Joe Paterno Penn State


Perhaps the biggest failure of the past year, especially in the world of sports, has been the Penn State Sandusky scandal.  The affair has ruined a mythic reputation, destroyed dozens of careers, crippled a country leading sorts program, bruised (and maybe more) a venerated academic institution, not to mention indelibly hurt the lives of a large number of young victims. 

So with Penn State taking to the field today for the first time since the debacle, what in this failure is there to embrace?  The lessons.  Namely, the lesson that if Penn State had embraced failure as robustly as it obviously embraced victory, much of the pain and destruction would have been averted.

This is the conclusion of Vada O. Manager’s piece ““What Organisations Can Learn from Penn State’s Mistakes” (paywalled) in the Sports Business Journal.  He enumerates 4 lessons in particular all of which are common themes in this blog…

  1. Whistleblowing – “Do Ask, Do Tell and Report” if an incident occurs involving minors.  Overrule any contrary instincts or immediately dismiss individuals who suggest otherwise.
  2. Expect Failure – Failure to plan for an institutional crisis is failure, period.  It is astonishing how many large, successful organisation do not have an established process to anticipate issues for manage crises.
  3. Diversity – The lack of diverse viewpoints at the decision-maker’s table can lead to bad outcomes.  The key to a successful, balanced decision was the diversity of opinion and relative experience present.
  4. LearnUniversity presidents and boards of trustees must use this teachable moment to recalibrate their institutions between administrators, athletic departments and academic mission.  The trustees and the presidents are accountable for its successes and failure.  It doesn’t matter if the team is undefeated or the revenues generates from the turnstile ticket scanners have brought success to the school.