Be like Bill

The doldrums of a wicked Summer are overcome by the beauty of Fall. A door is opened and American football runs its course churning long days and shortening the specter of the daily routine. The academic and prolific podcaster Russ Roberts wrote a fascinating chapter in his latest book titled, “Be like Bill” about the seemingly staid New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Bill Belichick made one of the greatest talent discoveries in any profession by drafting a late-round football prospect known today as Tom Brady. In 2022, Brady remains the greatest (and oldest) football player, to ever play the game. Brady may not have become a legend playing for anyone else.

In Russ Roberts’ book, he talks about the importance of optionality. More than anyone else, Bill Belichick likes to stockpile picks (getting more picks versus a few top ones), finding diamonds in the rough by trying them out instead of anointing them, and filtering out those who don’t fit his culture regardless of talent level. Tom Brady was just another pawn as a 6th-round pick. It turned out he fit the culture perfectly and happened to be a hard worker that meshed well with Belichick’s no-nonsense demeanor.

Optionality meant going through a lot of football candidates, trying them all out, and cutting losses quickly. The alternative would be betting on a few college stars and cultivating their potential. Throughout Tom Brady’s 20+ year career, an astounding number of top quarterback candidates have come and gone.

A couple of decades after Bill Belichick installed his methodologies, optionality has become a default approach to life with new smartphone technologies driving every facet of our lives whether it’s where to eat, who to date, what to learn, or how to get there. Having options and creating more options seems to increase utilization more than rigid methods that seek single-size perfection and avoidance of failure.

As I watch Bill Belichick’s greatest pupil Tom Brady trounce the Dallas Cowboys with his new team, I see how optionality is making some teams thrive while rigidity and tradition have made some teams decline like the Dallas Cowboys under its autocratic owner Jerry Jones.

Optionality is the key to success and greater satisfaction. It’s worked for Bill Belichick.