“A stupid decision that works out well becomes a brilliant decision in hindsight.”
- Daniel Kahneman
Suppose we are only using winning as a metric for knowledge. In that case, we are bottlenecking our experiences, an example of peak survival bias because you limit your views to who has won and missing out on the other side of the argument — failure. By only studying people that win, we are stagnating our imaginations and exposure to other ideas. Genius comes from desperation. You can’t get desperate if you are winning all the time. There is no need to expand your knowledge because why would you? You are winning.
Anchoring yourself to prior experiences or the experiences of “winners” in itself is the issue. Stagnation leads to rot. We are all getting better or getting worse. By staying rigid in our beliefs, we become inflexible. Inflexibility leads to rigidity. If you can’t adapt, then you will surely fail.
In any profession, you have to be able to adapt and “see into the future.” You can only do this by viewing the picture as a whole; detachment. Everything has value, but considering “winners” as all knowing is missing the other half of the picture. It’s a piece, not the puzzle. In every walk of life, the majority fail. In football, only one team can win a championship. Is there no value in the other teams? Is there nothing we can learn from them?
These are questions we should all be asking as we seek knowledge and try to get better. We need to ask, “What about the other side of the argument?” If we ask that, we will be able to gain the whole picture. By only viewing the winners, we feed into a bias loop that can be hard to escape. It also leads to other biases that cloud our judgment and stunt our growth. One of the major ones is confirmation bias — we only see what we want to see.
Survival bias leads to confirmation bias. If team “A” always wins, then they must be doing something right. We then tend to only “see” the good things they are doing and completely ignore deficiencies. In short, we confirm what we want to see. Confirmation bias and survival bias together limit our reality to black and white. We cannot see that maybe Team “A” has more resources than Team “B,” or any of the numerous underlying factors that can cause a team to struggle.
Functional fixedness is also another example of how we limit ourselves to the reality around us. In this bias, we restrict ourselves only to the uses we know or have been exposed to for a particular concept. For instance, if I give you framed portrait to hang and only a nail and a short dowl rod, how would you react? Probably, your first thought is, “Where’s the hammer?” Your second is perhaps, “What am I supposed to do with this dowl rod?” In your mind, the dowl is nothing more than a worthless piece of wood, but it can also function as a hammer if used correctly. This type of thinking is functional fixedness and stifles problem-solving.
Paired with functional fixedness is anchoring bias, which literally “anchors” our thoughts to the very first exposure to things. We all grow up in our own ecosystems and are exposed to different things. These first “rules” that we learn early in our careers stay with us. If we cannot detach from these or seek new knowledge, then we become stagnant, and again, stagnation leads to rot. Anchoring ourselves to prior knowledge makes us less adaptable to upcoming changes. We have all been in a room where the go-to thought process was, “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it.” That phrase might be the most dangerous thought process in growth and development.
The modern world is ever-changing and accelerating how quickly things change. Being adaptable, flexible, and holding a growth mindset are critical qualities in being successful in the future. I tell young coaches all the time, learn a base and then try to prove it wrong. By doing this practice, you are detaching from the biases you hold, and it allows you to see the bigger picture.
Back to the original argument, if we only view winning as the ultimate metric, we limit our exposure to ideas and situations we can develop problem-solving skills. We should approach any new information with an open mind. Instead of viewing winning as the sole metric, we should look at other examples that started from the same place. A great example of this is looking at a famous coach’s coaching tree and how successful their followers have been over time. In many cases, the results don’t match the original coach. There’s information in there.
When I want to study something, I try to look for places that are doing more with less. As I stated earlier, there is genius in desperation. With limited resources, the ability to think outside of the box and challenge the status quo is prevalent. One conversation that always stuck with me was when Art Briles said to the staff in a meeting, “We can be the same as everyone else, but we better be the best. If we can’t do that, we better be different.” That has always stuck with me.
If we are only trying to mirror others' success, then we are nothing more than frauds or copies. We are not the original. Sure, coaches all over the country steal from each other, but it is the ones that can adapt the new knowledge and put it into their own ecosystem in a way it will survive — that is the true genius. The focus should always be on the self and add value to those that rely on you. Comparing yourself to others is only going to cause pain and feed your biases.
We can all learn something from each other. Being able to detach ourselves from prior experiences and ask ourselves, “Why do I feel this way?” are essential abilities that every coach needs. Anchoring ourselves to the belief that winning is the ultimate metric is limiting ourselves to small sample size. In a world that is ever-changing, exposure to new experiences and knowledge is vital to adaptability. What may have worked for you at one organization may not work at your new home. What worked for an elite professional coach may not work for a small High School coach.
We can seek out best practices and better ways of doing things. There are certainties in everything we do. There are good defenses and bad. There are good offenses and bad. Identifying best practices and shaping those into valuable tools in your organization is essential. Never forget that the HOW is only part of the puzzle. Understanding the WHY is the key that unlocks the door to more growth.
So remember the next time you see another coach discussing the way they do something, and you feel yourself getting hot, ask yourself, “Why do I feel this way?” and “What can I take away from this?” Though easier said than done, identify your own biases in your coaching process. The first step in growth is identifying a need. Now keep an open mind and stay away from antiquated or biased metrics of selection.
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