Michael Metzger

Next year’s NCAA Final Four promises plenty of air balls and scoring droughts. The problem is poor backdrops. Poor backdrops create poor depth perceptions—a problem that today extends well beyond basketball.

If you caught this year’s March Madness, you noticed some poor shooting in the South Region. The final games were held at NRG Stadium in Houston, home of the Houston Texans NFL team and site of the 2016 Final Four. The cavernous stadium is known as a black hole for basketball sharpshooters.

NRG has hosted 16 NCAA men’s basketball games. During the 2011 national championship game, Butler shot 18.8 percent from the field in a 53-41 loss to Connecticut. In this year’s Sweet Sixteen matchup between Gonzaga and UCLA, the Zags were 3 of 19 while UCLA was 3 of 13 on 3-point tries. Ouch. No team has shot at least 50 percent from the field in a tournament game at NRG Stadium.

The problem is poor backdrops. Black curtains well behind the baskets seem to disrupt shooters’ depth perceptions. Players often feel they are launching jump shots deep into another galaxy. Better backdrops—like those at Lucas Oil Stadium, site of tonight’s game—give shooters better depth perceptions.

In times past, people saw the Christian faith as a backdrop. Take “passion,” a topic I raised last week. Scripture describes it as problematic at best. With this backdrop, the American Founders sought to curb and control the “passions of the people.” The Senate was seen as “the saucer into which the nation’s passions are poured to cool.”

Today, the faith has receded like the curtains well behind the baskets at NRG Stadium. One example is trying to “empower” employees. The idea harkens from the 1920s, when Elton Mayo studied workers at the Hawthorne plant, a sprawling factory just outside Chicago. He conducted various experiments, treating culture as a commodity to increase worker efficiency. Mayo considered workers to be machines that can be “empowered,” just as we power up mechanical devices by inserting batteries.

Mayo’s ideas got traction as he taught management theory at the University of Pennsylvania and later at the Harvard Business School. Henry Ford was an early adopter. Ford introduced the assembly line in 1913, viewing workers as machines. They felt dehumanized. Things got so bad that, at the close of 1913, Ford estimated he’d have to replenish the ranks with 100 factory workers. He had to hire 963. The situation stabilized only as workers became habituated to being dehumanized.

In 1947, Daniel Bell criticized Mayo for “adjusting men to machines,” rather than enlarging the human capacity for freedom and responsibility. Few saw what he meant. The Christian faith had receded as a backdrop. Mayo’s influence continues to this day as businesses (and even faith communities) claim to see great value in “empowering” people. Perhaps they’ll pay attention to recent findings from neuroscience.

A few years ago I spoke to David Burnham about “empowering” people. He heads the Burnham Rosen Group, a leader in the neuroscience of superior performance. Their findings indicate that talking about “empowering” people actually decreases performance. Effective leaders see how every individual has a degree of authority, or power. Effective leaders “return authority,” asking questions to determine expertise. You can’t “plug” power into people like you plug in a lamp or batteries in a toy.

This is another instance of science catching up to scripture. The Bible says every individual has a degree of authority, power, or dominion. People are not machines. You can’t “empower” them. Effective leaders return authority to those who rightfully have it. When the faith serves as this kind of backdrop, we gain greater depth perceptions on empowerment. We shoot a higher percentage in terms of developing people.

Science or scripture, or both—you choose. Otherwise, we become accustomed to nonsense such as “empowering people.” At this year’s South Region at NRG Stadium, Duke guard Tyus Jones said the key to winning is adjusting your eyes to whatever backdrop is there—good or poor—so that, “come game time, it feels normal.” “Empowering people” might feel normal, but it actually reveals a lack of depth perceptions and how we’ve become accustomed to some rather poor backdrops.

Follow me on Twitter: @Metzger_Mike


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One Comment

  1. Interesting narrative that appears to show how a particular lexicon of interpretation produces a surprising outcome. Key appearing to be the ‘power’ imparted.Are individuals suitably employed being an appropriate measure. IMO empowerment actually enables individuals to resonate with personal and shared aspirations.

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