Lessons from Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles

Wharton interview with Philadelphia Eagles GM

In Super Bowl LII, the never-before-Super-Bowl-Champion, Philadelphia Eagles faced the dreaded New England Patriots.  The Patriots have won five Super Bowls with Coach Bill Belichick and all-star quarterback Tom Brady.  The Eagles were a blue-collar underdog to the supermodel-marrying Patriots.

Final Score:  Philadelphia Eagles  41  –  New England Patriots  33

How did the underdog Eagles defeat the well-oiled machine that was the New England Patriots, without their starting quarterback no less?

Well, the Eagles have one of the youngest General Managers in the National Football League, Howie Roseman.  He has been the GM since 2010 with a year or two break in the middle of the Chip Kelly experiment.  Obviously, the Eagles are a team and no one person is responsible for their success.  But as GM for most of this decade, Roseman is the architect of this team and it’s culture.

He recently did an interview with the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School that you can watch on YouTube.

 

Thinking in Bets

Listening to this discussion, I was reminded of a good book I had read recently – Thinking in Bets:  Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts by poker champion Annie Duke.

I wrote a review of it here.

As a champion poker player, she had honed her decision making skills.  In poker, unlike chess, much of the information that is useful is hidden.  In chess, you have complete knowledge of your opponents position and capabilities.  In poker, many of the cards are hidden and even at the end of the game the cards are not all revealed.  In poker, you cannot know if you won with luck or skill for certain in any given hand.

Poker is more like real life decision making.

In making decisions where there is significant uncertainty, like poker or NFL player projections, you cannot just judge your decision based on the outcome because there is uncertainty as to whether luck or skill drove the outcome.  You have to focus on process and outcomes over time, not any one set of outcomes.

You have to “think in bets” or think probabilistically.  The big key is to focus on making a series of good bets that over time should work.

 

Roseman’s Thoughts

This interview covered a lot of ground so I will try and summarize some of the ideas.

 

Use Analysis and Logic to Drive Decisions

He uses traditional scouting but in conjunction with advanced analytics.  They have researched quite carefully what is value relative to salary caps.  They have researched which positions to invest cap dollars in and which to not.

They are investing heavily in wearable tracking and data analysis.  The players wear trackers in practice that measure all the spatial movements.  By doing this, they can track player performance from practice to practice.  They can see small changes and trends in behavior to proactively address injuries and fatigue.  They can optimize practice schedules based on data not tradition.

He also emphasizes having parallel paths of data and analysis to reduce the influence of bias in his decision making.

Roseman is clear that his job is to make good bets that over time will lead to good outcomes.  He uses data mixed with traditional football information to drive those good bets.

 

Culture Matters

There is a lot of analysis to suggest that trading away a lot of draft picks to trade up and take a player is a bad bet.  Yet the Eagles under Roseman did just that in drafting Carson Wentz at quarterback.  Why would they do that?

Well, they know that having a high level quarterback is pretty much a prerequisite for championship level success in the pass heavy NFL.  Also, quarterbacks are the leaders of a team.  They touch the ball on every offensive play.  They make critical decisions over and over again on the field.  The reason they drafted Carson Wentz is that he checked every culture box on work ethic and personal responsibility at the most important position the whole team.

 

You Can’t Just Be a Logical, Data-driven Machine, Relationships Matter

Roseman is clearly very data-driven yet he went out of his way to build relationships within his organization.  Roseman has been with the Eagles for many years and he has worked at developing a culture not just a data center.

When he was a young staff member, he knew Head Coach Andy Reid liked good food.  So he went out of his way to bring Reid great pizza to develop a relationship with Reid at a higher level than most junior staff.

He would also take on less glamorous duties just to build relationships.  When assistant coaches go scouting they may need to be driven around.  Roseman would volunteer to chauffeur assistant coaches around just to pick their brains and develop rapport.

 

The Payoff

All of his efforts paid off with a great win over a vaunted opponent on sports’ biggest stage in dramatic fashion.

But I bet he is not focused on that outcome.  I bet he is still focused on process and making good bets.

This story is more good evidence that success requires a blend of logical decision-making and solid interpersonal skills.

 

 

Learning From Failure is Not Science Fiction

Science fiction can be a great way to explore real world themes without real world baggage.

Okay, it’s Star Trek, but bear with me.

This scene is set at Starfleet Academy, a science fiction version of West Point or Annapolis, in the far future.  It shows a training exercise for young officers.

The young officer commands a ship in a simulation where it is designed to be a no-win scenario.  All decisions lead to losing outcomes no matter what the trainee officer does.

