How to keep A-holes out of your organization.

I’m not a huge fan of rules. Creative people as a species are naturally averse to them. But if you want to develop a business with a strong culture and a rock solid, repeatable process you need some rules to guide you.

Some Background

Prior to starting my own ad agency I had been part a fun, feisty and progressive agency called Engauge. We had offices in Atlanta, Austin, Columbus, Pittsburgh and Orlando. And we worked with some of America’s best brands, including Coca Cola, Wells Fargo, UPS, Nike, Chick-Fil-A, Nationwide, Walgreens, and Cisco. We had a lot of very talented people. And we had a great company culture. #weness  But it didn’t happen by accident.

Rules That Free Us

When I joined Engauge’s restructured executive leadership team in 2011 our first order of business was to create some simple rules to govern the organization. Because we believed that a great organization is made of great people who enjoy working together, the first rule we unanimously agreed on was the ‘No A-holes’ rule. For those unfamiliar with the rule, or the obviousness of the phrase, it means that your organization will not tolerate people who act like A-holes.

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This dude is acting like a textbook A-hole. Well, maybe not a medical textbook A-hole, but you know what I mean. 

Prevention

Preventing the A-holes from joining your team isn’t easy. Because they are on their absolute best behavior in interviews. Sometimes we sniff them out (yeah, I said it). But often they sneak past our filters. So as much as we try to prevent an A-hole from getting into our organizations in the first place, they get in. So now what?

The Conundrum

You just get rid of them, right? After all, no one likes an A-hole. Unfortunately, it’s typically not that simple. Because let’s face it, there are a lot of talented A-holes. The drive, intelligence, confidence and will of a typical A-hole help makes things happen. It’s common for them to make a quick impact and create immediate wins.

The Problem

But that upside comes with an equally significant downside. Because A-holes are uncomfortable to be around, they drain morale and sap energy. The unfortunate reality is that when you retain an A-hole, (which means you are A-hole retentive) it sends a terrible message about your values to your most valued employees. You’ll watch them drop like flies. Among the employees you will retain you’ll lose untold dollars in productivity as co-workers gather to talk about what an A-hole the A-hole is.

Even Worse

Of course the worst problem of all occurs when an A-hole develops a close relationship with a client. Because then the business has to decide whether they want to lose the valuable contributions of the A-hole and irritate or lose a client.

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The Solution

There is a proven 2-step process to handling such problem employees. First, ask a handful of cross functional team members if they think the co-worker in question is an A-hole. Second, if the consensus is yes, you put on your scrubs and perform an Assholectomy.

There simply is no room for the distraction, the division and the drama caused by A-holes. Accepting them tells the rest of the organization that It’s okay to be an A.  That can’t happen. Because eventually enough people will leave, or threaten to leave that you have no choice but to get rid of the A-hole A-nyway.

 The Result

After implementing the A-hole rule in the past, I’m proud to say we purged several very talented but very difficult people. By dropping those stinky sphincters, the culture, vibe, productivity and overall love for the organization improved.

The Weaponry

When I launched my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, in 2016, the first rule we implemented was the No A-Holes Rule. But we didn’t just make it a rule. We baked this non-negotiable into the center of our brand identity. You’re probably wondering how we did this.

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See the A in the middle of the word Weaponry? Notice that it has no A-hole? That’s because there are no A-holes at The Weaponry. #TrueStory #BakedInFromTheStart

By establishing this rule from the beginning we have had no A-hole problems at The Weaponry over the past 3 years. None. Not even a whiff of a personality problem. #snickering  All of our full-time and part-time team members have been exceptional people who work great with others.

Key Takeaway

If you want to create a great work environment, team and culture you have to invite the right people in and keep the wrong people out. There simply is no room for A-holes. Even really talented A-holes. Because you will be cleaning up their crap until the day they leave. So create a policy and a process to prevent them from getting into your organization, and for removing them if they sneak in. By eliminating A-holes you will have avoided the negative distractions that kill both productivity and culture. Which means you and your team can focus on building a great business. And building great, long lasting relationship with each other.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message (like someone dealing with an A-hole) please share it with them.

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The valuable skill new entrepreneurs should focus on first.

