Consulting Career

What the Atlanta Falcons’ Unprecedented Collapse Can Teach Us About Business

I’m just going to come right out and say it. The Atlanta Falcons gave us the most epic collapses in Super Bowl history, and possibly all of sports (this and this make it a tough choice). In case you’re not an American football fan, the Atlanta Falcons boasted one of the most prolific offenses in the National Football League all year and managed to get up 28-3 in the biggest many of them will ever play. It was announced during that game that no team up by 19 or more points in a playoff game had ever lost. This scenario had happened 93 times prior to this year’s Super Bowl.

Luckily for me, meltdowns make for more compelling writing than blowouts and as sad as that game was for anyone, who calls the Falcons their team, there are 3 important lessons you can draw from their shortcoming.

Pace yourself for the long-term

A football game is 60 minutes, but it looked like Atlanta only prepared to give a 45-minute effort. That’s a bit harsh but, hopefully, you get the point. By the time the final quarter of the Super Bowl rolled around, the Atlanta defense looked like a fighter out on his feet from taking one too many punches before the brain could send the message to the legs that it’s time to give up the fight.

Stamina is the name of the game in sports and business. If you go into a new job or project and start strong but come undone after a couple of weeks or even a couple of months, guess what people are going to remember?

You have to finish what you start.

When successful, do more of what’s working

In the case of this football game, Atlanta started out with a balanced attack of runs and passes. By the time they got ahead by 25, it seemed like they wanted to mix things up just for the sake of mixing things up, calling an array of unsuccessful pass plays. And most of the pass plays didn’t even target Julio Jones (arguably the best receiver in the league) who happens to be on their team. History has taught us time and time again that if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it. Only horrible things will happen when you do. The Falcons now serve as example number 80,449,240,942.

That’s a rough estimate.

What this means for business is something that I think a lot of leaders need to try to focus more on, and that’s putting people in positions that suit their strengths and positions that align with their career goals. You get a better effort, and more importantly, you get a better product. Unnecessarily forcing a team member to learn a skill that isn’t core to overall success but is relevant for a specific assignment may not be the right move long term.

I have far too many examples of people leaving firms because they felt boxed into a certain type of work they were good at and didn’t like, or they weren’t good at but felt like they were being funneled to specialize in that area anyway because that’s what was good for the firm.

Always execute on the basics

I’m convinced that even with all of the other mistakes, Atlanta made in the playoffs, that doing this one thing would’ve saved the game for them. Now I’m no Falcons fan, but I still found myself screaming at the tv for the Falcons to at least let the play clock run down when the game clock was running. This would have left less time for New England to come back and maybe give their defense at least a little bit more time to catch their breath. They clearly needed it.

In a scenario like this, you really only have to options to blame: hubris or stupidity. And after seeing more than a few people across all kinds of industries fall from favored status, I think hubris has to be the answer. A little success starts going to your head, you start feeling good, and thinking you can do no wrong and toss fundamental principles aside.

In the consulting world, I’d say the equivalent of this Super Bowl blunder is getting away from things like proofreading before sending a document to a client or spending time reviewing revised slides before having to give a presentation. Yeah, you might be able to pull it off once or twice, but the downside every time you take this gamble isn’t worth the few minutes you save by straying from key fundamental areas.

The Bottom Line

Even if you do everything, the right way you may not get your desired outcome (sometimes you just have to get lucky), but doing the 3 things above will certainly help you improve your odds.