For 55 minutes the Packers were by far the better team. So what happened in the last five minutes to make them lose the game, and how can you avoid those same mistakes in your business?
1) Never take your foot off the accelerator.
In the 4th quarter, the Packers changed their game plan to protect their lead. They stopped rushing the quarterback on defense and started calling conservative runs up the middle to run time off the clock. In sports as in business, this strategy is frustrating for both players and fans and it rarely works. Some business examples: GM cars in the early ‘80s, any Microsoft Windows version in the last decade. If you play not to lose, often that’s exactly what will happen.
2) Follow your game plan, even when things seem like they’re falling apart.
To say the Seahawks thrive on chaos is an understatement. Most of their big plays happen when their quarterback is flushed out of the pocket. Their fans and their stadium are built to foster confusion and mistakes. But for 55 minutes, the Packers didn’t flinch. Their coaches developed a winning game plan and their players believed in it and executed it almost flawlessly. But late in the game, the Packers let it get away from them. They stopped following their game plan and got sucked into Seattle’s vortex of death. Suddenly their defense started giving up big improvised plays while their explosive offense played it safe. The business cliche is plan your work and work your plan and more often than not you will prevail. In this case the cliche is right. Don’t get suckered into reacting to your competitors’ latest moves. That’s when very bad things usually happen.
3) Trust your best players to win the game.
Why wasn’t Clay Matthews on the field during Seattle’s last drive? Why didn’t the coaches trust MVP Rogers to complete some passes on the last three drives? Why didn’t one of their receivers or DBs field that onside kick? The business lesson is to recruit, develop and retain top talent and then put the ball in their hands when it counts. Trust their instincts, give them the right resources and put them in a position to win. Green Bay did that for 55 minutes, but then stopped during the last 5 minutes. Why?
4) Play with a chip on your shoulder
Seattle is a city that feels disrespected, underestimated and ignored. Geographically they are tucked away in the upper left corner of the nation. Politically they are left of center and proud of it. They have incubated and launched some of the most successful businesses in the world – Nordstrom, Boeing, Amazon, Microsoft and more. And yet they feel (in general) they don’t get the respect they deserve. The Seahawks, despite their reign of terror and super bowl wins feel exactly the same way. Collectively they are still shaking off the image of Brian Bosworth being run over by Bo Jackson, Dave Kreig’s NFL fumble record and playing second fiddle to the Steelers in the Detroit Super Bowl. Don’t underestimate the motivational power of playing with a chip on your shoulder – When you have something to prove it gives you that extra burst of adrenaline and energy that you need to put the game away.
5) Momentum is real – use it to your advantage
How can a little thing like a successful two point conversion change the course of an entire game? The answer is ‘belief’. In the aftermath of Sunday’s game, Seahawks fans will claim they always believed they could win, but in reality they didn’t. How could they after four interceptions and dozens of ‘three-and-outs’? Some fans were quietly heading for the exits. That is until Green Bay lost focus for an instant and allowed an unlikely 2 point conversion at exactly the wrong time. After that you could FEEL hope return to Seattle. In that instant, the Seahawks and the fans once again believed they could win. Worse yet, Green Bay believed it too and that’s exactly what happened. In business sometimes winning the littlest battle takes gargantuan effort. Picking up the phone to make a sale after 30 rejections can feel like climbing a mountain. But sometimes one single, small win can turn the the whole thing around. It gives everyone a shot of hope, which can be nurtured into belief, which more often than not will result in a win.
6) Its not over until its over
Very few NFL games play out the way the pundits and experts expect. Like Mike Tyson famously said: “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”. A little extra vigilance, a little extra paranoia, a little extra discipline could have enabled Green Bay to make it the finish line. In business, the more desperate your competition is, the more crazy stuff they will try to pull. Be ready, don’t assume and whatever you do, don’t become complacent because in an instant you can lose. Don’t believe it? Go ask Nokia, or Blackberry, or the recording industry or Yahoo.