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In The Huddle with Fran Tarkenton

Lessons from the NFL

This weekend marks the beginning of the 2014 NFL season. As you might know, I spent a little time playing football, and I still find the game fascinating to watch, both as a sport and also as an analogy for life and business. A lot of the lessons and principles that have guided me in business come from my time in football, and I see things all the time when watching the NFL that demonstrate important ideas for good living and good business.

One of the things that is endlessly fascinating to me is the continuous reinvention that teams in the NFL go through. The game is constantly changing. As the years go by, it’s not just the players that change, but the very way that we play the game. Rule changes, new offensive schemes, innovative defenses, and other trends all change over time. At one moment in time, the offense will have the advantage. Eventually, defenses will counter and come up with a way to stop that offense, and the pendulum will swing the other way. But just wait a little longer, and it will swing back again. It’s continuous back and forth, action and reaction, learning and improving.

And while that’s looking at long-term trends, the same thing happens in individual games. Both teams come out with their plan for how the game will go, and each team is constantly adjusting their own plan based on what the other team is doing, and reacting to the other team’s plan. You have to be ready to adjust not just from week to week, or from quarter to quarter, but from play to play!

I learned that lesson on the football field, that I have to reinvent myself. I couldn’t do the same thing no matter what the circumstances; I always had to look for new wrinkles, new things I could do to get better. So every offseason was spent studying new things to add to the offense. During the season, I’d study other teams’ offenses and look for things we could incorporate into our own team. During games, we looked for ways to adjust to get an edge over our opponent.

That was football, but it’s been the same way in business. You can’t stand still. I’ve built more than 20 companies over the past 50 years, but my businesses today run a lot differently than they did 50 years ago. There are absolutely some fundamental principles that will never change, but so many things are different. I’m 74 now, but it is my business to keep up with everything that is changing. I challenge myself every day to read more, to learn about new things and ask questions that will stimulate my own thinking.

If a business doesn’t keep up, it becomes irrelevant. I don’t want that to happen, so I push myself every day. It can happen to the biggest, most successful companies in the world. Just in the past few years, we’ve seen Eastman Kodak, gone. All too many of the big box stores, irrelevant. If it can happen to them, it can happen to any company, large or small. So I keep moving, keep looking for ways to reinvent and engage with our fast-paced, innovative society.

That’s the challenge for all of us. To never stop learning, to never stop improving—to never stop, period.

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Robert E. Arrington

Fran Tarkenton, I’ve been fan of you since your days at UGA. I’m glad you are associated with AMAC. I’m 72 and still a UGA fan. Go Dawgs!

Carole Peterson

Excellent analogy and insight from a man who knows the insides of football. Football is my favorite team sport to watch and now I’ll enjoy it all the more. As a 69 yr old, I’m still learning, still excited about life, still willing to make changes because to do otherwise is to stagnate and die a slow death. God wants us to live life to the fullest!