Where Science Meets Muse

5 Lessons on Designing Innovation from Basketball’s Shot Clock

Posted by Plish on January 30, 2010

The other day I was watching a college basketball game and was stunned there was a shot clock. (I know,  before you think I live under a rock, realize that I really don’t follow college hoops.  I’m a hockey person, remember?)

“When did they introduce it?” I asked my wife.

“It’s always been there as long as I can remember.”

“I just don’t remember it from when I was a kid.  I remember guys passing the ball around wasting time…”

I got home and did some research through our buddies at Wikipedia and found out the story of the shot clock.

It actually is an example of some best practices regarding designing innovations.

The idea originally came from Coach Howard Hobson (University of Oregon and Yale) and was tried by Owner Danny Biasone’s, Syracuse Nationals during a scrimmage.  Seeing that it worked well in the scrimmage Biasone proposed the idea to the NBA and it was tried in the 1954-55 season (and in college in 1985). 

It stuck.

Now it’s almost hard to imagine basketball without the excitement of a shot clock.

Why 24 seconds? 

Says Biasone,  “I looked at the box scores from the games I enjoyed, games where they didn’t screw around and stall. I noticed each team took about 60 shots. That meant 120 shots per game. So I took 48 minutes – 2,880 seconds – and divided that by 120 shots. The result was 24 seconds per shot.”

What are some of the lessons here?

1. PROTOTYPE! TEST! PROTOTYPE!  The idea was tested in a scrimmage first.  Even after its adoption various times were tried in other leagues.  The idea is to start small, experiment and modify accordingly.  Use the results of the test to determine future directions.  In this case, it was clear this was a step in the right direction (See point 3 below).

2. Find what works  best and figure out how to make it repeatable – Don’t be afraid to dream!!  To arrive at the time alloted for the shot clock Biasone looked at the best, exciting games and used that to calculate the length of time alloted for the shot clock.  He thought every game should be exciting and believed the shot clock was the way to do it!

3.  Tired of seeing something destroyed? Take ownership and fix it!!  Emotion was a reason for changing and it was a reason for keeping the change.  Biasone (as well as many fans) thought basketball was boring and being destroyed by the techniques  teams used to stall when they took the lead.  The use of the shot clock may  well have saved basketball.  Attendance improved by 55%  the first year.

4. Find ways to measure the results from multiple points of view!  As mentioned in Point 3 above, it was clear that fans liked the shot clock as attendance improved tremendously.  A Syracuse player, Dolph Schayes, said  the use of 24 seconds was “genius” in how it controlled the flow of the game.

5.  Nothing should be above attempted improvement!  Maybe the changes won’t work.  That’s okay, you can always go back.  But maybe, just maybe, the changes will be what keeps something from becoming obsolete, or moreso, helps it to become a multi-million dollar business.


7 Responses to “5 Lessons on Designing Innovation from Basketball’s Shot Clock”

  1. […] 5 Lessons upon Designing Innovation from Basketball's Shot Clock … […]

  2. Nils Davis said

    Great post! As I said in my tweet (scheduled for Monday) this is my new favorite innovation blog!

  3. Plish said

    Thanks Nils on all fronts!! Glad you liked the post!

  4. Mike Brown said

    Michael – Really interesting to go back in history and pull the lessons out from something that’s commonplace today. I love how 24 seconds was determined. It’s wonderful when people use simple math to estimate something and go with it because it’s close, rather than agonizing to achieve overly precise detail.


  5. seo-what said

    It had been in place for a long time in the NBA. They just picked it up from there.

  6. Plish said

    Mike, your observation about simple math is so true and should be taken to heart more often. I remember right out of school I was doing some structural calculations and had the answer with correct significant digits, etc. A seasoned engineer looked at my numbers, smiled and rounded it up by five thousand and said “Good to go!” Yes, there are times when detail is necessary, but when trying to keep things moving and testing things, detail can just get in the way.

    Thanks for stopping by and for sharing your thoughts!

  7. Plish said

    Thanks for stopping by Vilehelm!

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