Category Archives: Decisions

NCAA March Madness – Exposing the Realities of “Unavoidable” Groupthink

March Madness is great. It is likely the most “highly engaged” North American sporting event year after year. Nearly 40 million people filled out a bracket for this year’s men’s tournament. The American Gaming Association estimated Americans wagered over $10B (that’s Billion) on this year’s tournament, greater than the individual GDPs of 52 countries around the world.  In addition, Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., a job placement firm in Chicago, estimates the time lost filling out brackets and watching games will cost US businesses nearly $4B in total lost productivity (not to mention productivity lost globally as well, I used to work overseas and our office pool was packed year after year as well). This truly is ‘madness’, of the best kind, in the name of sport and competition.

March Madness also provides a great fish bowl for observing the, often, harsh realities and consequences of ‘unavoidable’ Groupthink. Year after year millions put their hard-earned money and pride on the line based on flawed, overthought logic. The NCAA’s seeding system is inherently flawed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not for lack of trying. (Knock yourself out reading the NCAA selection committee’s very detailed criteria for setting the brackets. It is fascinating for trivia geeks, a sleeping-pill for everyone else.) And don’t hear me saying, “It’s RIGGED” either. I don’t have a bone to pick, just a leadership observation to make. The system is flawed because it gives:

  1. too much weight to prior ‘experiences’, especially early in the process
  2. too much weight to the ‘eye test’ of conformity
  3. too little weight to health, growth, and ‘unusual’ ways of delivering results

In a system where conferences only crossover to compete against each other until December, early results that ‘set’ which conferences are strong and which are weak fail annually in March. RPI ratings are skewed inaccurately to early season performance and have no way of ‘rectifying’ themselves as the season goes on (despite all the data crunching, stat scrubbing, eye-testing, hand wringing, and interviewing the selection committee does).

The ACC owned this Achilles heel again opening weekend of this year’s ‘madness’. No less than 9 teams from the ACC received an invite to the tournament. Six of the nine teams were seeded #5 or higher including a #1 seed and two #2 seeds (or 3 of 8 possible top seeds in the tournament). Only one ACC team advanced to the Sweet 16. It shouldn’t be a shock. In fact, it should have been expected.

As someone who has filled out a Bracket since the mid-80s, when we had to photocopy a graphic out of the newspaper, distribute physical copies to all participants, and tally the ‘Bracket Champ’ by hand, I’ve been through the roller coaster ride a few times. The secret to cracking the bracket and winning the office pool is not determining which #1 seeds will go down before the Final Four. The secret is identifying which conference has been terribly overseeded and which is underseeded. It happens every year. You sniff that out…you’re golden.

One year it might be the Big 12. The next the Pac-12. The following year the Big 10. The Sweet 16 exposes the annual tournament weakness. The weakness isn’t the teams from the overseeded conference. It’s not their fault they are overseeded and unable to live up to the hype. The weakness is Groupthink spurred on by bias, assumptions, and lack of real data around what creates success within a team. This weakness exists on almost every team, every group, and even every family. Wherever two or more are gathered, we face the dangers of Groupthink.

Why? Simple – we can’t stand having our assumptions and judgments challenged.

We haven’t been taught the skills required to identify assumptions and walk through the process of vetting them. We are ‘wired’ to mentally file things according to our prior experience. We fight with everything we have to affirm our opinions and stroke our egos. We search through data to find the parts that confirm what we want to see. We surround ourselves with others who think like we do and avoid people who don’t.

The fatal flaw in the NCAA seeding process is relying on RPI scores and strength of schedule (SOS) rankings that are anchored in early season inter-conference tournaments and don’t have the ability to effectively adapt throughout the year as teams improve, get healthy, and transcend expectations and eye-tests. There really isn’t an easy fix because after the pre-season every conference has to complete their conference schedule and conference tourney to prep for Selection Sunday. Conferences who emerge from pre-season perceived as ‘strong’ (not to mention historical perceptions and biases toward certain ‘iconic’ programs and coaches) are ranked highly. Then those highly ranked teams play each other within their conference and reinforce their inflated standing within the RPI and SOS system. With the selection committee, the NCAA goes to great lengths to be as equitable as possible, but their hands are tied to a large degree. Their ‘Groupthink’ is hard-wired in. It is basically “unavoidable”.

