Your fantasy football season ended Sunday, unless you're in the rare league whose play extends to the final week of the NFL's regular season.
That means it's timely to take stock of what you've learned, in the hope of applying the lessons to next season. If you take the time to do this, you'll find a few lessons that pertain to business, too. Here are three of them.
1. Fantasy football is a short-term stock game. This means you are predicting statistical performance. That's not the same thing as predicting excellence. In the same way a great company can have an undervalued stock price when its long-term strengths are not evident on paper, so too can a great player on the gridiron be a lousy one for fantasy purposes.
Excellence doesn't always manifest itself in metrics.
Likewise, a soaring stock price can, like a deodorant, mask a company's real weaknesses. And fantasy football is practically defined every year by the players whose statistical superlatives conceal their sub-par talents.
This simple fact often prevents those with deep reserves of football knowledge from dominating fantasy leagues. They know so much about which players have real talent, that they tend to bypass players who are short on talent--even if those players are strong in the short-term statistical categories that win fantasy football games.
By contrast, the person who knows nothing isn't bringing any football foreknowledge to the table. He is only judging by what the stats say. In fantasy football, that's usually a smarter bet.
2. The best ability is availability. As in business, performance often depends on opportunity. You can't close big deals if you're too low on the totem pole to make those initial sales calls. But if a longtime superstar in sales retires, then there's no telling what a young employee might do if given a chance to take over those accounts.
So a big part of success in fantasy football is paying attention to opportunities--and jumping on the players whose opportunities are about to grow because one of their teammates is out of favor with the coaching staff or missing games with injuries.
This season, players like Kirk Cousins (quarterback of the Washington football team) and Doug Baldwin (wide receiver on the Seattle Seahawks) have racked up superb statistics because of opportunities created by coaching decisions or injuries. If you knew a lot about football, you might have bypassed these players, assessing them too harshly based on their previous seasons. Whereas a novice player, caring less about pedigree and only the statistical present, would be less likely to dismiss their emergence.
3. Your biases are more prevalent than you think. Football fans are fans for a reason. They have passionate likes and dislikes about certain players, teams, and coaches. Those biases can prevent those with actual football knowledge from making the smarter, data-based decision.
For instance, if you dislike the Seahawks, you might hesitate to pick up a player like Baldwin, simply because you don't want to be emotionally torn by rooting for him. But a fantasy player with no rooting interests cares only about the stats--not the name on the jersey.
The business parallel here is in hiring and promotion decisions. Like it or not, your subtle biases have an unwitting and unhealthy influence on those decisions. You might, for instance, feel more confident with a taller, slender candidate than a short, heavy one. You might also ascribe intelligence--or the lack of it--to a certain accent.
While initial impressions like these matter in the world of business, they are not the data on which you should base a hiring decision. In the same way someone with football smarts has confidence in his instinct--but often ignores the obvious stats and makes the wrong fantasy move--smart leaders, confident in their gut, can overlook the candidate who the data says is the better choice.
All of which is why the smartest companies--when it comes to leadership development--don't allow leaders to rely on their guts. Google, for example, uses algorithms to assess which of its young talents have the most leadership potential.
None of this is to suggest that superior knowledge is always an impediment in fantasy football. But there are reasons less knowledgeable people often win fantasy leagues and office pools. One of them, perhaps as important as any listed above, is luck. And another is humility. You tend to make smarter decisions if you're not punch-drunk on your own prowess. You're trying to win the game, which is a different thing than trying to prove what a genius you are.