- 5 years ago the Patriots’ Malcolm Butler intercepted a Russell Wilson pass on the goal line to cement another Super Bowl trophy. The NFL Network called it the 5th greatest play of all time, and Seahawk’s coach Pete Carroll’s decision to pass and not hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch aka The Beast is one of the most widely criticized calls of all time. Was it a bad call?
- If you were coaching a Stanley Cup playoff game and were down by 2 goals, when would you pull your goalie? With 2 minutes left? 90 seconds? When do you see coaches typically decide the benefit of having an extra skater outweighs an unminded net?
Straight from the writing-a-hook-101 playbook, surprise! You guessed right — the answers are counterintuitive. In the first case, coach Carroll actually made the right call despite what many observers think. How about the hockey coaches? According to famous Wall Street quants, Cliff Asness and Aaron Brown, coaches should yank the goalies with more than half the time remaining in the 3rd period. Their argument and model has been one of the most popular papers on SSRN since it was published last year.
Going for it on 4th and long near midfield. Letting your opponent score a TD when they are in close range for a go-ahead FG late in the 4th. These are some examples of the unconventional but correct calls that have been normalized in the NFL. Upon first glance, these stories seem to be about sports becoming more woke about math. I disagree. The math was not the bottleneck. Bill James and sabermetrics have been around for forty years.
The deeper lesson is about acting independently. Pete Carroll made the right call. It happened to not work out. When you have a 55% edge on a coin flip you still lose almost half the time. What makes this call memorable is how courageous it was. He knew that observers would ridicule him if he called a pass and lost. A lesser coach may have chosen wrongly to run the ball knowing that nobody would second-guess the call if it didn’t work. Even if a magical flying Seahawk materialized on most coach’s shoulders with divine knowledge that running was only 45% to work, you can easily imagine the coaches rationalizing that it was still worth trying. Such is the power of motivated reasoning when the fear of a mob shakes your conviction.
(The story of the defensive play that was called on the field for that interception is fascinating. If you want to understand the depth of Belichik’s strategy it’s worth a listen. Mike Lombardi, Pats assistant that year, breaks it down starting at 38:40)
For Carroll to pass the ball in that goal line situation took faith that the team owner wouldn’t fire him based on the outcome. He had to trust that that the process which brought him to this moment and dictated the decisions on smaller stages deserved more weight than the emotions which might emerge in the spotlight. To explore why some people seem to be more capable at this and how we can all be aware of the forces which inhibit us from good decisions check out Malcolm Gladwell’s interview with Cliff Asness and Aaron Brown.
For those of you who have taken the Big Five Personality test (also known as the Five-Factor or OCEAN model), you will see the role of ‘disagreeability’ and in which ways it is an adaptive quality. The trait of being less interested in others’ approval has significant pros and cons. It’s advisable to match your temperament in this category to the work you do. More than many other traits, I feel like a mismatch here leads to very avoidable frustration. After the interview (and a moment to ponder how Brown’s voice sounds just like Jeff Bridges), you will find yourself in the following thought exercise:
You discover an armed intruder in your house when you are home alone with your child. What’s your strategy?
Gladwell, riffing on the plot of No Good Deed, walks you through the right strategy versus the one you are going to choose. He then explains why you should be forgiven for choosing poorly.
The Courage to Be Disliked
This is a book by Fumiake Koga and Ichiro Kishimi which follows a conversation between student and philosopher to demonstrate the principles of Adlerian psychology. It was the latest book covered in the Rad Read’s Slack book club. Borrowing from Blas Moros’ notes:
No matter what moments you are living, or if there are people who dislike you, as long as you do not lose sight of the guiding star of “I contribute to others,” you will not lose your way, and you can do whatever you like. Whether you’re disliked or not, you pay it no mind and live free.
Armed with observations from Alfred Adler, you can orient towards your needs more effectively than the often misguided promise of other’s approval. I highlighted Moros’ notes here if it helps you decide whether you want to pick it up the book.