What a game last night. There’s never been, and there may never be, another Super Bowl like it — and we’d say that even if we weren’t huge New England Patriots fans!
But we’re writing this article because, in all the frenzied excitement of the post-game celebration, we were thunderstruck by one particular thing Tom Brady said in explaining his team’s stunning win.
“That’s why you play until the end.”
He was talking about endurance. About sticking with a challenge when it’s difficult and daunting in extremis. About not surrendering — even when the odds feel impossible. About never losing the hope that if you keep trying – switching things up, refining your plays, overcoming your weaknesses — there is always a chance you can still win.
So true, Tom. But we would add: That is business, people. That is how competition works, and how careers work.
Look, there are many aspects of business today where you get instant results. That’s one of the advantages of the digital economy. You can know within hours if a certain ad campaign is working or not. You can know within days if a new product has taken off.
But just as often, and maybe even more so, business is the story of long cycles. At the extreme, think about aerospace, where the process from sale to delivery can take five or eight years, with interminable but inevitable setbacks along the way for complex design reconfigurations and the like. There’s movie-making. There’s book publishing. There’s construction of apartment buildings and cargo tankers. Thousands of people are involved in the ten-year build up to every Olympics. The list of in-for-the-distance enterprises goes on and on.
And in every case, the “game” can feel like the Super Bowl probably did for the Patriots last night. A protracted, discouraging slog, punctuated with occasional moments of, “We. Are. Not. Dead. Yet.”
Not always, but very often, victory goes to the team that holds onto that last notion the most fiercely. That identifies its mistakes quickly and corrects them, that gets fired up, not disheartened, by its competitor’s boldness, that doesn’t slow down to figure out who to blame for the mess it’s in.
The same is true about careers. Sure, some people zoom to the top of their chosen field. That’s rare, though. Most of us get passed over for a job or two (or three), wait far longer for a promotion than we’d like, and sometimes even get let go for not cutting it. The truth is, professional success is generally a long-cycle thing. And “victory” – say, a sense of meaning and accomplishment – goes to those who keep at the jagged path, getting up when they fall down, finding a way around blockages again and again, never slowing down to assign blame or throw a pity a party.
When it comes to competition and careers, to paraphrase a quarterback who knows what he’s talking about, the win goes to the people who never stop believing they can win, no matter what.