The good news is ours doesn’t have to be. Fight Groupthink within your team, your group, or your family:

  • Learn to be aware of your assumptions and judgments.
  • Ask questions about where they came from and if they have merit.
  • Listen and learn from others who don’t share your same opinions.
  • Introduce information and data that challenges your expected conclusions.

By doing these things you will find your ‘team’ will become more healthy, grow more rapidly, adapt more effectively, avoid underachieving, and reach higher levels of success.

Where has Groupthink inhibited a ‘team’ you are currently on?


Four Truths about Grace, the Game Changer, Pt. 2



In my previous post, I introduced grace as a game changer, a truly remarkable gift that can transform our worldview and the quality of our relationships and life. Here are four truths I’ve learned on my journey with grace. They begin to set you free to be everything you’ve been created to be.

Four Truths About Grace

Truth #1 – Grace Removes the Pain of Judgment

In the context of ourselves, grace eliminates the illusion of perfection and illuminates the hopelessness of pursuing it. No one is perfect. We all know that in our deepest selves. Yet, we still allow the empty pursuit of perfection to cause pain in our lives.

Remember this simple relational equation: the degree to which someone fights to achieve perfection or appear perfect is inversely proportional to the amount of personal doubt they struggle with. The more energy and effort invested toward perfection, the more someone has already judged themselves unworthy of the mark. Pain and fear, not hope and peace, generate feverish energy toward perfection.

In the context of others, grace admits we don’t know why people do what they do. It shatters the fantasy that we can read people’s minds. Whew! What a relief to wake up from that nightmare.

We are so self-centered we think everything a person does is because of us. People are not doing things because of us; they are doing things because of who they are.

– Dr. James Richards (How to Stop the Pain)

Dr. Richard’s claim is hard to argue.  It’s human nature to assume we know why other people do what they do. It’s also natural to judge them and create pain in our own lives. Grace breaks this vicious cycle of self-induced pain.

Truth #2 – Grace Fuels a Growth Mindset

Grace brings freedom from the hopeless pursuit of ‘perfect’ and the pain-producing habit of continual judgment. Once free we can truly grow and engage life with new set of senses, seeing and hearing everything in a new, forward-looking light.

Disappointment and frustration dissipate as we recognize they occur in the gap between our unrealistic expectations (perfection) and the natural journey of growth and development. Grace allows us to give our ‘best’ day after day and see progress not failure.

Grace fully engages what Dr.Carol Dweck has identified as a ‘growth mindset’ and reveals the life-sucking, pain-producing trap of a ‘fixed mindset’. (If this is a new concept to you, read this short practice-oriented overview from Trevor Regan). With grace, life’s ‘struggles’ are really where joy is mined and refined in our journey.

Truth #3 – Grace Chases Away Fear

Grace is the antidote to fear. Grace removes the fear of not measuring up. ‘Measuring up’ is based in irrational comparisons and painful personal judgments.

Grace frees us from the fear of failure. The only failure becomes ‘giving up’ and the urge to give up comes from a fixed mindset and untrue beliefs about what growth and success are. Successful people try, learn (not fail), and try again. Grace accepts the natural ups and downs inherent with any growth cycle.

Truth #4 – Grace Builds Bridges

Grace creates confident humility within and an undeniable magnetism with others. Being around someone serving as a pipeline of grace generates life and hope. Grace brings positive energy to any room. Grace focuses on learning, not blame.

Grace within a community serves to galvanize and strengthen in ways that defy explanation. Ruby Bridges taught us that. No can achieve their dreams without the help and support of others. Grace is the mortar of rock-solid, life-giving relationships.

Grace is not soft and weak. It does not lower the bar of performance and make excuses for unacceptable behavior. The opposite is true. Grace requires more strength than judgment. Grace propels performance and innovation by removing fear and blame. Grace turns excuses into apologies and deepens respect and love. Grace changes everything.

Which of these truths resonates most with you and what you have experienced in your life?

Four Truths about Grace, the Game Changer, Pt. 1


Grace is a game changer. It is the source of a meaningful life and loving relationships.

Without grace, hope ceases and love is self-serving, lacking fulfillment. Without grace, relationships consist mainly of pain-inducing judgment and fear. As a result, we pursue acceptance through performance. We struggle daily trying to live up to the perceived expectations of others. We judge everyone in our lives and no one measures up. Everything is a competition. Life is exhausting.

Grace changes everything. Grace gives freedom. Grace drives out fear. Grace enables growth, grit, and long-term success.

DEFINED: Grace is the gift of undeserved, unexpected understanding and acceptance.

