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Thursday, November 19, 2009

No one gets fired for punting

Last weekend, Bill Belichick, the coach of the New England Patriots, decided to go for it on 4th down and 2 from their own 28 yard line near the end of the game, up 6 points. The Patriots didn't make it, and Belichick was vilified by the press.

Was it Belichick being bold? Was it his lack of confidence in his defense? Was he thinking he was smarter than everyone else in the world?

Well it turns out, he was right. According to Advanced NFL Stats blog, going for it gave him a 79% win probability. Punting gave him a 70% win probability. So if the goal of the game was to win, he made the right decision.

Punting would have been the safe decision. If the Colts drive for a TD, the defense would've been blamed. But punting would have been the wrong decision. But no one gets fired for punting.

The corporate world is like all 29 other coaches in the NFL. People in the corporate world are there because it's safe and secure. People get rewarded for making the safe decision instead of the right decision. There are numerous times where I've pushed and pushed for the risky decision when I saw that the safe route was too risky. I remember trying to convince my boss one day to change the method of production for a new product because the current method wouldn't get us to the point of the project making money. I literally said it's like being down by 8, scoring a touchdown, then kicking the extra point because going for 2 was too risky. (Incidentally, the product has now launched, using the method of production I pushed for... you can probably get it at Wal-Mart. Email me if you want to know what it is).

In a corporation, no one gets fired for punting, even if it means a higher probability of losing the game. No one gets fired for making their employees do hundreds of man-hours of paperwork before approving funding, even if it means wasted money due to all the extra salary paid out for work that doesn't increase the chance of the project succeeding. No one gets fired for requiring a hospital like clean room when manufacturing a product, even when the product is used to clean dirt.

I blogged earlier about how small companies can take down a large corporation. Here's another way. Think like Bill Belichick. Go for it on 4th and 2 to win the game while the corporations are punting.



Steve P. said...

I get and appreciate your analogy to business and assessing risk appropriately. However, the analysis that says he wins 79% of the time if he goes for it, and 70% of the time if he punts, is quite imperfect and those numbers might even be statistically equivalent given the amount of uncertainty that remains. I agree if those were the true probabilities of winning then he made the right decision even if it wasn't conventional, I'm just highly skeptical of those numbers when produced since they rely on a lot of simplifying assumptions.

Dale said...

Steve, that's a good point. What are the error bars for the analysis? It may not be statistically significant, and there are a lot of other factors in the analysis.

Two reasons why I think this analysis is sound... The guy who wrote the blog has solid statistical analyses (at least in my opinion, I'm not a PhD statistician), he takes a ton of data points and he does try to find and explain contrary points of view. Second is because it feels right... There were definitely times where as a fan of the opposing team, I was actually glad they punted. So my feelings fit the analysis.

And finally, yes they rely on a lot of assumptions, but they're solid assumptions... it's mostly backed by a lot of data. It's one of those ""with all else being equal" cases. I think the data is good enough for coaches to start thinking about their philosophies.

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