What Deflate Gate Taught Us About Human Nature and Business


The lesson is so smack-you-in-the-face obvious you could get an NFL concussion. Yet we’d much rather take this cycle, because it allows us to take it again next time:

Circle of Hate

As the title of this post indicates, Tom Brady, the New England Patriots and the recent Deflategate “scandal” are the example at hand. Without spending too much time recapping an incident most, if not all, of you know about, and trying not to insert any subjectivity, here’s how it played out:

1) Incident – Brady and Patriots were accused of deflating footballs to gain competitive advantage

2) Personal Venom – There was an immediate reaction of hatred as a result of the news

3) Mob Mentality – Social media – the new playground for mobs – became saturated with people calling for their heads

4) Factual Revelation – it has been revealed that the referees didn’t have a reading on the footballs prior to the game, so there is nothing conclusive about the readings that were taken at halftime. In addition, many other quarterbacks and teams have come out saying that the adjusting of footballs has been a regular practice in the NFL.

5) Whatever Attitude – the facts at this point don’t matter to most at this point. Many have resumed their normal lives. The Patriots cheated.

Is it possible that Brady and the Patriots bent the rules? Of course. Does the fact that other teams also bent the rules excuse them? Of course not. Was it worthy of the outcry? I’ll let you answer that one.

The bottom line is that the likelihood of the cycle starting, and the power of the cycle itself, increases infinitely if we can direct it against an individual or entity we collectively hate. Who hates anyone or anything more than a WINNER? It works best when it’s not just the kind of winning that passes before we can take notice, but rather prolonged winning that extends well past our collective comfort level. 

The Pats play in the Super Bowl this weekend, and 99% of the population outside the New England fan base [that takes notice of football] is tired of it. They don’t care that the Patriots haven’t won the Superbowl in over 10 years; they care that the consistently win games and that Sunday will mark the 6th time in the last 15 years that they’ve been to the Superbowl. “Dynasty” was a fun term to throw around back in 2007, but by 2011 they were hated, and now, in 2015, you could possibly gain public consensus for their banishment from the NFL.

This message translates quite easily to the business world. Think of the normal business cycle of a company.

business cycle

The transition from Cash Cow to Dog happens for many reasons outside the scope of this posting. The lifecycle of a product or service may have ended, and the company hasn’t innovated fast enough to replace it. The company may have encouraged additional entrants to the market, and now it is tougher to maintain the same market share. The company may have grown their employee base to a size that cannot sustain dips in the overall market, affecting their financials.

Also, people start to hate the winning company. Who likes a cash cow? It has our cash. If we’re a competitor, it has our market share. If we’re a consumer, even if the product/service is valuable, it has the money we spend on it. If we’re an investor, we already made our money as it went from a question mark to a cash cow. It’s time to move on from this winner, because it’s winning that you’ve heard about more than you’d like.

The easiest thing to do is to look for an incident and then pounce. Or, if that incident never comes, create one. Sue the company, slander the company. Post negative comments on Glassdoor and hope that they go viral.

  • Don’t ask yourself why you’re taking it so personally.
  • Don’t get in front of the mob mentality.
  • Don’t acknowledge that you may have been wrong, or at the very least that you overreacted.

Some actions of individuals and companies are worth the venom, especially if you were directly impacted; think Bernard Madoff and Enron. But isn’t it possible that in many cases, the reaction to winning is more about taking things personally than about the winner itself? Doesn’t the fact that the cycle tends to end with a whatever attitude perpetuate the a cycle itself?

As Superbowl Sunday fast approaches, take a moment to think about – and even share if you’re willing – your reaction to the Patriots and any other winner that offends you. It might provide even more insight into human nature and business.