I’m an Eagles fan first and foremost. I love my team. 🦅 🏈
The @Eagles have gone undefeated the entire year. That’s my team!
— Ross Simmonds (@TheCoolestCool) January 4, 2016
But the only thing that I love witnessing more (okay maybe not more) but something that I really enjoy watching is greatness coming to life right in front of my eyes.
Greatness is special.
Whether it’s watching the greatness of a chef create an amazing meal, the greatness of a writer creating back-to-back brilliant books, the greatness of a founder launching multiple successful businesses or the greatness of the Patriots organization being a dynasty that no one with a brain would argue isn’t great.
The Patriots are a Football team that operates very similarly to many of the greatest organizations I’ve seen in business. In fact, a lot of the things that the Patriots have done over the years I take deep inspiration from when thinking about the teams I work on, the companies I build and the way I approach my work day-in and day-out.
While not EVERYTHING about the Patriots approach to business is something to emulate (cough, cough, deflategate) there are plenty of things that the Patriots do that we can all learn from. If you’re not a Football fan, that’s fine…
The insights that you can learn from this email carry across all industries, all backgrounds and all interests. Here’s a few lessons that the Patriots Dominance can teach all of us about success, leadership and reaching greatness:
Build A Team That Is Multi-Talented
One of the best players on the New England Patriots is a Wide Receiver named Julian Edelman. He actually won Most Valuable Player in the last Super Bowl after having an outstanding performance. What’s interesting about Julian Edelman is that he’s a Wide Receiver today but in college he was a Quarterback. This dual skill gives him an interesting and unique perspective into his current position and offers insight into knowing what a Quarterback really wants from a wide receiver.
He’s not the only player the Patriots have drafted that played multiple positions. Over the years, the Patriots have had defensive backs who used to play Wide Receiver and Linebackers who used to play Safety. The running backs are regularly lined up to play as Wide Receivers and sometimes wide receivers line up to play Running Back.
In business, we often hire people with a very narrow focus in one industry or field. The most creative people you hire often come from industries that aren’t exactly aligned with what you offer.
For example; hiring a designer who is coming from the world of consumer-packaged goods space could be a huge advantage for an enterprise product as they’ll bring an entire new set of thinking to the table. Similarly, hiring someone with a background in eCommerce could bring a very powerful set of skill-sets to an industry like Real Estate or Banking.
But this can go a step further…
When you think about the talent you hire and the people you work with strive to find people who are naturally curious & consistently flexible. Curious in the sense that they’re going to take the time to learn new things that aren’t exactly aligned with the skills they have today. Consistently flexible in the sense that they’re willing to step up and do the work that might not fit their job description.
It’s these people (like Edelman) who can rise up the ranks of an organization and become your most valuable player. It’s these people who are never shy of a challenge and are willing to do the work required to win.
Create A Culture Focused On The Work
One of the biggest criticisms that the Patriots get year after year is how boring their coach is when it comes to interviews. He’s constantly asked questions like: What’s the goal for this half? And his response is typically very straight forward:
“Score more points.”
Or when he’s asked something like: What do you want your defense to do this quarter? He’ll respond with something like:
“Make stops and do their job.”
It’s not overly complex. It’s not sexy. It’s not flashy. But it is the truth.
He just wants his team to do their job. And the team (from top to bottom) realize that it’s on them to do exactly that. The kicker is hired to make kicks. The defensive backs are hired to play good defense. The offensive line is hired to protect the quarterback.
That’s it. No flash. No glamor. No excitement.
Sure, it’s great to get excited about results and winning but the process that gets you there should be just as much of a thrill. The most effective leaders and team members I’ve ever met are obsessed with the little things that make up the big things. They’re obsessed with making everything they create, touch, ship and influence count. And there’s no need for praise or making the work sound glamorous. They know their job and are focused on doing it at a high level.
At Foundation, one of our key values is: Stand Up, Be Humble. (Shout out to Kendrick for the inspiration). The idea is exactly this. Stand up, take opportunities, win and celebrate the success. But be humble enough once completed to realize it’s on to the next opportunity as soon as this one is completed.
Scout & Draft (Aka Hire) The Under-Estimated / Undiscovered
Tom Brady (the greatest Football player of all time – yes, I said it) was drafted in the 6th round and was considered by many to be average at best. He didn’t have the most impressive build… He didn’t have the most impressive combine… And he didn’t have any of the signs that would point to him having what it took to be a 6 time NFL champ.
But here we are…
And it’s not just Tom Brady. The Patriots have been known for taking shots (and winning) on players who other teams overlook. They’ve been known to uncover and draft players in later rounds that turn out to be complete all stars. And it’s through this approach that has given them a significant amount of depth filled with greatness.
Keith Rabois, of Khosla Ventures talks about the idea of hiring undiscovered talent and how this idea was constantly pushed on him by Peter Thiel. When asked about what made PayPal so different and what made the team they built so impressive, he described this approach:
“When you launch a company you will not be able to recruit proven superstars unless you create explosive traction and even than the incumbents like Google, Facebook and others will tend to over-pay them, particularly with cash. So you need to identify the people who have too little data on their “resumes” for the larger companies to evaluate precisely.”