Being an entrepreneur is like being an astronaut. Not just because they are both weird words. But because both jobs require you to know a little bit about everything. However, no one starts out knowing all the things they need to know. Which means that when you begin your entrepreneurial adventure you start in an uncomfortable, if not vulnerable position. Like astronauts.

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Sometimes entrepreneurship feels this way.

When I first launched The Weaponry, my advertising and ideas agency, I was curious to discover which newly-required skill area would test me the most. Accounting? Contract Law? Human Resources? Dry Erase Board Maintenance? But 3 years later there is one skill I find I need to use more than any other. It’s my humanity.

Honing Humanity

Being a great entrepreneur, first and foremost, requires you to be the best human you can be. Because businesses are not businesses. They are collections of people. To help people be their best you have to listen, understand and care about the issues they are dealing with.

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This picture includes clients, partners and employees. Which are all the basic kinds of humans you need to create a successful business.

Human challenges regularly get in the way of business. That’s simply a fact of life. Entrepreneurs have to be good at working with those challenges. They come from everywhere. From your clients, employees, contractors, vendors and suppliers. Over the past few years I have had the honor or working through a wide variety of human challenges with my teammates, clients and partners.

Human Challenges I Have Worked Through As An Entrepreneur

  • Pregnancy
  • Home Buying
  • Home Selling
  • Mental Illness
  • Balance Issues (real, physical balance, not work-life or checkbook related)
  • Cancer
  • Care for Aging Parents
  • A Desire To Go Back To School
  • Weddings
  • Changes To Hopes and Dreams
  • Surgery
  • Home Power Outages
  • Family Vacations
  • Spousal Job Loss
  • Doctor’s Appointments
  • Major Dental Procedures
  • Drug & Alcohol Testing (which we are required to do for a client)
  • Criminal and Financial Background Checks
  • Sick Children
  • Alzheimers Disease
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Hearing Loss
  • School Events
  • Financial hardships
  • Business failures
  • Lawsuits

Preparing Yourself

Working through these issue doesn’t require an MBA, finance degree or a Wall Street internship. It simply requires you to be a good compassionate and understanding human. It requires you to put people issues before business issues. It requires good listening skills and good problem solving skills. It requires you to be prepared for life to get in the way of business. And to be okay with that.

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Weaponry Humans

My Favorite Part

Still, the humanity is my favorite part of business. It provides a constant reminder that we are people first and clients, employees and contractors second. We work to live. We don’t live to work. At the end of your career you will be remembered more for how you impacted lives than how you impacted products and services.

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Business people having a very human experience.

Key Takeaway

Humans are critical to business success. If you want to create a thriving business you should always put the humans in them first. Because you can’t succeed without them. When you show that you care about the human issues that your team, clients and partners are dealing with, those same people will care even more for you and your shared business in return. So remember the Golden Rule. It’s the most golden entrepreneurial lesson I’ve learned so far.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them. 

I have a strange problem I don’t know how to solve. And I want your help.

There are some business problems they don’t teach you how to solve in business school.  They are too odd and too unlikely to happen to spend time discussing. So today, I am going to serve up an odd, real-life scenario to see how you would respond. Because I am not sure what the right answer is. Or even if there is a right answer. So let’s try to figure this out together.

The Setup

Last night, just before dinner, I went into the bathroom at my home to wash my hands. As I was washing I looked at myself in the mirror and noticed a problem. My left eyeball was completely red. Not as if it was irritated. Or as if I had taken a red eye flight. It was red like a blood vessel had burst in my eye. And it looked disgusting. Like an eye I never want to make eye contact with. Like ever.

When I returned to the table and shared my problem with my family the reaction was not good. My 11-year old son thought I looked hideous and demanded that I not look at him again. My 8-year old son was fascinated, the way a boy may be fascinated by road kill. My 13-year old daughter was greatly concerned for me. (Everyone should have a daughter). And wife Dawn immediately asked if I had any important client meetings this week. The answer was yes.

