Bad, BAD lessons from the NFL Draft

Leaders in business seem to follow a lot of lessons from the NFL.  Some are good, of course.  But some are bad, bad lessons.  The 2011 NFL Draft, which commenced last night (Thursday) with the first round of selections, provides a perfect example.  While there weren’t a whole lot of huge surprises, there were indeed a few.  (Hint, the #8 pick) That is always the case.  Some players drop further than projected, while others get selected sooner than even they may have expected.  Some teams address the exact positions they need, while others operate under the philosophy to take the best player available, regardless of position.  I mean, what do we expect?  It’s human beings evaluating human beings.  What could go wrong?

Tom Brady was the 199th player taken because he didn't pass the eyeball test..

The NFL and those who make their name and reputation, not to mention a lot of money, from the draft like to pretend it’s a science, this evaluation of players.  Like business and financial analysts, they have all the data they could possibly need- some (like me) would argue too much.  They measure these players, weigh them, and watch hours and hours of game film.  They check their body weight and test their physical strength.  They have doctors evaluate the severity of any past injuries and look for the potential of future ones.  They even claim to effectively test the cognitive abilities of prospects with a test known as the Wonderlic. (Click Here to see how you measure up)

Now I make a living analyzing data, using tools like Microsoft’s Excel and Access to slice and dice information every way possible.  So I’m certainly not arguing against gathering as much information as possible.  My problem with this alarming trend; not only with the NFL draft, but in many areas of our lives including business; is that we (all of us, including me, are susceptible if we don’t look out for it) are placing more and more weight on this “scientific” intelligence and less and less on our own intuition, experience, and gut feeling.  We’re letting the eyeball test, as they call it in football, replace the oft times obvious information that sticks out at us.

The result?  We fall prey to aesthetics, choosing the “best looking” choice, while missing out on gems because they don’t fit what we’ve collectively identified as the “prototype.”  So a quarterback, who performed poorly in some of his biggest games, gets drafted in the top 10 because he looks good in his shorts and throws a tight spiral in perfect conditions.  Or a wide receiver with raw ability suddenly becomes the most coveted because he ran a blazingly fast 40 yard dash at the combine, an NFL event where prospective players are tested in a number of drills in front of NFL teams.

..but 3 Super Bowl wins and a perfect 16-0 regular season later, teams who passed on him are still kicking themselves.

In the business world, this (at least partially) flawed thinking also manifests itself in many ways.  For one, we look at potential job candidates and pretend degrees from Ivy League schools guarantee success.  While I admit these candidates have indeed proven themselves successful in academics, I’m not naive and understand that many of these students spent all of their time studying and possess little or no interpersonal skills or emotional intelligence (See my Reading List for a great book on the topic).  Nor do I necessarily believe that learning Math or English or Computer Science at one of these so-called elite institutions is appreciably (if at all) better than learning them from somewhere else.  (Disclaimer: I DID NOT get my Bachelor Degree from an Ivy League School or what some might consider an elite institution, although I did go to a good one, UC Davis.  I got my MBA, however, from one of the more respected programs, Santa Clara, and more importantly, studied alongside students who did earn their undergraduate degrees at the likes of Stanford, UC Berkeley, and Princeton.  And I did just as well in the program as they did, so I speak from experience.)

Hiring managers, as a result of this obsession with paper credentials, frequently mistake education for smarts, often overlooking candidates who may have, and even display or prove in the interview process, other important qualities.  Though less tangible, attributes and skills like teamwork, competitiveness, work ethic, and the ability to build alliances with coworkers are as important as the technical proficiencies learned in school.  This is especially true for those with aspirations of management and higher leadership or executive positions.

Again, I’m not proposing we all do away with measuring tools in evaluating talent, whether it be football players or accountants.  What I am suggesting is that we all use more of our life experiences to make those critical decisions.  Instead of relying solely on numbers, credentials, and how the candidate or prospect looks; we should all step back and look at the whole picture.  And let’s hope this alarming trend reverses itself and we begin to use “scientific” data as additional, rather than THE, decision criteria.  Then maybe we won’t pull the business equivalent of passing on Tom Brady, the sixth round draft pick who has won, to date, three Super Bowls.


About bbluford
I am an executive finance professional with a love for process and application development (MS Access, Excel, Quickbooks), mostly as it relates to Accounting and Business Functions. I also love to write and share ideas with other people in this world. I'm an admitted Gym Rat who works out excessively. The best summation of me is that I love to teach and to learn.

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