Grace gives people ‘super human’ emotional strength and resilience that literally changes the world. Ironically as I was working on this my wife and I watched Ruby Bridges with our four daughters (ages 2-10). Six-year-old Ruby and her family showed us the ‘super-natural’ power of grace.  Ruby’s life of grace changed an entire culture. (If you are unfamiliar of the story of Ruby Bridges, I highly recommend learning about her amazing strength, dignity, and grace.)

In my own life, I spent nearly a decade withholding personal grace, judging myself, striving to prove decisions from my past didn’t make me a loser. I woke every day determined to prove my value. Not surprisingly, my drive to prove myself produced ‘success’ on the surface. Yet, each time I reached the top of a ‘mountain of success’ it brought only temporary relief from the painful judgments I still held on to. Only when I embraced life-giving grace and began to learn how to stop judging myself and others, did I find freedom, maturity, and truly fulfilling success.

I’m still learning. I’m still ‘in process’. Through the process, though, I’ve learn four truths about grace that can transform our view of the world. I’ll share them in the next post.

Four Truths About Grace, The Game Changer, Pt. 2

How has grace or the lack of grace shaped your life and the way you think about yourself and others?

Live with GRIT – the Foundation for Long-term Success

If, as a parent, you could guarantee your child’s success in this frantically changing world, you would likely do almost anything, pay almost any price. Unfortunately, no such guarantee exists. No pill, procedure, protective bubble, or specialized program will equip your child for the world they’ll encounter today. So what can you do to help them succeed?

Start with asking that question to someone born prior to 1950. They will likely offer some sage, ‘outdated’ wisdom – “Work hard.”, “Finish what you start.”, “Put in a honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.” This ‘yesteryear’ approach to life and work is now labeled ‘grit’. ‘Grit’ is important because it is being identified as the single most important factor in a person’s ability to succeed in the 21st Century

Modern Look at Grit

 ‘Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.’ – Dr. Angela Duckworth


Angela Duckworth (Ph.D, UPenn), a member of a team of researchers who have been studying ‘grit’ and its powerful relationship to long-term success, can define and describe grit. Yet, she admitted to her TED audience she doesn’t have a clear answer for parents and teachers asking her how to teach to their children and students.

Duckworth cites Carol Dweck’s (Stanford University) research on the ‘growth mindset’ as a good start. (I highly recommend Dweck’s book – Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. It completely changed the vocabulary I use with my four girls.) Duckworth is right acknowledging the power of a growth mindset as a start of understanding and developing grit. But there is more.

Grit is not a talent or a skill. Grit is a lifestyle and an understanding. Grit is hard work. Grit is a four-step cycle that necessities growth and communication.

The GRIT Cycle

G – Grace

Grace fuels love, acceptance, and hope. Hope dies without grace. True success lives within hope. While Dweck has identified the positive symptoms of a growth mindset, she has failed to identify the root cause of the fruit. Grace gives life to growth and success (and the continual practice required for both).

R – Realities

Three realities exist in any situation – mine, yours, and a third, constructed, reality.

Ironically, neither my reality or your reality are actually ‘reality’. They are simply our limited and finite perception of the situation. Success through GRIT requires developing skills in constructing shared realities with those we work and live with. These shared realities will feed a vision for life bigger than both of our current realities.

I – Integrity

Without integrity collapse is imminent. This is true in engineering and success. Integrity is foundational to long-term success. If you don’t know where and how to stand you will ultimately fall and not be able to get up. GRIT requires a backbone of integrity.

T – Toughness

Starting is not as easy as sticking to something day after day, year after year. Thomas Edison conducted nearly 3,000 experiments with filament materials from around the world before finding his breakthrough with Japanese bamboo.

Equally tough is learning when to say, “No” or “We need to change course.” Admitting the current direction is wrong and making the necessary changes to correct course takes courage, strength, and toughness.

Toughness bookends grace in the GRIT cycle. Without toughness, long-term success is the impossible dream.

Lincoln’s GRIT Saved a Nation

Abraham Lincoln might be America’s greatest example of grit delivering greatness. They didn’t call it ‘grit’ in the 1800’s. If you’re not familiar with Lincoln’s journey to being the most important president in United States history, it’s worth learning. He experienced ‘failure’ and heartbreak more than seems fair for a single human. Yet with GRIT he became a person (leader) capable of holding together a nation poised for collapse.
You too can live with GRIT and lead yourself and your family to an abundant life full of deep, life-giving relationships.
Which part of the GRIT cycle do you find more challenging to live out on a daily basis? Leave your comment below.
Here’s Duckworth and team’s online survey for scoring ‘grit’ in their terms – check it out.