The Problem

I have an important meeting with a brand new client that is scheduled to start 24 hours from now. The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, was just awarded a significant project with this client after an agency review. During the review process we met 3 members of the marketing and sales team, whom we liked very, very, very much. #IThinkTheyWillReadThis

The upcoming meeting is for us to meet the client’s executive team, a team we will be working closely with throughout this project. The purpose of the meeting is to introduce ourselves and take them through the proposal with our color commentary.

The most important outcome from this meeting is for us to make a great first impression on our new client’s senior team. That’s hard to do when you have a horror film eye ball. What makes this worse is that I have had a burst blood vessel in my eye before. It was many years ago. During that red period I had multiple client meetings. And my clients were undeniably grossed out by my gore eye. Sorry clients.

Seeking a Solution

This is where I need your help figuring out what I should do next. There are a couple of details you should know before offering your advice. 1. This problem usually takes 5 to 7 days to clear up. There are only 2 people from my team scheduled to attend this meeting, Just me and the account leader. There was a 3rd member of our team who would have attended if she wasn’t on vacation in Europe. It’s amazing the lengths some people will go to in order to avoid seeing my eye.

The Options As I See Them (through my bloody eye).

  1. Reveal the problem and ask to reschedule the meeting for 1 week later.
  2. Send the account leader alone.
  3. Proceed as if there was no problem.
  4. Make the meeting a phone call or video conference.
  5. Attend the meeting, but wear sunglasses
  6. Attend the meeting but wear an eye patch (Arrrr Matey!)
  7. Attend the meeting but wear a welder’s mask.
  8. Attend the meeting but avoid all eye contact, like Rain Man.
  9. Call the client, explain the situation, and ask them how they want to proceed.

What would you do?

Which of the options do you think I should choose? Or do you have a good solution that is not on the list? I appreciate you sharing your opinion. If you know a wise owl who-who offers good advice, please pass this along to them too. Me and my eye look forward to hearing from you.

10 important lessons from my 3rd year of entrepreneurship.

I always wanted to start my own advertising agency. So on April 12th, 2016 I went online and officially registered The Weaponry LLC. I then marched over to another website where I got a federal tax ID number. I surfed over to a Capital One’s website, where I applied for a Visa Spark Card, because my friend Dan Richards recommended that credit card for business. Finally, I headed to the bank to set up a business checking and savings account for The Weaponry. And just like that, I had birthed a business.

The Hard Part

Setting up a business is easy. Any teenager can do it. The hard part is building a machine that will feed, clothe and shelter you and your family. It’s even harder to feed, clothe and shelter additional employees and their dependents. That’s why I am so proud The Weaponry is celebrating its 3rd birthday! We have doubled our business in the past year. And thankfully, I am not naked, starving or homeless.

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Working with Olympic Gold Medalist Blake Pieroni for Mizuno. He’s the one without the hat. Apparently swimmers where hats enough in the pool.

Momentum

The 3rd birthday is a fun milestone to reach. Just as each wedding anniversary is represented by a different gift (Honey I got you a new sponge!), each business birthday represents something unique. The first birthday is the ‘We’re really doing this!’ birthday. The second is the ‘We’re still alive!’ birthday. And the third is the ‘Now we’re rolling!’ birthday.

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On set, showing Olympic Gold Medalist Jennie Finch my disappearing water bottle trick.

Indeed, The Weaponry is rolling. This past year has been exciting for our team.

A Few Highlights:

  • We hired more full-time and part-time staff.
  • We renewed our lease on our first office in Milwaukee.
  • We opened a new office in Columbus, Ohio.
  • We worked with President Jimmy Carter.
  • We worked with Olympic Gold Medalists Jennie Finch and Blake Pieroni.
  • Members of our team experienced work traveled to Maine, Massachusetts, Ohio, Washington DC, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, California, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.
  • We had our first International shoot, on the other side of the world, in India.
  • A fun experience was had by all.
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Me and some of the ladies in red!

Client Roster

In the last 12 months we have worked with 23 Clients! Who works with 23 clients? I guess The Weaponry does.

Saying Yes!

Our broad and diverse client roster reminds me of one of my favorite things about being a business owner: I get to say yes to anything I am interested in doing. As result we have a fun mix of large, medium and small clients. Just as crop rotation keeps farm fields producing at their best, the variety of industries we play in keeps our team fresh and stimulated with a constant stream of new and varied challenges.

