Systems Thinking and the Toronto Raptors
Two years ago, I wrote an article about the Raptors’ brand strategy, or lack thereof. Recently, I asked the Raptors Republic community what has really changed over the last two years. The topic generated some interest and started a nice dialogue, so I decided to edit my comment and share them with you. It is about systems thinking and Toronto Raptors. Enjoy it!
I do not believe Brian Colangelo is a successful GM. I do not believe he deserves the job. However, I do believe that the Raptors’ organizational problems extend far beyond Colangelo. I also believe that by just hiring a new, smarter and more capable GM, Raptors cannot solve all of its problems.
A GM plays a crucial role in shaping a franchise. However, if we look closely, we’ll realize that in life nothing exists in vacuum. Everything (even sub-atomic particles that are millions of light-years away!) is interconnected, and that is scientifically proven. Today, we have a better idea on how organizations, brands and culture are formed. The Systems Thinking Theory shows us that every organization operates within a system. We can analyze and engineer different parts of a system, but we can grow the system only through enhancing the interaction among the parts’. Any attempt to maximize “a part” of the system causes the overall value of the system to decrease.
So, we have to accept that a GM is a part, albeit a large part, operating within a large system. So, as unsuccessful as I think Colangelo is, bringing a new GM might not be the silver bullet we are looking for. Let’s entertain for a second the idea of the Raptors firing Colangelo and bringing Sam Presti with unlimited power and budget. Presti, arguably the best GM in the game, still would have to operate within the same Raptors’ Organizational System that Colangelo is working now. He would have to deal with the same ownership group, who’s not particularly passionate about the game of basketball. My personal observation is that the ownership is in this primarily to make money. It would not make a big difference for them had Raptors were a soccer team, a lacrosse team. That is a part of the Raptors’ Organizational System, which shapes its GM.
Another part of the Raptors system is Raptors fans. In nearly two decades, Raptors have yet to win 50 games a season. Despite its mediocre track record, every game is nearly sold out and the franchise is one of the 12 most valuable NBA teams. The fact that a franchise can protect, even increase its value, while losing so many games makes you wonder the GM’s performance evolution criteria. That, is another part of the Raptors’ Organizational System.
Then, we have to look at the larger system: Toronto sports culture. Unfortunately, no Toronto team has been particularly successful for some time (except the Argonauts and Rocks). Yet, that does not create any sense of urgency in Toronto. For instance, the ethos of Lakers, Celtics, Thunder or the Spurs is “championship or bust.” That’s not how Toronto sports teams approach their business. The GM has to live in that system too.
Finally, there is the largest system: the Canadian culture. The collective unconscious of Canadians and Americans are very different. The dominant “warrior” and “seeker” archetypes that exist in the US are toned down in Canada. Culturally, it is more acceptable to participate than to dominate. (As an immigrant, I greatly appreciate that.) Being “part” of the action, not its “vanguard” is more appreciated in Canada. For instance, upon interviewing the CEO’s of iconic Canadian brands, Jeannette Hanna found that it’s almost a taboo for a Canadian brand to make profit “by any means necessary.” Instead, community-driven brands are vastly successful in Canada (Tim Horton’s, Canadian Tire etc.) That mentality is completely opposite in the US, which is another part of the Raptors’ Organizational System.
Now, all of the above is not an excuse for mediocrity. Brian Colangelo has been doing a worse job progressively. That said, Raptors have been around for nearly two decades and Colangelo is not the first unsuccessful one. GMs come and go but the storyline stays the same. That shows us the limitations of the Raptors’ Organizational System. I am curious to hearing your thoughts. Fire up your comments.