Change=Hope; Change≠Progress

By: Sumeet Goel

Folks that know me personally know that I’m an avid sports fan. And those who don’t, but read my latest post, probably know by now.

This past week has been crazy in the sports world with the leadup to the NBA draft and the trades and speculation that go along with it, not to mention the start of NFL training camps and “insider” reports from unnamed “sources” about how your team’s favorite players are “looking” (news flash — everyone is explosive and in great shape and ready to put last year behind them). While you might think the offseason would be a time for fans to take a break, that is not the case at all. But why?

The Ringer said that there is more attention on the NBA offseason because at this time 30 NBA fan bases have hope — no team has chalked up a massive losing streak and everyone is still in the running. While during the season, only one fan base does, because the Warriors crush all comers.

Yesterday morning on Mike & Mike, guest Will Cain said the same about the NFL — in the offseasons, every team is in play and we, the fans, get to play GM and speculate on how things will turn out. Offseasons have become more interesting to many than the actual seasons. The whole league is in the process of changing their lineups and with these changes, fans become invigorated.

With every high draft pick. Every free agent signing. Every coaching change. There is Hope. However, as any sports fan will tell you, it almost always means nothing. In fact, there’s a reason for all of those high draft picks and overpaid free agent signings and big-name coaching changes. It is because the team is bad. They have a high draft pick because they had a bad record. They need to overpay free-agents or bring in ones who are over the hill because they have to lure them there. They hire and fire and hire and fire coaches because they have to show wins today.

It can either be a vicious or a virtuous cycle — and it’s not clear that we have that much control over the outcome at times. Gregg Popovich has been with the Spurs since 1994 — but does he stay there this long without his record of success? No. And does that record of success happen without David Robinson breaking his foot, sitting out the season, thus allowing the Spurs to draft #1 and getting Tim Duncan?  Perhaps not.

Bill Belichick was fired by multiple teams, including the hapless Browns, before landing and sticking with the Patriots. He is now a Hall of Fame coach with 5 Super Bowl wins. But does all of this happen if he doesn’t luck into Tom Brady in the 6th round in 1999? Probably not. Is he a genius for drafting Brady in the 6th? Absolutely not. If he knew that Brady was going to be one of the greatest QBs of all time, he would have taken him in the 1st round. Or heck, the 5th at least!

I have been giving this idea of “Change = Hope, but not necessarily Progress” a lot of thought recently. I alluded to it in last week’s post on statistics on the heels of Immelt being ousted at GE. And it struck me again yesterday as it was announced that Travis Kalanick was stepping down as CEO of Uber (ironically enough, Immelt might be considered for the CEO role).

The litany of egregious missteps, cultural issues and backwards policies do not get solved just by changing out the CEO. Yes, it was a culture driven from the top down, and by extension from the very top by the leaders that he hired and the ‘learned behavior’ of those executives, but you don’t wipe away Susan Fowler, Greyball, Waymo, mishandled medical records, and escort parties simply by removing a CEO.

But much like the offseason draft picks, what this change does offer is the hope for improvement. And like clockwork, pundits have already started to ask if Uber 2.0 is on the horizon.

So while Uber’s investors have Hope that this Change will bring Progress, the real test will be in who they hire, and whether that individual has the wherewithal (and true support from the Board, which had its own issues this past week) to implement change.

Or this is simply window dressing, with the “lower-case h” sort of hope that with the change, folks will turn their attention elsewhere. We’ll have to wait until the regular season to find out.