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Roger Martin

Roger Martin

Roger Martin is Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and author, most recently, of The Design of Business. His website is www.rogerlmartin.com

When Newer Isn't Better

Betting on the young up-and-comer over an experienced veteran happens a lot and in many ways is the moral equivalent to going to market too soon with a product that will eventually be a success. The Apple Newton is the classic example. Was the Personal Digital Assistant a bad idea? Hell no; their penetration is growing by leaps and bounds - soon everyone will have one. But in 1993 when Apple launched the Newton, it thought the future had arrived. It hadn't, but that future was on the way for those a bit more patient, like Palm and RIM and, ironically, a reincarnated Apple. The same could be said for GM and the now-famous EV1 electric car.

It is very likely that first-round draft pick Matt Leinart is the future leader of the Arizona Cardinals. And in overseeing such a situation, it is easy to be convinced that the future is now, so we might as well get started on it right away. But I think that even Leinart would admit that his team wouldn't be at the big dance if Whisenhunt would have installed him as the starter.

Thinking twice about whether the future is now or the future is just coming before installing the bright new thing over the grizzled veteran is relatively simple and easy advice. The harder trick is figuring out which grizzled veteran can reverse their decline. The New York Jets certainly though they had picked brilliantly when they brought future Hall of Famer Brett Favre from Green Bay to take them to glory right now. He continued in exactly the same pattern of his waning years - throwing a league-leading number of interceptions - and his team missed the playoffs.

As Favre demonstrated, there is more than a bit of truth to the old saw: "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." I suspect that the smartest thing to do is make sure that the tricks you want the old dog to perform are those at which he or she was great at performing at his or her height, rather than new tricks. If it is new tricks, I would go with the rookie. I may be wrong, but it feels that Whisenhunt has Warner running the same type of offence that Super Bowl MVP Warner ran for the St. Louis Rams a decade ago. His current receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin look remarkably like his Rams receivers Isaac Bruce and Tory Holt in their primes.

Given the relatively fast pace of change in the business world, there probably aren't many situations in which the old skills of the grizzled veteran are perfect for the up-to-date world, but there probably are enough cases and enough grizzled veterans waiting in the wings that it behooves the leader to think about that option rather than reflexively picking the bright new thing.

By Roger Martin

 |  January 25, 2009; 11:38 PM ET
Category:  Sports Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Has anyone else examined the photos of the various columnists in this series and noticed that none appears to have a top to his head? Basically, it's eyebrows and a big grin.

Think there's any significance to that? I remember wondering the same thing about the cover of Wayne Dyer's first book, only to find out later that he was just bald.

Maybe our columnists just have bad haircuts.

Posted by: Samson151 | January 28, 2009 2:52 AM
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