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Our team working with our friends at Safelite Autoglass. Did you know  they both repair, and replace?

10 Lessons From My 3rd Year of entrepreneurship.

As I reflect on this past year I have gathered a few key lessons I’ve learned. Here they are in a particular order.

  1. People make all the difference. A business is nothing but a collection of people running plays together. So find great people to run great plays and you are likely to experience great success.
  2. Slow and steady wins the race. At The Weaponry we are trying to build a business that lasts forever. You make different decisions when your goal is to survive eternally instead of generating hockey stick growth or making a quick sale.
  3. Do the important but not urgent work. Maintain your human relationships and invest time and energy in them. This will pay you back in a wide variety of rewarding ways.
  4. Diversify your clients. With so many different clients we are well-balanced financially. All of our clients are important to us. None of them are critical to our survival.
  5. Nothing is sure. We signed a large monthly retainer with a new client last summer, only to deal with a major reorganization within their business that changed everything one month later. I received a ‘This is your official notice that we are activating our right to cancel this agreement!’ from someone I didn’t know. Those things can happen at anytime.
  6. You never know when you are going to get the next opportunity of a lifetime. I got a random but welcomed call one day from my good friend Dennis Giglio at Fifth Third Bank, telling me that he had a project he wanted us to work on, and that there was a good chance we would have to go to India to shoot part of it. He was right. And it was amazing. Thank you Fifth Third and SLK Global friends for the opportunity!

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    Working with our friends at Fifth Third Bank and SLK Global in India.
  7. Set Your Sights High. The Weaponry has Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals, and they force us to grow. I share our goals with our team in every agency-wide meeting. And despite the largeness of the goals, or perhaps because of them, I can always see the team focus, and lean in when we restate them. Everyone knows what we are after. We all know that we have a lot of work to do to close the gap between where we are today and our idealized, fully formed version of ourselves. And we are willing to do the work to get there.
  8.  Use A System For Growth. We use the EOS System from the book Traction by Gino Wickman. It makes a huge difference. If you are struggling to make satisfying progress with either a startup or a fully formed business, pick up this book and start the EOS Process. Setting quarterly rocks helps a business focus on continually moving the business forward. (This has been an unpaid endorsement of the book Traction. You can find it by clicking here.)
  9. Make Cash Flow plans This past year The Weaponry was owed a lot of money. For several months we carried an accounts receivable balance of over $700,000. Which meant that we had performed that much work, had paid what it cost us to create the work, but were not yet paid by our clients. You have to have a plan for such times. Because a business that runs out of cash is like a car that runs out of gas, or a human that runs out of blood.
  10. Develop Great Partners  Over the past year other businesses that we partner with on projects have brought great new clients to us. This is a total game changer. Because it is like having an additional business development team, or multiple business development teams bringing you opportunities. Sometimes it comes in the form of a collaboration. But other times the work comes simply as a trusted referral. And it works like compounded interest. Which is why you should compound your interest in great partners.

Key Takeaway

The Weaponry continues to grow. I am learning and growing just as much as the business. I have not done any of this alone. My fellow Weapons have been key to our success. As has the growing list of great clients we are lucky to work with. Thank you for following the story or being part of the story as it unfolds. It’s been an exciting adventure. I look forward to what the next year brings!

*If you know anyone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.

How to deal with harmful energy suckers.

I’ve been having a problem with my battery lately. Not my internal human battery. The battery that powers my car. Several times over the past couple of months my car wouldn’t start and I had to jump it to get it going again (with jumper cables, not the Fosbury Flop.)

The Replacement

I decided to measure my car battery with a voltage meter. Sure enough, the voltage was way low, like Consuelo. So I replaced the battery. But two weeks later, with a brand new battery, I found the car dead again. Watt The Volt?

Spotting a Pattern

I began noticing a pattern. When the car wasn’t driven for a couple of days it would wind up dead. It was dead when we returned from a family weekend in Chicago. It was dead-dead when I got back from a 4-day business trip to Atlanta and Orlando. So it was time to take my car to the dealership to get to the bottom of the issue.

