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Musings on “Play Lockers”

Unlocking the concept of play lockers and specialists in startups, teams and groups

People familiar with ChatGPT, GPT-3, and advancements in machine learning, Generative AI like Midjourney, DALLE, or those who’ve used AI features on Snapchat, Character AI, Loom, GPTInbox, or Duolingo’s personalized tutors

By your own definition who do you think play lockers are?

Everyone wants to win, everyone wants to get to the top. The reality though is that very few people know how to stay at the top when they get there.

I love Mavin Records, they are a formidable team that knows how to excel at the top. Every single signing from Tiwa Savage to indie-sound Johnny Drille stays relevant over years, and you can’t help but thank the management for doing such a good job.

Another example I like to sight is the popular reality show Big Brother Africa and the Nigerian spinoff β€” a.k.a Big Brother Naija. Every year for about 90 days, the programme airs to an average audience of 309 million viewers in Africa, after which there would be one winner who has about 3 million fans across the continent willing to do anything they say, willing to make them happy, successful through measures that can be as simple as a GofundMe raiser to the craziest things you could possibly think of.

Interestingly over the course of the past 5 editions I’ve followed, I think one of the primary reasons Tacha garners my respect is how she adeptly managed to stay relevant and influential during her era, enough to sustain her impact and relevance even across subsequent editions while maximizing every single leverage at her disposal.

I guess this is where I stop rambling and talk about play lockers, the title of this journal. 😊

What on earth is a Play Locker?

Fair question. Let’s use the analogy of a football game to explain. You see, in football, when a team is leading by one goal, the coach makes tactical substitutions towards the end of the match, especially in midfield and attack. These substitutes have a singular objective: lock in the score of the game, ensuring the team secures their win.

Think of it as a chess game. The Play Lockers are the pieces that the coach strategically moves to block the opponent’s path and safeguard their lead. A somewhat perfect example is a typical Jose Mourinho match, where his team scores early in the 50th minute of the game and spends the remaining 40 minutes of the game meticulously defending that single goal lead by substituting in two new “play lockers” as I would like to call them.

These “play lockers” are strategic both when their team has possession of the ball (“on the ball”) and when the other team has possession (“off the ball”). Here’s how it works: When their team does not have possession, these players adopt a specific strategy aimed at reducing the opponents’ options.

Let’s illustrate this with a hypothetical match between Chelsea and Manchester United, where Man U employs two play lockers.

As Chelsea controls the ball, it would naturally seem that all eleven Chelsea players have the potential to influence the play. However, through smart positioning and tight marking, these two play lockers from Man U can effectively isolate four or more Chelsea players, making the opposing team seem more like a seven-player squad than a full eleven-player team.

This strategic marking significantly limits Chelsea’s options for passing and ball movement, giving Man U a better chance to win back possession or force Chelsea to put the ball out of play through a throw-in, corner kick, or goal kick. Essentially, through the effective use of play lockers, Man U can exert greater control over the game, even when they’re not in possession of the ball.

Still seems abstract? Let’s switch the scenery. Imagine a music concert. You’ve been anticipating your favorite singer’s performance of that hit song that’s been on repeat in your playlists. They are on tour in your city, and you buy tickets to their concert. The concert begins, and they start singing, accompanied by a group of musicians. The song sounds exactly like the studio version you’ve been jamming to, and you wonder how that’s possible.

Well, my friend, the credit goes to a set of musicians I like to call “musical play lockers.” Just like the football Play Lockers, these musicians have one job – to replicate the song as accurately as possible, matching the rhythm, dynamics, and bounce of the original studio recording. Whether in London, Nairobi, or Cape Town, they deliver the song in the same breathtaking fashion, while keeping the energy at an all-time high. They are the ones that ensure consistency, locking in the rhythm and tone throughout the tour.

This Play Locker concept extends to business, specifically growth-stage startups or Post-Product-Market-Fit startups. Instead of pace setters who are there to drive rapid growth and expansion, you need a set of Play Lockers. Their mission is to stabilize growth, focus on inbound up-selling, reducing churn, and increasing the Net Promoter Score (NPS). These people lock in the strategies and processes that guarantee sustained success.

In conclusion, whether on a football field, a concert stage, or in the corridors of a startup, Play Lockers have their unique place. They are the specialists called upon when the goal is to maintain a lead, ensure consistency, and secure victory. But they can also be generalists, ready to adapt to different roles as required.

Without trying to spark a debate between Pioneers versus Play lockers, I believe it’s essential to strike a balance between both. It’s crucial to ensure your team has a harmonious blend of pioneers and play lockers, according to the strategy you need to implement at any given moment within your organization.

While the concept of substitution might seem appealing, it isn’t a luxury everyone can afford. For instance, Hey “Tinubu” could you consider taking a break from sales over the next 3 months “Peter” will be stepping in this quarter, but we will still pay you your salary and monthly commissions.

The trick, as in football, music, or business, is finding the right balance. You need pace setters to score the goals, but you also need Play Lockers to secure the win. So, the next time you watch a football game, or a concert, or even a successful business, remember the unsung heroes — the Play Lockers.

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