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One of this football season’s most intriguing strategy stories was the Miami Dolphins’ use of the Wildcat Offense – a variation of a 1907 Pop Warner (the coach, not the youth league) offensive formation designed around multi-dimensional, Hall of Fame great Jim Thorpe. It had last been used in the NFL during the 1951 season.

This very different offensive setup features the running back taking the snap from center and an unbalanced offensive line that causes confusion in defensive assignments. The first six times Miami used the Wildcat, it scored four times. In the first 76 Wildcat plays, they scored eight touchdowns and gained 453 yards (or nearly 6 yards per play).

And no surprise, other teams, seeing Miami’s early success, introduced their own version of the single wing offense with varying degrees of success. Even the lowly Kansas City Chiefs incorporated some razzle dazzle in their offense, with their quarterback catching a 37-yard touchdown pass in one game.

Three strategy applications of the Dolphins’ story come quickly to mind:

1. Those who know history are able to repeat it!

This example turns the maxim, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it” inside out. Knowing history allowed Dolphins coach Tony Sparano to repeat and introduce a play that had long ago fallen out of favor. Even though considered ancient history, the Wildcat offense was ideally suited to take advantage of his team’s skill set.

Question – Do you know relevant history in your business so you can broaden your strategic options in ways that less-studious competitors can’t?

2. Competitively, surprise can work better than rehashing today’s best practices when looking for dramatically improved results.

Surprise can have a far bigger positive impact in competitive situations than mining today’s best practices. If Sparano had simply looked for the best examples of current offenses, he might have gained some incremental improvements. It’s unlikely though that the Dolphins would have scored four times in the first six plays using a current offensive best practice. The dramatic success was fueled by something not only unexpected but unseen previously by its competitors.

Question – How are you actively cultivating opportunities to use surprise to beat competitors by intriguing prospects and capturing them as customers?

3. Surprise wears off and smart competitors respond.

If you choose surprise as a strategy, it’s only good for so long. The Dolphins’ early success rate moderated with the Wildcat offense’s more frequent use. Competitors catch up and change approaches. You have to be prepared to stay another few steps ahead and move to other surprise tactics.

Question – Before you implement a surprise-oriented strategy, ask yourself, “What are our next three or four variations or additional surprises to sustain our advantage?”

The Dolphins’ surprise-based strategy was a strong factor in their significant change of fortunes, going from a 1-15 record in 2007 to 11-5 in 2008 with their first playoff appearance in 7 seasons.

How can you use the lessons from the Dolphins’ turnaround to dramatically improve your business results in 2009?

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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2 Responses to “Sports Strategy Lessons Week – Strategy Gone Wild”

  1. Coaching Youth Football says:

    The Single Wing offense is alive and well thanks to a hard croe group of High School and youth coaches that never stopped running it. Coaches like Ken Hofer and Menominee Michigan and of course coach Ragsdale at Giles High in Virginia.
    Now with Urban Meyer calling himself a Single Wing coach, it is back in vogue.
    My youth teams run it and the kids love it, we are 97-13 with it.

  2. Mike Brown says:

    Glad that this post resonated with a real football expert! Congrrautlations on the great record running the single wing offense.