Systems thinking and Los Angeles Lakers

Los Angeles Lakers is one of the greatest franchises in the history of modern sports. They won the NBA championship 16 times and missed the play-offs just five times! I have always admired the “championship-or-bust” mentality of this organization. After a couple of “relatively” unsuccessful seasons, the Lakers decided to assemble a “super team.” They signed four future-Hall of Famers, and hired a magician coach. They were expected to be uber-dominant – to win it all this year. Be that it may, the Lakers have lost 21 of their first 37 regular season games! They also lost all 8 of their preseason games. So, the super team won only 16 of its last 45 games. Clearly, something is not working, and I think it has nothing to do with basketball. Just like in the Raptors’ case, this is an “organizational” issue…

 Los Angeles Lakers’ current slump demonstrated us the validity of systems thinking. The organization tried to enhance the overall performance of the system by improving particular parts. On paper, such thinking should work just fine. But in real world, where life organizes as systems, such thinking is counterproductive. If you don’t believe me, watch this hilarious and insightful 10-minute video, which was recorded 20 years ago. Russ Ackoff (R.I.P.), one of the great sages of our time, explains how the Lakers organization got into such a mess. If you are too busy, you could fast forward to the minute 5:50 of the video.

A system is not the sum of the behaviors of its parts. It is the product of their interactions.

Russ Ackoff

540-698 Dovercourt Rd, Toronto, ON, Canada

8 Replies to “Systems thinking and Los Angeles Lakers”

  1. As a systems thinker and a basketball fan, I appreciated this 🙂 The Lakers situation could be a great teaching example for systems thinking in pop culture. And there’s so much more you could say about it. This is only the tip of the iceberg.

    I also liked on your bio where you talk about the importance of stories, depth psychology and archetypes – things I’ve learned myself over time.

    I wonder, are you familiar with Appreciative Inquiry?

  2. Thanks a lot for your kind words. I totally agree with you that the Lakers’ case is a great way to introduce the systems thinking to the pop culture. That being said not many people are talking about the Lakers as a system. They are enjoying the blame game.

    I wrote another article about systems thinking and basketball. This one is about the Toronto Raptors. This one expands much beyond than the franchise:

    I am familiar with AI, and I always try to use it with my clients. It is also one of my favorite subjects to write about. Here are couple of articles that you might enjoy:

    Finally, I also try to incorporate the Positive Deviance into my thinking. PD is very close the related to AI.


    1. Very cool. We share a lot of interests! People who know me are sometimes confused about why I am into watching sports since it doesn’t seem to fit my personality. But some of it is due to the type of systems approach you take here. I like to analyze the systems in sports and see what I can figure out just like in other systems. I also like seeing the archetypes.

      I have a page on Appreciative Inquiry too here:

      You might find some other interests we share there. Feel free to get in touch if you want to talk more.

      1. Thanks again for your kind message. I have been to your website, read some of your articles and truly enjoyed them, particularly the one about systems thinking.

        I believe sports is where mythology lives today. Also I see athletes, especially the great ones, as mythological creatures, following the mythic journey that was discovered by Joseph.

        I was wondering if you would be interested and writing an article about systems archetypes and the issues that Los Angeles Lakers are having. Or some solutions that you would recommend by using AI. I will be honored to have you as a guest writer on my blog.



      2. I agree that the appeal of sports today, for many, is it’s where we project the archetypes and it is a realm of mythology. Of course, this can be for better or worse.

        Thanks so much for the guest blog offer. I’d be open to doing it sometime. I don’t know if this is the right topic though since I haven’t followed the Lakers in great detail. From my very basic analysis of it, it seems like they hired a run-and-gun coach for an older, more halfcourt oriented team. So that’s one big systemic problem possibly. They also just haven’t had a ton of games together so perhaps they will still work things out a little better.

        I’d still be a little more patient to see what becomes of them before making any grand proclamations. But it seems like great coaches are able to tailor things a bit to the players they have. I’m not sure if D’Antoni is the kind of coach who does that well.

  3. You are more than welcome. I will be honored to have you as a guest writer on my blog anytime. You can write about anything as long as it is tied to organizations.

    On a separate note, I believe the problem with the Lakers is more than the system that they are running on the court. I think there are all sorts of human related issues, such as ownership, family dispute, generational difference among the players and Kobe’s glaring lack of leadership skills. It is a fascinating story.

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