…

In The Game of Warehouses, You Ship Or You Die (Washington Post; limited free access). Seem dramatic? That’s okay. You may still have more lives left in the video games Amazon has developed to game-ify warehouse work.  Jeff Bezos’ WashPo reports on trials in which hundreds of Amazon employees now play games at work—racing around tracks, and collaborating to build castles to fulfill orders. Behind the screens, their actions direct robots to pick or put away real customer orders.

The idea is that multiplayer competition might make the job a little more fun and (sneakily) a lot more productive. So far, warehouse workers have geeked out to Mission Racer, Picks In Space, Dragon Duel and Castle Crafter. Is this a great, new day for low-skill jobs or a sign of the apocalypse?

Selling The Truck. (Forbes) California startup Boxi has matched up last-mile delivery trucks with advertisers wanting to display their marketing messages in neighborhoods where outdoor advertising might otherwise not be possible. For as little as $1,500 per month, advertisers gain control over the space on the sides of the truck box. Early clients in SoCal and New York include Mercury Insurance, El Silencio Tequila and Stella Rosa Wines. No word yet on whether FedEx might buy space on UPS trucks or vice versa….

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