Blog: Dave LeggettCanoe race analogy

Dave Leggett | 7 April 2006

Someone has forwarded me a note originally issued by, I assume, some kind of management consultant bloke in the US. I just felt the canoe race analogy was too good not to share. I laughed out loud at my desk. The 'humour' - if that's the right word - is pretty dark:

"This analogy is not meant to be unpatriotic, nor diminishing of corporate USA, just merely reflecting observations made in over 2,000 meetings and corporate roadshows during my 19 year professional career in the US.

Even though good for a laugh, the content is leaving a lot more to reflect on, and giving explanations for why America's trade deficit will continue to grow, why that American Corporate Competitiveness will continue to deteriorate, for a long time more to come.
For those who forgot, I did predict in 2000, after hosting the 7th or so private meeting with US institutional Investors and Mr. Dick Wagoner, Chairman and CEO of GM, that GM was going to go bankrupt in the coming years, and that they had no clue how to compete, and no desire to change the corporate culture (lack there of) in order to be able to engineer and manufacture cars that the consumer wanted.
A Japanese company (Toyota) and an American company (General Motors) decided to have a canoe race on the Missouri River.  Both teams practiced long and hard to reach their peak performance before the race.

On the big day, the Japanese team won by a mile.
The Americans, very discouraged and depressed, decided to investigate the reason for the crushing defeat.

A management team made up of senior management was formed to investigate and recommend appropriate action.  Their conclusion was the Japanese team had 8 people rowing and 1 person steering, while the American team had 8 people steering and 1 person rowing.  So American management hired a consulting company and paid them a large amount of money for a second opinion.

They advised that too many people were steering the boat, while not enough people were rowing.  To prevent another loss to the Japanese, the Americans' rowing team's management structure was totally reorganized to 4 steering supervisors, 3 area steering superintendents and 1 assistant superintendent steering manager. 

They also implemented a new performance system that would give the 1 person rowing the boat greater incentive to work harder.  It was called the "Rowing Team Quality First Program," with meetings, dinners and free pens for the rower.  There was discussion of getting new paddles, canoes and other equipment, extra vacation days for practices and bonuses.

The next year the Japanese won by two miles.

Humiliated, the American management laid off the rower for poor performance, halted development of a new canoe, sold the paddles, and canceled all capital investments for new equipment.  The money saved was distributed to the Senior Executives as bonuses and the next year's racing team was outsourced to India!!!!"


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