What Do Tim Tebow, Le’Veon Bell And John Boyd Have In Common?

Tim Tebow took the Denver Broncos to the playoffs in 2011. He took over the quarterback job after a 1-3 start under another quarterback and took the team to a win in the first round of the playoffs. Tebow never got another start in the NFL.

Le’Veon Bell racked up 357 yards in 3 games in the 2016 NFL playoffs for the Pittsburgh Steelers, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. This season he is averaging only 3.8 yards per carry.
Why were these two NFL players able to perform at such a high level during one season and not continue to perform at such a high level in subsequent seasons?

Colonel John Boyd developed the OODA (Observe – Orient – Decide – Act) model during his Air Force career. He conceived of it by analyzing his performance as a fighter pilot. It is much more than a model for aerial combat and can better be described as a learning model. My previous article “Are You Experienced?” explains the OODA model, its continuous feedback loop, and its use in developing good business processes.

The answer to the question posed in the title is… a lesson in disruptive actions. The answer to why Tebow and Bell were not able to continue performing at a very high level can be found in the application of the OODA model, specifically the Orient stage. Orient means applying:

  • Experience (including observations and measurements)
  • Education (formal learning)
  • Knowledge (learning from mentors and peers)
  • Analogy (leaning from similar experiences) to the situation at hand

Tim Tebow brought a successful collegiate quarterback style to the NFL. The NFL had seen it before and figured out how NFL defenses could shut down a star quarterback that could run the ball. Offenses abandoned that style and moved on. Tebow brought that style back to the NFL with the added benefit of a fullback/linebacker type body. Not having encountered this combination, teams did not adjust their defensive strategies to those that had been effective against Tebow’s style in the past. Once they adapted in the playoffs and next season, Tebow’s style no longer worked. NFL defenses re-oriented using the new experiences and knowledge of past successful strategies. For one season, however, Tebow and the Broncos had disrupted NFL defenses with actions that were unexpected.

Similarly, Le’Veon Bell disrupted defenses in the playoffs last year by running up to the line of scrimmage and literally freezing…coming to a dead stop. Defenses, used to responding to changes of direction and quickness by essentially mirroring the movement of running backs, responded by freezing themselves. Once they did, the offensive linemen engaged with them were able to win the one-on-one battle, opening up huge holes for Bell. After a few games, defensive coaches re-oriented to this unique running style, coaching their defensive linemen to continue driving forward when Bell stopped.

The important business take-aways from Tebow, Bell, and Boyd’s OODA model are:

  • Businesses can continue to do the same stellar job of providing goods/services that they always have, but still lose.
  • Disrupt your market with the unexpected; put conventional wisdom on its head or even resurrect old models to which your competition may have forgotten how to respond.
  • Don’t rest on your laurels when it works. Competitors will eventually re-orient and figure out how to respond; be ready for another disruption when they do.
  • When a competitor disrupts your market, don’t freeze. Observe, re-orient and act. DO NOT REACT! Don’t play defense and protect your market share. Be “antifragile” and come back with your own disruption.

Boyd’s OODA model originated from his military experience. It applies equally well to sports and business. Sports are games and games are fun. Your business is a game…have fun and keep disrupting the market!