It makes complete sense.
If you’re hiring people who are under-estimated they are by definition going to be easier to hire than someone who is already an industry leader working at a giant. They are also going to be someone who is a high performer – they just haven’t been discovered by the rest of the industry.
The idea of working with underestimated founders is also something that Arlan Hamilton the Founder + Managing Partner of Backstage Capital is positioned well to use as a competitive advantage. When talking about her investment thesis and the founders she backs; this is how she described the approach:
“I really do think that the majority of us are underestimated (referring to women, minority and LGBT business leaders). That’s just a cool numbers game. That’s just a cool strategy. You don’t even have to think about this in terms of heartstrings or doing the right thing. To me, it really was a numbers game. It really was a logical conclusion.”
If everyone else in the industry is ignoring this group of people – it’s an opportunity for someone who isn’t going to ignore them to win.
Hire Players Who Have A Chip On Their Shoulder
These names might not mean anything to you but if you’re an NFL fan you’re likely very familiar with the names: Ocho Cinco, Randy Moss & Josh Gordon. These are three players who many teams in the NFL would’ve considered too high maintenance (even though they demonstrated they were ridiculously talented) to hire and for a short while – these players were not looking good when it came to ever getting signed…
The Patriots signed them.
And they joined the organization with massive chips on their shoulders to prove haters wrong and get themselves a championship ring. While not all of them turned out to be massive victories for the Patriots – Randy Moss helped them smash almost every NFL passing and offensive record in the league. It was a miraculous season.
The same can happen in business when you take a shot on people who have a chip on their shoulder. When someone has something to prove they are more likely to go into every single day thinking about what they need to prove and doing things to help them prove it. They get excited about proving their haters wrong. They get excited about getting a win under their belt. They get excited about the idea of being an underdog and ending up as a winner even when the world appeared against them.
Sometimes it’s all in their head.
But it’s this mentality that can push people to do amazing work. I will always feel like I have something to prove and it’s been a huge reason why I’ve been able to build my businesses and achieve what I’ve accomplished. But it’s not just me…
I know people who print negative tweets about them.
I know people who keep screenshots of VC rejection letters.
I know people who keep screenshots of media pitch rejection emails.
I know people who have printed off their rejection letters from Ivy schools.
I know people who use rejection & hate to fuel their passion. The same way getting drafted in the 6th round fired up Brady and not getting picked for the starting line up in High School fired up Michael Jordan.
Release Players Who Aren’t Contributing
This is one of the harsher items on the list but it’s in the DNA of the Patriots.
If a player isn’t performing (no matter how good they were in the past) the Patriots have no issues releasing that player. The Patriots loyalty to a player lasts as long as the player is helping them achieve their goal and makes sense for them both from a scheme (ie. Strategy) standpoint and salary cap (ie. Resource) standpoint.
If you’re not contributing… You’re cut.
This is a tough one in business because it’s easy to build connections with your team. It’s easy to build loyalty and in many ways – it’s an important part of business. But the idea of walking away from team members who are no longer contributing is an important one to keep in mind and can be found at some of the highest levels of business. Whether it was the break ups that happened with the senior teams at Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat or Apple – there’s something to be said for the importance of worrying less about what you did in the past and more about what you did today.
Keep Leadership Consistent
The last thing that I admire about the Patriots is their commitment to consistent leadership. Over the last 17 years, the team has been headed up by Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft and Tom Brady with no adjustments.
That consistency gives an organization the time to really understand how to collaborate with one another. Understand how each other work… And understand what each others strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to operations, execution and leadership.
Organizational consistency is important in business as well. If you look at the numbers, it’s consistently found in the stock market that organizations whose founders stay involved with their companies after an IPO are typically the most successful:
Maybe it’s because these founders have a chip on their shoulder… Or something else.
But regardless… The idea of consistency at leadership comes with many benefits. Not only do you get to learn from one another over a long period of time; you get to grow together and truly establish complimentary skills that can play off one another. Another benefit that comes with consistency at leadership is the lack of egos. You don’t have people jockeying for position internally and trying to shake things up just because they want to put a stamp on things. The consistency results in alignment on vision and alignment on the values that make the company strong.
This is why consistency is so important.
Wrapping Things Up
Studying the greats is one of the easiest ways to find shortcuts in business and life. Whether it’s studying people from your own industry or studying people who have achieved success in other areas of life – Studying the greats is always useful.
It’s why I’ve started reading so many biographies as of late.
There’s likely plenty of other things you can learn from studying the greatness that has made up the Patriots over the last few years. There’s likely plenty of things you could learn simply by studying Brady, Kraft or Bill. But at the end of the day…
The key is to take these lessons and apply them to your own work and life. I hope that you’re able to use some of these ideas to improve your own world or at the very least – think differently about how you approach challenges in the months to come.