Diagnosing The Problem

When I made the phone call to set up an appointment, the service representative seemed to understand my problem better than he should have with the limited amount of information I gave him. When I brought the car in, the representative shared his diagnosis without ever looking at the car. He said:

‘I am 99.9% sure that you have a parasitic draw on your battery, caused by the Bluetooth control module. When that malfunctions it draws down the battery at an abnormally high rate while the car is off. The demand eventually drains the battery until you don’t even have enough power to unlock the doors.’ -Acura Dealership Dave

The test the technicians performed confirmed that we was right. Se we replaced the Bluetooth control module. And the problem disappeared.

Beware The Parasitic Draw!

Parasitic draws are not limited to car batteries. They can happen anywhere. In businesses, on teams, and in social groups. Malfunctioning human parasites draw down the energy of the group, depleting them of power, until they limp along severely compromised, or ruined.

Key Takeaway

Great organizations, teams and groups require energy to function properly. If anyone in the system is taking away energy, rather than contributing it, you have to remove them from the system. Do it as quickly as you diagnose it. There is no cure, other than a parasitectomy. Don’t waste your time trying to fix it. Removing the offender is the only way to return to full power and achieve your full potential. And you should never settle for anything less.

How our agency overcame a Biggie Smalls experience.

It was the rapper Notorious B.I.G. who once penned that famous American quote: ‘Mo Money. Mo Problems.’ In 2018 I learned Biggie was right. Because as my young advertising and idea agency was growing at an exciting pace, we also faced mo money problems. Or was it less money problems? Maybe it depends on whether you’re more East Coast or more West Coast.

Go With The Cashflow

In 2018 The Weaponry, faced a cash flow problem. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t been warned. My posse of entrepreneurial homies, including Dan Richards of Global Rescue and Jeff Hilimire of Dragon Army, warned me that as you work with larger and larger clients they will use their financial muscle to get longer and longer payment terms. So instead of our standard 30-day terms, new clients began requesting, pushing for or demanding 45, 60 and even 90-day terms. #WhatWouldSugeKnightDo?

The 60 and 90-day terms put growing businesses like mine in a conundrum. Obviously we want to work with the biggest and best companies in the world. The problem is that while we wait to get paid for the work we have completed, we still have to pay the Weapons, vendors and freelancers who work for us. Which means that like a leaky bucket, more money is leaving the system than coming in. #DearLizaDearLiza

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Big Poppa

By June of 2018 we had been in business for 2 years. We could clearly feel the momentum build. There was sharp rise in the demand for our work. But with all the new work, longer payment terms, and invoices that seemed to have taken the slow boat to PayMe Town, we started carrying between $500,000 and $700,000 in our monthly accounts receivable stack.

For a business that bootstrapped its way into being just 24 months earlier this was an interesting turn of events. It is nice to be owed that kind of money. But cash is the life blood of a business. And there were serious demands on our blood supply.

We were always able to pay our salaries and all of our bills. But the depleted cash on hand meant that we weren’t able to invest in our own growth. We had started looking at space for our Columbus office in June, then hit pause on our plans to sign a lease in order give ourselves some breathing room. We waited on transitioning some of our freelance help to full-fledged Weapons. And we postponed the company offsite meeting in Monaco.

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It Was All A Dream.

When I shared our mounting money challenge with our team, they once again stepped up to solve the problem. Simon Harper, one of our outstanding account directors, shared how we could adjust our invoice timing to make sure we were paid by our clients sooner. Other account leads also contacted their client contacts about the outstanding bills. Which helped get the money ball rolling.

Our accountant, slash bookkeeper, slash egg dealer, Sally Bretsch, recommended another adjustment to our billing process that would ensure that our invoices got into our clients’ accounts payable systems faster, with greater accountability. Which is either totally meta or just a nice word play (Did I mention I used to read Word UP! magazine?)

From Negative To Positive (And it’s all good.)

With these team-driven enhancements in place, suddenly we dramatically decreased the turnaround time between work performed and payments received. We had our own Black Friday moment, when suddenly, following months of increased billing, but decreased cashflow, we started seeing the fruits of our labor manifest in our bank account.

