Love him or hate him, we can all learn something from Super Bowl champion Tom Brady. Not how to be calm in the pocket or the greatest quarterback of all time. But how to make better decisions at work.
This isn’t a story of Tom Brady’s secret business acumen, or a dig at his preference for flabby footballs. It’s a story of how to tell when you have enough experience to really know what you’re doing, and when you don’t.
The First Decision Tells You Less Than Nothing
Tom Brady played in his first NFL game in 2000 for the Patriots, completing one of three passes for six yards. Spergon Wynn played for the Vikings in his first game that year, too, completing 2 of 5 passes for 15 yards. If they’d quit the next day, both could have bragged about playing in the NFL for the rest of their lives. Since they both lost, they’d have had losing records…but Spergon would have had bragging rights on yardage.
Most of the time when it comes to making business decisions, we are like Tom and Spergon circa 2000. We’ve been there before, once. In many circles, we can speak with authority because we’ve been there, and convince others we know what we’re talking about. We can even justify our confidence by pointing to a few anecdotes from the one time we were in a similar situation.
But facing a business decision one time doesn’t teach you much more than you can learn from a quarterback’s first football game. In fact, the next time you face a similar decision, prior experience can be downright damaging. When we say “I’ve faced this situation before,” after a single try, we’re saying a lot more about our overconfidence than about the depth of our experience. And that overconfidence means we’re more likely to ignore new information, lose the benefit of a beginner’s mind, and earn the nasty surprise of a bad outcome shoved in our grill.
After 10 To 20 Times You’re Kinda Getting Somewhere
Now fast forward with Tom and Spergon to the end of 2001. After 10 games and 70 completed passes, Spergon was heading out of the NFL on his way to earning an MBA and becoming a successful commodities broker. After 20 games and 265 completions, Tom was hoisting his first Super Bowl trophy at age 24.
Now we’re getting somewhere. You can actually tell something about a quarterback after 10 to 20 games. For instance, the only Super Bowl QBs younger than Tom were Big Ben Roethlisberger and Dan the Man Marino. Pretty good company.