Innovation in the NFL

Why has there been so little innovation in both professional and college football?

New offensive and defensive schemes happen every once in awhile, like the Wildcat offense or the Tampa 2 defense, but these changes are small variations on typical offenses and defenses.  Teams still line up in similar formations, drop back in the same way, kickoff the same way, punt the same way and kick field goals the same way.
The two changes that I thought of while watching football over New Years were both special teams related, but it seems to me that coaches would be able to come up with and implement many new things on both sides of the ball.
Long FGs
Mason Crosby of the Packers attempted a 69 yard free kick at the end of the first half of the Packers last game against the Lions.  He was 1 yard short.  His run-up was only 2 extra steps (1 more back, 1 more over) compared to a normal field goal, yet he could kick it straight and 68 yards without a problem.  Why don’t teams ever experiment with trying extremely long field goals 8-9 yards behind the line, instead of the normal 7?  Kickers would be able to run up farther, and the extra yard or two would allow the line to hold.  Teams would rarely try these long FGs because they would give up field position, but it could be an important weapon near the end of the half or in close, late games.

Teams could call a punt play where they kicked it low, behind the receiving team, trying to hit the receiving team to cause a fumble.  If the kick missed anyone on the receiving team, it would roll downfield, negating any chance for a return.
So, why haven’t there been huge shifts in the NFL or NCAA football, like there has been in almost all other industries?
I think it is because coaches fear being fired for not just doing poorly, but doing poorly a different way.  If coaches go with the conventional wisdom and fail, they will not be criticized as harshly as if they experiment and find new ways to fail.  If they succeed, like Mike Martz’s high-flying pass offense for the Rams called “The Greatest Show on Turf,” they are given some credit, but when the same coach experiences a minimal decline, he is criticized more harshly than a conventional coach.  For example, when Martz decided to pass in a late game situation, just like he had during other times in the game and failed, he was roundly criticized.  If he had run and failed, the players would have been criticized for not executing.   There is no upside for innovation here.
Coaches seem to have a longer leash if they do what everyone else is doing and they are not rewarded for taking risks by innovating.  This conservative attitude and intolerance to difference stifles innovation in football.
It also stifles innovation in large companies.  Startups have the advantage of not having to worry about being wrong and second guessed by bosses and the media.  More tolerance to innovation in both football and corporate america would be good for everyone involved.

Bacon Salt: Best Product Ever

Bacon salt is a zero calorie, zero fat, vegetarian and kosher seasoning that makes everything taste like bacon.”

Not only is bacon salt a great idea, but it has a cool backstory as well.  The two “bacontrepreneurs,” Justin and David, decided to start the company after a dinner conversation about their love of bacon.
They not only have a great product and great marketing, but they also have a unique funding source:  One of the founders’ sons won $5,000 for winning on America’s Funniest Home Videos.
They now have a few different flavors and are coming out with Baconnaise shortly.  This is a great idea that should have been done earlier.  I’m going pick some up today to try it out and report back later.

How Much Does it Cost?

Citizens for Responsible Government, a citizens’ action group based in Milwaukee, recently generated a searchable database for all of the expenses from the Milwaukee Public Schools.  It allows anyone with internet access to easily see how our tax dollars are being spent.

I would love to see a similar searchable database for all hospitals and doctors, listing what they charge for every procedure, office visit and drug.  Apparently there is a huge difference between one hospital and the next.  It would be great to allow people, especially those without insurance, to start to decide where they went for medical procedures at least somewhat based on price.

The Paypal Wars

I just finished reading The PayPal Wars by Eric M. Jackson who was the former head of marketing at PayPal.  This book is a must read for anyone who is thinking about starting a company or has started a company.

It tells the inside story of PayPal from when it was startup called Confinity all the way to its sale to Ebay.
There were three main themes that I really enjoyed from the book.  
PayPal did not hesitate to hire smart people, even if they did not have a job in mind.  During the author’s first two days on the job, he has to find a place for himself to work in the company.  PayPal’s management team did not mind moving smart people around the company, even if they had no previous experience in the area.
PayPal also had a philosophy of meeting its customers’ needs.  Whenever there was a problem on the business side, the management team looked for solutions that were product driven.  For example, when PayPal was loosing millions of dollars per month on free transactions, instead of forcing users into paying accounts, risking user loyalty, they designed new features to funnel users into paying accounts.
The most important aspect of the book, not to mention PayPal’s success, was its open, entrepreneurial culture.  This meant that anyone in the organization could bring ideas to the table and have them taken seriously.  If they were good ideas, they would be implemented.  It did not matter if the idea came from a recent hire or the CEO.  By empowering everyone in the company to think about all issues, it forced everyone to always be thinking about the big picture and way to improve the company.
Its also amazing how many of the people who worked on PayPal started new, incredibly successful companies.  The PayPal Mafia has founded YouTube, Yelp, LinkedIN, Slide, WorldNetDaily, Digg and others and has funded Facebook.
There are some great stories of obstacles that the PayPal team had to overcome, along with power struggles and disagreements.  This book is a must read.