Key Takeaway

Business is a team sport. As an entrepreneur, leader or department head, it’s important to understand that your team will find ways to solve problems and improve performance faster, and in better ways than you would be able to unearth on your own. Share information with your team. Make them part of the solution. If you’re thinking about starting a business, surround yourself with a strong crew who knows more about their specialties than you do. Then give them a mic and let them flow. That’s how small teams make big things happen.

The key to the Patriots’ success that most people never notice.

The New England Patriots are my favorite professional team, in any sport, hands down. Heck, I love the Patriots regardless of hand position. I have been a Pats fan since I was a boy growing up in Vermont, which for the international crowd, and the geographically challenged Americans, is one of the six states that make up New England.

In my youth, the highlight of my Patriots fandom was the kickoff of Super Bowl XX (that’s 20 for those of you who don’t speak Roman). I was so excited and full of hope, until my Pats got refrigerated and Super Bowl Shuffled off like the Buffalo Bills by the historically impressive 1985 Chicago Bears. If that game didn’t completely break my heart, Billy Buckner finished the job just a few months later.

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My Patriots took it in the worst way from the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX. 

A Whole New World

Oh, but this is a new millennium. It has been unbelievable for Patriot fans. But completely annoying for many non-Patriotic Americans. I get that too. Because I can’t stand the New York Yankees.

Since 2001, no team in any sport has been more dominant than the Patriots. Love them or hate them, their record has been spectacular this millennium. Since 2001 they’ve played in the Super Bowl 9 times, winning 5 championships, with a chance to add another W in Super Bowl LIII.

It’s Gets Harder And Harder.

Each return trip becomes less and less likely. Because following a Super Bowl appearance, both teams are rewarded for their efforts with one of the two worst draft positions, and one of the two hardest schedules the following year. Yet here the Patriots are, once again playing for the Lombardi Trophy.

Which Begs The Question…

Just why have the Patriots been able to remain so dominant for so long in the era of the salary cap and free agency? This is an era in which it should be the hardest of all to maintain a Joan Collins-caliber dynasty.

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Patriot great Tedy Bruschi checking Mike Vrabel for lice.

The Harder The Problem, The Harder You Look For Solutions.

Budget limitations often encourage us to approach our challenges differently. If you really study the NFL data like Bill Belichick has, it may lead you to create an entirely new formula for success.

Belichick and Brady

In Michael Holley’s New York Times bestseller, Belichick and Brady, there is an eye-opening analysis of the economics of football. While we are often distracted by the conspicuous performances on the field, we may be missing something far more important. There is far too much emphasis put on the traditional statistics. And Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli were just the people to unearth this non-intuitive truth.

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The following passage from the book offers one of the great aha’s of how the Patriots have accomplished so much despite the NFL’s systematically promoted parody.

We slowly accumulated winning stat guys as opposed to the high-sack, high-interception guys,” former Patriots linebacker Matt Chatham says. “Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel. Those guys are way more valuable if they get eight sacks rather than sixteen. Dominating the edge, getting on the tight end, blowing up wide receivers and never letting them get into the pattern. That’s way more valuable than sixteen sacks.

“I think that the world thinks that the sixteen-sack guy is more valuable, but the Patriots don’t think that, and you can get into the economics of this: The sixteen-sack guy costs twice as much as the other guy. And once you get to a certain point, it’s saturation. It’s just sixteen plays and when you play five hundred snaps, it’s not that important. It just isn’t. Who are the best rerouters among outside linebackers? Who are the best edge setter? Does anyone in the media know that?”

-From Belichick and Brady by Michael Holley

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Matt Chatham: Revealer of truth. And guy who got stuck trying to shove his arms through a little kid’s bike inner tubes. 

Key Takeaway:

Know your winning stats. The winning formula isn’t always obvious. But understanding what really factors into your success gives you an edge in every endeavor. Analyze your own organization, or your own personal success. Know what works and which part of the performance may be distracting you from the things that matter most.

I hope the Patriots win the Super Bowl again this year. But even if they don’t, it sure is fun being a Pats fan. Because win or lose (and it is mostly win) they have found the winning formula to be in the mix every year.

Go Pats!