Of course, this is a fictional setting in a popular movie.  But work with me here.  Fictional settings are a great way to explore sensitive issues without all the real world emotion and drama mixed in.

Why might an organization put its trainees through scenarios where they must fail?  What does failure have to teach us?

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United States Marine Corps Will to Survive

The United States Marine Corps is one of the most storied fighting organizations in all of human history.  They have fought legendary battles and earned countless victories.

They are a hugely successful organization that has a trove of institutional knowledge that has to be passed down from generation to generation of Marines.

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Pain and Suffering Are Not the Same Thing

Ending from Braveheart

Braveheart is a really good movie.  One of the parts I could never forget is at the end.  William Wallace endures unbelievable physical agony yet his mind is at peace.

How can that be?

 

Pain and suffering are not the same thing.

Pain is something that cannot be avoided.  Any life will have loss, hurt and death.  These are the unavoidable companions of mortal life.  Life is not fair either.  Some people experience way more pain than others.  But everyone that is alive experiences pain.  It is the physical sensation that something is wrong.  It is a nerve signal that something is not right.

Buddhism teaches us that pain is unavoidable but suffering is not.

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Sir Richard Branson – On a Wing and a Prayer

 

What do Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group and international playboy, and an iconic, counter-culture 1960s science fiction novel have in common?

Let’s find out.

Sir Richard Branson is a titan of business today.

However, he is pretty much a self made billionaire.  Despite dyslexia and poor academic performance, he started his first business at sixteen.  He has kept on starting businesses ever since.  He made his first fortune through starting a hugely successful chain of record stores, Virgin Records.  He has gone on to found a successful high end transatlantic airline, Virgin Airlines.  He has even started a space travel tourism business called Virgin Galactic.  On the way, he has amassed a fortune estimated to be about $5 billion dollars.

Beyond his business endeavors, Branson is quite famous for his bold lifestyle.  He lives on his own private island in the British Virgin Islands where he rode out the hurricanes last year.  He has also sailed and even hot air ballooned across the Atlantic.  Later he also hot air ballooned across the Pacific.  He is a man of great personal courage in both life and business.

Today on Twitter, I see a tweet about a blog post from Sir Richard Branson.  It turns out Sir Richard is an active blogger.  He is a very accomplished person and he has interesting things to say.

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Working Harder Makes Me Happier, Weird Isn’t It?

Paradoxically, working harder is making me happier.

At the end of February, I made it a goal and a new habit to write at least 500 words a day.  This was a doable goal but not an inconsequential one.  It takes something to consistently put out 500 words a day.  On weekends.  On bad days.  On hectic days.

It causes me stress some days.  Sometimes I’m still trying to get my words done after everybody else is in bed because that’s the kind of day it was.

Yet, I am happier overall for making this effort.  I think it’s easy to confuse pleasure and happiness.  It may not be pleasurable to have to always bang out some thoughts on the screen.  But it increases my happiness to do it.  My contentedness with my life is higher.

It is one of those funny, weird things about life that many things that are pleasurable actually decrease our happiness with ourselves and our lives.  Also, many things that take effort and are not pleasurable do increase our happiness.

The easy thing to do is rarely the best thing to do.  It almost always takes WORK.

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Book Review of Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS Lead and Win

Extreme Ownership:  How U.S. Navy SEALS Lead and Win is a wonderful leadership book written by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.  Jocko is also the author of two very popular kids books on raising warrior kids that I wrote about here.

Jocko Willink and Leif Babin are highly decorated former U.S. Navy SEAL leaders that basically ran the SEAL teams in the Battle of Ramadi during some of the worst fighting of the Iraq war.

Willink and Babin now run a successful business and leadership consulting business called Echelon Front based on their experiences in the military and combat.  They ran combat teams into some of the worst combat the U.S. military has seen in decades.  They also had to manage several competing interests.  They were Navy SEALS part of the U.S. Navy but they HAD to work very closely with the U.S. Army and Marine Corps on a regular basis.  It is very difficult to work through different chains of command to achieve anything especially during intense combat operations.

The intensity of the combat and the pace of their operations was a fantastic learning opportunity in the midst of much pain and suffering.

The same principles for leadership that were effective in combat were helping their civilian business clients.  This book is a collection of lessons from combat that can apply to business and life.

combat is reflective of life, only amplified and intensified

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How I Journal – The Tools of the Trade

Recently, I have been keeping a journal again.  I say again because I have tried before and it has always fallen by the wayside.  This time it seems to be going better and I’ve written about that here.

When I’m trying to build a new habit, especially one I have failed to keep before, I like to have a game plan or strategy towards building the new habit.

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