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Play it safe … or go for it?

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in Leaders & Managers

Economist David Romer noticed that football teams tend to play it safe in fourth-down situations, kicking a field goal instead of continuing to drive for a touchdown.

His hunch: People say they’re willing to fight hard for what they hope to achieve, but their actions undercut their words. So, in research he did for the University of California, Romer isolated one question: Should teams punt or kick the ball on fourth downs, or take bigger risks by running or throwing it?

His results: Teams should go for it—whatever down, whatever the score and whatever side of the field.

On average, teams willing to take a chance seem to win more than lose. Why?

Owners and fans (read: business leaders and customers) only want to win. They love the results of Romer’s research. They get it.

NFL coaches (read: managers) mainly want to avoid screwing up. They’re scared of trying and failing. They don’t get it.

Listen to the wildly successful New England Patriots coach for a clue. Asked once why he took a chance, Bill Belichick said: “What do you want us to do, kick a field goal?”

Bottom line: Fear of failure causes failure. Want to win? Take chances.

—Adapted from “Go for It on Fourth Down, Coach? Maybe You Should Ask an Egghead,” Shankar Vedantam, The Washington Post.

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