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Tipping Point

6 years ago

Years ago I read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

It describes how small changes in behaviour can have a far more wide-ranging effect. I’ve forgotten a lot of it, but one thing I remember is a chapter when he describes how good organisations can go bad. An organisation could be a company, a marriage, a school, anything. It could be a football club.

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What the book says is that something can be running perfectly well for a number of years. If people start doing things badly, you don’t notice in a good organisation. Not for a while, anyway.

You may start cutting corners, hiring inferior staff, treating them badly, working to lower standards, and for a while, nothing bad happens. There are enough good people around who remember how to do things well to paper over the cracks. So you are encouraged to continue to do things badly. It appears to have no effect.

But eventually you reach a tipping point.

The bad behaviours are repeated by more and more people of decreasing talent until things start to go badly wrong. Very quickly in some cases, after years of looking untroubled, your organization goes into a rapid and prolonged decline. The people who remember how to do things well have left, or are too few in number to make a difference.

The real kicker is that when this happens, there is no easy fix. You need to start hiring good people, get them to do the right things, and keep repeating until you notice a difference. Then you need to keep doing it.

In the same way as bad behaviours can take years to hit your organisation, repeated good behaviours can take a long time to work.

My fear with NUFC is that we’ve hit the slide. Years of poor decisions, under-investment and bad hires are starting to hit us.

Until recently, we had enough people around who knew how to do things well to paper over the cracks. Even when we were relegated in 2009, what remained were good people with high standards, and we came straight back up. I liked that team and I liked the manager.

I don’t see that this time.

Even if we avoid relegation, I am not confident that we are good enough to repeat the trick next year. We have a poor board, poor coaches and a poor team, in which good players have forgotten how to play well. Even the support is starting to crack.

More so than in 2009, in my opinion; the fans have reached their tipping point.

If Mr Gladwell is correct – and I hope he is not – this won’t be fixed by getting in 2 centre halves and a couple of strikers in the summer.

Even if you believe we can attract the right people, and that the board would spend big enough to get them, it won’t provide a solution. It might help, but we’d need something similar next year, and the year after that and so on until it started working again.

The people I see around who remember what the club stands for (Jonas, the Taylors, Cisse…?) will be gone soon, and others who seem to be made of the right stuff (Perez, De Jong) seem shellshocked.

It could be that we need 5 years of repeated investment to get us to a point where we look up the table not down. In my view, we missed 2 golden opportunities to start this process: when we were promoted and the season after we finished 5th.

Mike Ashley is not stupid. He must see this. I can’t believe he is happy watching the club slide towards obscurity. He must have more pride than that.

He is the man at the top and he has the power to drive the changes we need.

If he doesn’t want to – no one can make him – then he ought to do the decent thing and hand the club over to someone who wants to fix it.


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