The Patriots, Underdogs and Business

The Patriots, Underdogs and Business

As the New England Patriots of the National Football League advance to their 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years, I’m presented with some internal conflict. Admittedly, stories of sport are “first world problems,” but this scenario contains some poignant parallels to the world outside the sidelines, so let’s dig for a few.

 Underdog vs. Behemoth

All things being equal, people tend to favor the underdog, and I’m definitely no exception. The Patriots, with 7 consecutive trips to the penultimate game to the Superbowl, and the chance to win 6 Super Bowls in the last 17 years, are the antithesis of the underdog. Whether or not you follow the NFL, think about 32 teams competing for the same prize, and one of those 32 succeeding with that kind of frequency. It’s absolutely ridiculous. That’s why, having been born and raised in New England, and still living here, by this point every big game is chock full of dissonance. This is my team, so it’s OK to root for them, I tell myself, while internally knowing that the story is so much better when the underdog wins from time-to-time.

The same is true of the business world. When software vendors compete in a selection process, there’s something wonderful about the smaller, lesser known company coming in and winning the business. Or, when my company, Hive Tech HR, goes up against one of the larger consulting firms and gets the contract based on hands-on personal service, that’s pretty awesome too (admitting to some bias on that one).

So, why should the behemoth always bask in the sun? Perhaps it’s time for something new, a new winner, and it’s also a question that brings me to my next point.

 Healthy Competition vs. Unhealthy Dominance

When you go into a season having a good sense of the outcome (the Patriots reaching the Super Bowl), and that comes to fruition, the healthy competition of every team having an equal shot is pretty much turned on its head. Of course, in doing so you’re defining success only as reaching the pinnacle and not some other definition, such as the Bills making the playoffs for the first time in 18 years. Whatever the case, winning it all has to be considered the ultimate success, and therefore the frequency with which the Patriots prevent others from winning, or having a chance to win, has likely created an unhealthy “market” of teams, so to speak.

This is the topic that rings the most true in today’s business world. We may have already been in a rich-get-richer phase era, but in the past 10 years that was accelerating and now in the past year it is off to the races. I’ve seen it in my industry with one software vendor dominating more so than others, and the net result is an unhealthy ecosystem. Occasionally there are regressions to the mean, but the normal checks and balances I assumed would exist back when I did my undergrad in business and MBA, aren’t necessarily a given.

It’s quite the lesson when you learn that teams like the Patriots can win year-after-year without a market correction. Similarly, companies can actually dominate for long periods of time, even incenting the most sensible among us to continue to guide money in their direction, thus creating a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Heart vs. Heartless

This one’s tricky. Having listened to Tom Brady give Monday morning interviews on sports talk radio, the man definitely has heart. He also shows it in the heat of the battle – true passion and heart, screaming at his teammates in an attempt to motivate them to victory. However…then you have Bill Belichek, their coach who, if you’ve watched his postgame conferences, is about as cold as a dead fish…at least towards the public. Whether or not he, or any of the other members of the Patriots, have heart, is a matter of debate. What’s clear, however, is that the external image they portray is that of a “system,” whose only objective is victory…heart not required.

When asked about the last game, the mantra is “onto ______” (insert name of the next team they’re playing). You want to think that the team that nearly always wins is winning for some other reason than to check off the last win and move onto the next. You want to think they deserve it because of the joy it brings them, their empathetic behavior towards their competitors, their humility. You want them to be the opposite of stone-faced.

The same is true of the business world. Part of that stems from the fact that the most heartless of business people are also those most prone to making bad decisions either to get to where they are, or once they reach that point. Enron and Bernie Madoff are the ones we think of first, but there are companies and individuals throughout the world that employ questionable business ethics, and there would certainly be an inverse relationship between that phenomenon and having heart.

 In Conclusion

As an objective Patriots fan, I can do the math. Take the right side of each of the equations above and you get the following:

Behemoth + Unhealthy Dominance + Heartless = Jealousy, and in some cases, downright hatred (albeit, again, in relation to a “first world problem”).

The most present among us in New England can feel the hatred towards the Patriots coming from many directions. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been one of the primary teams negatively affected by this 17 year dominance. When it began, I would joke around with my handful of friends who are Steeler’s fans. I would even exchange goofy sports poems with one of them. Gradually, they stopped writing during the playoffs, and one of my best friends recently became extremely angry towards me when discussing the Patriots.

As a New England fan it’s best not to take this personally, especially if you fall on the right side of the final equation, “arrogance vs. humility.” Besides, you aren’t the one of the field, you aren’t the one choosing the plays or players, and you certainly aren’t giving heartless postgame conferences.

But it also implies a lack of control of the situation. The domination will probably last as long as they keep it together, as long as Tom Brady is healthy and Bill Belichek still wants to coach. The Jacksonville Jaguars, and teams that come after them, will likely lose to the behemoth due to the collective reasons they’ve lost in the past: fewer big game experiences, inferior preparation, and an appetite for winning that seems to be always exceeded by the Patriots.

Despite my allegiance to the team that has brought me joy over the years and my pride in New England as a region, part of me does think that it’s time for something new. Hopefully it wouldn’t be viewed as a traitorous thought, but rather in the spirit of healthier competition and the other topics raised above. But again, what can I actually affect about the situation other than expressing objective understanding.

Maybe, just maybe, there’s a situation in your world, business or otherwise, that you can control. If so, think about where you fall in the spectrum of concepts I’ve raised, and see how you can push the needle in the direction you might want to see it go.

Now, if you’ll allow me to start thinking about the Patriots versus the Eagles.



I’m CEO of Hive Tech HR, which helps our clients create HCM strategies and find/implement technology. Occassionally, I chime in about current events, or sports, that relate to the world of Human Capital Management. To learn more:

And, if you’re so inclined, call us at 844-Hive-Tec (448-3832) so that we can help you with your reality. 😉

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