This is the Day…

to BE the dad I want/need to be.

I was around the corner from the kitchen just going down the hall toward our bedroom when I heard our oldest daughter start talking to my wife, Anna, “Hey Mom….” I didn’t hear the rest of that sentence but as I passed from one room to the next in the middle of my errand I heard Mackenzie say, “my puberty….” — What?!?! You’re not even 10! screamed in my head.

I didn’t hear anything after that except for my wife’s laughter and the zinging  of a million thoughts ricocheting in my skull. “Wasn’t it just yesterday we took you home from the hospital?” “You can’t be old enough to be talking about puberty. I have no idea what to do with that.” “Wait. Slow down. I’m not the dad I want to be yet.”

After I finished the little errand I was doing before unintentionally overhearing bits of their conversation, I walked into the living room to join Mackenzie, Anna, and our other three daughters. Their puberty conversation was over and I did what every ‘good dad’ would do. I didn’t say anything. My thoughts were still swirling in my head and I needed to process – alone and in silence.

I know ‘Dad’ is the most important and influential ‘boy’ in my daughters’ lives at this stage (ages 9, 8, 5, 2). I take that seriously. I do my best to engage and encourage each of them. I know I’m not perfect. There isn’t a ‘perfect’ when it comes to fatherhood in this life. At the same time, I’m learning I have given myself too much leeway to ‘become’ a good dad rather than just ‘being’ the one I want to be.

We’ve all heard some version of “Why put off til tomorrow what you can do today?” We need to take that to heart as a dads.  We can’t get today back and tomorrow is closer than we think. (My ‘baby’ is talking about puberty!) If we aren’t having the conversations or spending the time with our daughters (and sons) we know we should be, instead waiting until we’re ‘ready’ or the ‘right time’, we’ll miss the window. That’s not acceptable.

Truth is I’ll never be ‘ready’ to have the dad/daughter conversations and heart-to-heart connections I imagine I need to have to help my daughters know they are loved, cherished, and deserving of respect. What is ‘ready’? What conversation is that?

Quite frankly, each time I’ve tried to plan and deliver the “Sweetie, I want you to know I love you very much” conversation or connection it doesn’t connect the way I imagine. On the other hand, when I set aside my agenda/list of ‘to dos’ or whatever other distracting ‘priority’ I’m obsessed with and say, “Yes” to one of my daughters’ requests for me, just me – “Yes” to a snuggle when I had planned to run an errand, “Yes” to looking (really looking) at their latest creation instead of starting dinner, “Yes” to playing ‘fort’ in the basement when I was planning to turn on the game and ‘relax for just a minute’ – the connection is deep and meaningful for both of us.

My daughters will learn they are loved and deserving of respect when they experience a life where they receive simple acts of love and respect on a regular, consistent basis. I don’t need to ‘get ready’ for that, learn something new, read a parenting book, schedule a ‘special outing’, or do anything out of the ordinary. I simply need to ‘be’ who I am already and choose to say, “Yes” to the countless offers each of my girls presents me each day to love and respect them with my time, energy, and focus.

Today is the day to BE the dad they need and I truly want them to have.


Open Letter to Russell Wilson

Russell Wilson vs. Redskins 2014” by Keith AllisonFlickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Dear Mr. Wilson,

Thank you for your time. As someone known to make the most of every day, my letter was likely not on this morning’s ‘to-read’ list.

Full-disclosure: I am a life-long ‘12’ from way back before we were called anything. My earliest NFL memories are of the ‘76 inaugural season and Zorn to Largent (whose #80 jersey is still the only one I’ve ever owned). My low-level athletic ‘glory days’ were fleeting, mostly ‘undecorated’, and are long past. I’ve never faced the decisions you’re facing, yet we share a common faith and personal trial that penetrates our core being. I’m not a fountain of wisdom, but wisdom can come from the most unexpected places (Num. 22:21-35).

