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The NFC Championship and What You Can Learn About Your Business

I want to preface this blog with the disclaimer that I’m a lifelong Cleveland Browns fan, so I understand pain and suffering first hand when it comes to professional sports 😊. I really didn’t have a rooting interest this past weekend other than wanting to see some good football games.

Bottom line from the NFC Championship game is that the Saints got jobbed by the officials when pass interference wasn't called toward the end of the game. Even if you’ve never seen an American football game in your life you can probably tell there was some sort of infraction that happened there.

How does this relate to running your business? Well, being a business owner has a lot in common with being an NFL coach. For instance, both can be very challenging. You must deal with multiple moving pieces, put together strategies and then be able to modify those strategies in real time when they aren’t working. You also must deal with circumstances that are sometimes just outside of your control, and how you deal with those circumstances can sometimes be more important than all the planning and strategizing.

When that call happened, or more applicably didn’t happen, Sean Payton the Saints coach was incensed (and rightfully so). However, the problem is that it seemed to really stick with him and ultimately impacted how the rest of the game unfolded. If we take a step back and look at the big picture though, there were a lot of other factors that contributed to the Rams ultimately winning that game.

A case could be made that the officials missed at least two face-mask calls and a delay of game penalty against the Saints. Would those calls have impacted the outcome of the game? Maybe not; maybe so. After the blown call the Saints had fourth down and the game was tied. Rather than kicking a field goal they still could have gone for it and either scored a touchdown to go up by 7 points or at least have still been tied and given the Rams the ball close to their own goal line. Finally, after all that, the Saints defense could have stopped the Rams from tying the game and then in overtime the Saints had the ball first to potentially win the game but threw an interception.

The point there, is that in sports and life and in our businesses, we are often quick to say that success is the result of hard work and planning and a culmination of events. But when failure happens, we are just as inclined to point to a singular event, usually one just outside of our control, and lay all the blame for the failure on that event. Just like Saints fans everywhere are probably blaming the officials for losing the game, we are quick to blame a product launch failure, or a quality issue, or bad service on some outside issue. This is just human nature and our inherent knee-jerk reaction.

So how can you combat that reaction and learn to use these sort of events as learning experiences?

First off, do a retrospective and objectively reflect on the event. Look at what other opportunities were missed and what planning steps could have been changed to have not ultimately ended up in the situation. During market research was an important demographic forgotten? When taking on shipping a new product to a large customer was proper lead time not considered? If there was a quality issue with materials from a supplier is it something that would have been caught with a better incoming receiving process or with collecting quality data? These are all things that feel like they are the “fault” of an outside entity but could have probably been managed better through planning and collecting key data points.

The next step is to not dwell on the issue. Again, this is very hard not to do but in order to move forward with your business, it’s paramount not to continue to lay future blame for issues on the original problem. If the original problem continues to be an issue, then refer to the previous paragraph and repeat those investigative steps until a solution to the problem is found. Continuing to “lay blame” on outside forces can be poisonous to your business because it ultimately paralyzes you and prevents moving forward. This is true for a one-person company or a one thousand-person company.

Finally, make sure that you have the proper data collection and business systems in place to effectively understand problems when they happen. It sounds simple, but you can’t measure and study the things that you can’t see. Without the proper systems in place you may never truly understand if problems were caused by external or internal factors and are left taking guesses as to what the root causes were which generally leads back to blindly blaming outside entities for all your problems and never fixing the systemic issues that might be plaguing your business.

I’m sure when Sean Payton goes back and watches the tape from that game, he’s not going to spend hours watching the blown call replay over and over on a loop. He’s going to watch every play from that game and reflect on what they could have done differently as a team in given situations and what he could have done different to achieve a more desirable outcome. And then next time they will be even more prepared for success than last Sunday.

There’s a saying that goes something like “I’ve never failed. I’ve only been successful, or I’ve learned something.” That is never truer than when dealing with factors that feel like they are outside of your control so keep that in mind as you direct your vision forward and press onward.

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