The Otis Redding Problem

Posted by  Kevin Bishop —January 6, 2011
Filed in Employee Engagement, Fun

I stumbled across a blog post yesterday from Bob Sutton where he referred to the ‘Otis Redding Problem‘.

This is where you put in place too many metrics to measure individuals, teams, or business units. meaning they can’t even think about all of them at once. They therefore end-up doing what they believe are important or that will bring them rewards.

This is based on the line from the famous Otis Redding song Sitting By the Dock of the Bay; “Can’t do what ten people tell me to do, so I guess I’ll remain the same.”

This triggered a thought for me about how you could potentially use musical artists, lyrics or song names in an exercise.

Say you wanted to explore levels of engagement within a team or department. Asking straight out is unlikely to get you an accurate picture, depending on the culture, environment, who is present etc.   

What you could do is get groups to come up with, say, a written ‘Playlist’ of songs that sum up levels of engagement for them within the team. Or you could give them an iPod and get them to actually create one and play it back to the room.

Maybe instead you could introduce them to the ‘Otis Redding Problem’ and then get them to come up with their own examples within the team, based on song lyrics.

I just think this type of method allows people some safety and security to “discuss the undiscussable”. It allows them to distance themselves from openly expressing how they feel, and the dangers that presents, just as archetypes or metaphor exercises might allow. It also creates a bit of fun, and lets people express some of their creativity and musical knowledge!

Anyone ever used anything like this and wanted to share how it went? Or does anyone have their own ideas on Problems/Dilemmas/Scenarios in the ‘Otis Redding Problem’ vein? Love to hear your thoughts.

About  Kevin Bishop


  1. Kevin, your idea about using song titles as a vehicle to help groups discuss uncomfortable topics is very helpful. As a facilitator, I’ve used something similar for ice-breaker activities when groups are getting to know one another better.
    For example, the culture of many organizations discourages “bragging.” Instead, ask, “What rock song title best describes one of your key strengths?” This method allows participants to open up and reveal a core strength without the self-consciousness of breaking the organization’s code.

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