Hello world and welcome back!
In episode 3 of The Last Dance, Phil Jackson was introduced as the new head coach of the Bulls, following a nasty breakup with former coach Doug Collins. Regardless of whether you’re familiar with the names, Jordan flourished under Collins. The offense was built for Michael, and plays were run to get him the ball, regardless of the matchups or flow of the game. The more general philosophy was to ‘Get the ball to Michael and get the f*ck out of the way’. And for the most part, it worked. Jordan was a superstar that could beat most teams singlehandedly.
But not all. The strategy was inherently static. There was little variance in play and without defined roles and movements for supporting players, the offense could stagnate and defenses could adapt (though clearly not always effectively). If you watch the video above, the defense had adapted. Jordan hit a double pump shot over a defender with another trailing - an impressive shot that speaks to the ability of Jordan himself.
Phil Jackson brought with him the triangle offense, an established, yet relatively unused strategy in the NBA. The new style was built around dynamic, moving pieces. The players operated as a closely knit group of nodes, always fluidly changing positions within the same framework of a triangle. The concept and offense as a whole was meant to be simple. Players were 'replaceable’ in that there was no single point of failure nor a single node of necessity. As you could imagine, this was a complete shift in the Bulls’ architecture. Michael was an asset that could always be used in bailout situations, but there were layers beyond simple isolation plays. The point of this intro is not to just review this shift, but rather to point out a similarity that I realized to something seemingly unrelated: software!
At a base level, the play style shifted away from traditional drawn-up plays that are common in high school/college - e.g. the guard dribbles left from the top of the key, dribble left, and wait for a screen to the right for a shot. A literal series of steps to produce some action. In software, many applications are built in the same way. In what is known as 'procedural programming’, the computer listens to a list of step-by-step instructions that can be executed in a top-down approach. It can be effectively limited to constraints. It creates difficulties in replacing pieces with different components, instead of having to rewrite steps for often similar outcomes.
Now, the shifted paradigm: Object-oriented programming (OOP) is a method of programming that is built around, you guessed it, objects. Most everything is represented as an object, and the actions all stem from the object itself. This paradigm allows for both reusability across objects as well as a cleaner structure (If this is new to you, here’s a good article). One of the projects I’m working on uses a library called ReactJS. Very reminiscent of OOP, the beauty of React is the separation of components and logic, yet the integration in composing a greater whole (or bigger object). In building a digital React house, there may be a top-level house component that holds two window components, a door component, and many brick components. Whenever we want to create a 'house’ I can call on my house component, with some additional properties so it’s not always the same. The components now act larger than themselves and an integral part of the whole, which creates for flexibility and resilience.
In the episode, the change in paradigm to the triangle offense allowed for the components to become more useful. They could be used in more than one place and develop their own structure - the new offense allowed Pippen to be better and find a role that took advantage of his specific skill set. (Note: No one method of play/programming is inherently better. Certain paradigms are preferred in certain situations, so this is not a catch-all).
Paradigm shifts change the way we act, play, and work. I talked about 'Tipping Points’ last week, and do think that paradigm shifts cause divergent paths across both life and work. They can also be quite revolutionary:
Phil Jackson coached 20 seasons and never had a losing record.
The triangle offense is fairly well known in basketball, but the basic ‘triangle’ strategy exists across many crafts. Diving into a few instances I find interesting.
I ran across this video a few weeks ago, and though my chess skills are limited, I do enjoy playing and find the game quite artful. The concept is triangulation, a method to achieve favorable positioning and put the opponent in a spot that is disadvantageous to move. I have a strange allure towards both chess and poker - I once heard a quote that the best games are those that take minutes to learn and a lifetime to master. Don’t always agree, but both chess and poker fall into this group.
During the year that we won state in soccer, our high school coach continually preached the importance of dynamic play. Before we left for the final four, he showed us multiple videos on Barcelona’s immaculate ‘Tiki Taka’ play, hoping that it’d strike a chord. Seemed to work.
Yet my favorite triangle from 2013 :)
An approach that exists across many scoped projects, yet still applies to even small scale ventures - the prioritization between time, cost, and quality. The balance is fragile and can be costly if wrongly executed, especially with features or products that don’t have clear quantitative outcomes and success metrics. Being in consulting and working on multiple proposals for clients has proven the difficulty in determining scope, cost, resources, and a proposed solution to a problem that usually does not have a fully contained and explicit solution.
Thank you all for reading! 3 months down, many to go