Sports Alalogies LO16531

DHurst1046 (
Tue, 13 Jan 1998 21:58:04 EST

Replying to LO16496 --

Hi LO readers on this topic,

The consensus seems to be that sports analogies are attractive because
they speak to our personal experience and that they can be used to
illustrate many aspects of management and organizations. At the same time
several messages have cautioned that they should not be "pushed too far",
that they have to be "interpreted" and so on. The question is "How?"

It's not enough to point out the deficiencies of an analogy. That's like
complaining that a map does not contain all the detailed elements of a
territory! If it did the map would be as large and as complex as the
territory itself and thus of no value to the user. Whenever we use
analogies to describe complex phenomena (i.e all the time!) we sacrifice
something (often a lot of things). But whether that's a problem or not
depends upon our purpose.

The power of sports and other metaphors of experience can be greatly
enhanced by inserting a model between the analogy and the complex
phenomenon itself. Like this:

Sports analogy <=> Conceptual model <=> Complex phenomenon

The model controls the aspects of the analogy and the phenomenon one
wishes to understand, defining our purpose and enhancing the analogy by
revealing its limitations! It also helps if one looks at relationships
between aspects of the analogy and relationships between aspects of the
THEMSELVES. This is of course precisely how one reads a map, by taking
relationships on the map and scaling them up to understand relationships
in the territory: we don't get upset because the interstate highway we are
driving on isn't painted blue with red shoulders the way it is in the Rand

One of the most successful uses of this more disciplined process was by
Robert Keidel in his article "Baseball, Football and Basketball: Models
for Business" (Organizational Dynamics Winter 1984: he also wrote a book
on it). His conceptual model was derived from James D. Thompson's concepts
of interdependence. So he used baseball, football and basketball to
illustrate pooled, sequential and reciprocal interdependence respectively.
So he was looking at the differences between the games to understand
differences between business organizations! This allowed him to discuss
the degree of managerial versus team member coordination required in each
game. Baseball requires the least of either kind, relying as it does on
highly skilled individuals constrained by tight rules and a finely
structured field of play. Basketball (or ice hockey or rugby) requires
high member coordination, while American football demands the highest
managerial coordination. He described management competence in baseball as
a tactical, in football as strategic and in basketball as integrative.

In the process of working through these analogies managers are able to
explore the nature of the task-based interactions in their own
organizations by relating them to one or more of the three games and
assessing whether they were using the appropriate kind of coordination. We
have often had questions on this list as to whether team work is always
preferable to any other kind and Keidel's sports analogies allow us to
understand what that question is asking and what the answer might depend
upon. But it's the use of analogies disciplined by a conceptual model and
looking at relationships not point-to- point correspondences that allows
it to happen.

Hope that this helps,

Best wishes,
David Hurst


DHurst1046 <>

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