What do Granny Shots & Activity Costing have in Common?
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Wilt 2

Good ideas don’t always spread.

Wilt Chamberlain was a great basketball player but terrible free throw shooter. The average NBA player shoots 75%. Wilt made only 51% of his foul shots over his 14 year NBA career. The 1961-62 season, however, was different.

During the 1961-62 season someone taught Wilt how to shoot free throws underhanded. The underhanded shot (see picture above) was softer and more consistent than the traditional way of holding the ball above the waist.

Using the underhanded “Granny Shot” resulted in Wilt making 28 of 32 free throws during his record setting 100 point game March 2, 1962.

But Wilt stopped shooting free throws underhanded the following year.

The reasons why Wilt stopped shooting foul shots underhanded are the same reasons why accountants stopped using Activity-Based Costing.

Activity-Based Costing (ABC) is a best-practice method defined during the 1980’s. It’s based on a simple principle: “Activities consume costs & Products consume activities”. I was blessed to be director of the research project that gave birth to ABC.

Activity-Based Costing was successfully implemented and used by such notable companies as UPS, Federal Express, Ralston Purina, and Chrysler beginning in the 1990’s to improve decision-making and profit. Yet ABC is rarely taught in college or used by companies in 2016.

The reasons why Wilt abandoned the underhand free throw are the same root causes why Activity-Based Costing is rarely used:

  • Wilt was willing to change but not transform his technique. Change is often successful but soon abandoned. Transformation is permanent. Wilt’s change to underhanded foul shots ended after one year. Rick Barry, however, transformed his foul shooting entirely to underhanded for his career, resulting in a 89% lifetime free throw average..
  • Accountants were willing to try Activity-Based Costing pilot projects but not transform the company costing system. The results of ABC projects from 1990-2000 were overwhelmingly favorable. But few companies transformed their costing systems to ABC.
  • Wilt was not required to shoot underhanded by leadership. Even though competition frequently fouled Wilt because of his poor free throw results, neither his coach or team owner pressed him to change. A task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make our weaknesses irrelevant. Shooting foul shots underhanded made Wilt’s weakness irrelevant, but his coach did not make him continue in his strength.
  • Accountants were not required by the CEO, CPA or IRS to convert to Activity-Based Costing. Even though ABC pilot projects consistently demonstrated more accurate and understandable cost reporting. The majority of CEO’s moved their attention from ABC to the next hot topic promoted by consultants or trade journals.
  • Wilt had a high threshold of collective behavior. He refused to change unless most every other player in the league shot underhanded. Wilt was willing to abandon a better method in exchange for conforming to the majority of players. Rick Barry had a low threshold. He was willing to be a loner if the outcome was positive. Not so with Wilt.
  • Accountants have a high threshold of collective behavior. By nature, accountants are conformists. If the majority of accountants and accounting software products don’t use Activity-Based Costing, then neither will they. Marketing professionals have a low threshold. They are by nature non-conformists.

Being underhanded is bad. Shooting underhanded is good. Both in the game of basketball and the profession of cost accounting.

To learn more about Activity-Based Costing CLICK HERE. To request a free evaluation of your cost system CLICK HERE.

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Tom Pryor
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