The Super Bowl, Creative Risk, and Criticism
Last night, close to 120 million people watched the Super Bowl, which means that the (disastrous) goal-line play call in the final moments of the game was one of the most publicly viewed, in-the-moment creative decisions ever made.
After a miraculous reception, the Seattle Seahawks had the ball on the one yard line with (probably) the most forceful running back in the NFL in the backfield. The call? An attempted pass, which was intercepted, sealing the Patriots’ victory and lots of misery for their legions of anti-fans. The failure seemed to be the result of a questionable play call, poor offensive execution, and a great defensive effort.
The public response was swift and full of venom.
“How could you call a pass in that situation?!?”
“The offensive coordinator should be fired!”
Even the announcers had a difficult time keeping themselves from throwing the coaching staff under the bus.
Yes, the call was questionable. I don’t have the same information or perspective as the coaches and players, but I’ll admit that it seemed like a bad call in the moment, even given the need to take time off the clock.
However, consider that had the play been successful, everyone would be singing their praises and talking about how ingenious it was to pass when everyone expected a run. They would be celebrating the creative risk that led to consecutive Super Bowl victories for the Seahawks.
That’s the way it always goes with the non-intuitive choice. We love to celebrate risky wins, and decry risky losses. We love to lob witty critiques at those who are putting it all on the line, while we watch from a safe distance in comfort.
This same thing happens all the time in the marketplace, and it often leads to needless conservatism over the fear of being an outlier.
All creative decisions require a measure of risk, and a degree of willingness to be misunderstood. Fortunately, most of us don’t make our decisions in front of an audience of millions. However, that doesn’t lessen the internal pressure we feel to avert the ire of our critics.
Yes, there are objectively good and bad decisions, especially given the benefit of time and perspective. However, make sure that you are building a team culture in which you place trust in the talents and intuition of your star players, and give them a chance to shine, even if that means doing it in an unconventional way. And whatever you do, please don’t throw your people under the bus when they fail aggressively.
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I'm Todd Henry.
I write books, speak internationally on productivity, creativity, leadership, and passion for work, and help people and teams generate brilliant ideas. More