Five Reasons You Should Sign an ‘Uncommon’ Extension in Seattle

  1. Uncommon Legacy – Life’s value is the ‘sum’ of all your relationships measured in overall quality and depth, not the sum in an offshore bank account. NFL economics dictate ‘stars’, who squeeze every last $ out of a ‘pay anything to win now’ marketplace, emasculate their team at the price of personal gain. The Steelers have not emerged from Ben Roethlisberger’s 2008 contract. Remember these names: Daunte Culpepper and Donovan McNabb? Two poster children for the catastrophic effect of huge ‘star contracts’ resulting in mercurial runs for one or two seasons, and the inevitable flame out to, “I wonder what ever happened to…” You are not about the short-term but a long-term legacy on the field and off.
  2. Uncommon Perspective – Sustained NFL success requires 53 quality players. Any one ‘overpaid’ position hamstrings the rest. Anyone think the Buccaneers would love to have a ‘do over’ on Michael Koenen’s long-term deal? They’ve won 13 games in the three seasons since overpaying for a punter (7, 4, and 2 respectively). Bordering on ‘Duh?!’: Two million in cap space wisely spent is the difference between making the play-offs and watching them.
  3. Uncommon Impact – Being the ‘highest paid player’ at any position in any professional league equals two things: Greed and Ego. Respect and humility create winning cultures (as you know). I’ve not been in an NFL locker room but I imagine walking away from a few million potential dollars to create salary-cap flexibility empowering the franchise to ‘up-grade’ the unsung positions throughout the roster for sustained excellence has to rate high on the internal respect scale. Not to mention the platform and opportunities it provides to reach kids, fans, corporations, and limitless others.
  4. Uncommon Leadership – Leaders do the unexpected. They set a different course, elevating the journey of the whole over the journey of the one. Leaders see not just the decision in front of them but anticipate the ripples that follow. Leaders eat last (but that doesn’t mean they don’t eat).
  5. Uncommon Wisdom – Your value is not determined by the contract extension you sign with the Seahawks or any other NFL team. Your leadership, your work ethic, and your abilities at your position give your current career choice considerable value – value you should take advantage of. You should get paid and paid well to play quarterback in the NFL. Ultimately though, wisdom sees each $ you leave in the pool elevating those around you as seeds, exponentially increasing opportunities to realize an abundant harvest of what’s of ultimate value.

Clearly, the NFL is about winning. Period. Winning takes Player #1 to #53 and beyond.  Winning creates opportunities to earn more money and deliver value. As you know better than anyone, we were one hand-off away from $1B in ‘free’ franchise marketing and sponsorship opportunities for the collective ‘Seahawks’ as repeat ‘Super Bowl Champions’. In a moment, it was gone… the title, the $, and the ‘easy’ opportunities to leverage that victory for life-giving impact (clearly, using defeat as a springboard to growth creates other opportunities for impact, too). Those opportunities are not gone forever, just gone until the next season and every season the Seahawks put a quality 53-man roster on the field – a roster full of ‘diamonds’ created through a culture of competition, work, and mutual sacrifice and mined with skillful manipulation of the league’s salary-cap. Every player’s contract decision impacts the entire roster. This is truer for the ‘stars’. (Another, “Duh?!”)

I’m sure you have trusted advisors surrounding you throughout this journey who have more pedigree. I was just sweeping out my garage the other day, thinking about you and Wisdom. Felt led to share – maybe it’s worth something or maybe I’m just a dumb ‘ass’ (see ref. above).

Go Hawks!

Loyalty + Kindness = Good Reputation (Proverbs 3)

“Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! … Write them deep within your heart. Then you will find favor … and earn a good reputation.” Proverbs 3:3-4

Coach John Wooden said, “It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and a second to lose it.” I love John Wooden. His wisdom is legendary. He has delivered many a “wall hanger” when it comes to quotes. This is another one. I have personally used it dozens of times as a coach and parent.

Coach Wooden was absolutely right; well, almost absolutely.

Rarely does a single instantaneous decision lead to utter ruin of reputation, of finances, of relationships, of life. Almost always a series of decisions led to the final decision which destroys a reputation or any of the other things.

An upstanding businessperson rarely goes from trustworthy accounting practices to embezzling funds or robbing from shareholders in a day. A happily married woman rarely leaves the house one day and ends up in the arms of another man moments later. A vivacious, engaged young person rarely decides in an instant that life is no longer worth living and makes a one last fatal decision.

Given that reality one could actually say, “It takes daily decisions to be loyal and kind over a lifetime build a good reputation…”

If you want to be respected and build influence, choose daily to find ways to share loyalty and kindness. We control whether we are building or destroying our reputation. We exercise that control through our decisions.

What is one choice toward loyalty and kindness you can make today that will change your trajectory in the area of building your  reputation?