Peyton Manning and Malcolm Gladwell

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Peyton Manning and Malcolm Gladwell

September 18, 2015 -

We’re hardly two weeks into the NFL season, and people are already declaring Peyton Manning is finished. They point to his lack of accuracy so far, his interceptions, and his arm strength to support the claim that, nearing 40, we are all finally witnessing the end of Peyton Manning’s football dominance. The topic has received so much attention that sportswriters are having to write detailed articles, including the latest at Grantland by Bill Barnwell, showing how this judgment might be premature.

Every season players from all sports are routinely written off because of their poor performance in the first few weeks of competition. Ours is a culture that loves making snap, decontextualized decisions. We love to debate and criticize others’ performances, but routinely we are wrong. Baseball fans have, with regularity the past few seasons, declared David “Big Papi” Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox done. After a while, though, he starts hitting home runs again and puts all those judgments to rest.

While we make our own snap judgments on players’ performance, we also love to criticize and debate coaches’ snap decisions. Everyone remembers Pete Carroll’s infamous decision to have Russell Wilson pass the ball on the final play of last year’s Super Bowl rather than letting Marshawn Lynch run. This year, Tom Coughlin’s coaching decisions in the recent Sunday night showdown with the Cowboys have come under fire.

We are decision-making, volitional creatures. But the problem is we don’t always know why we make certain decisions and how to learn to make better ones in the future. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink explores this topic of decision-making, and offers a fascinating foray into the manners by which we arrive at certain decisions.

His entire premise with the book is that we can learn to make better snap decisions in life. He explores the various social and psychological research that has emerged in recent years, and provides numerous tidbits of advice that are well-worth your time to read if you have not already.

One of the main premises of Gladwell’s book is to suggest that we can improve our decision making by simply cutting out the clutter and focusing on the right information. He points to data overload and how it causes our brains to shut down and make rash decisions just to make a decision. It’s what happens anytime you go into a Cheesecake Factory and have to order off their 20 plus page menu.

Think about the decisions you have to make every day. Most of those happen unconsciously, as you sift through the various choices available to you. You decide to postpone going to the grocery because your child has had a rough morning. You decide to stay at work a little longer to finish up an email. You decide to eat lunch out with your colleagues rather than staying inside and eating your packed lunch. These are all decisions we make every day with relative ease.

But the bigger decisions in life (Should I marry this person? Should I take this job? How should I respond to this criticism of me?) cause us to stop, reflect, and think deeply. As we consider these decisions, Gladwell would suggest that we balance our snap impressions and intuitive feelings with our more rational, logical thinking. We often overload ourselves and give ourselves too much time to make a decision, rather than simplifying things and having the right information available.

I think a lot of what Gladwell is getting at in Blink is simply the idea of wisdom: learning how to make the right decisions in life. As Christians, we know that Jesus is the storehouse of all wisdom (Colossians 2), and that in following him, we are called to live lives of wisdom. Here is one simple suggestion for how to do that, and it relates to sports and coaching: Have the right kind of people around you to help you make the best decisions. Coaches depend on their assistant coaches to help filter information and provide advice. In a similar way, we need the right people around us to help filter the good and bad information and help us see what God would have us to do.

Based on a breadth of past experience, Peyton Manning is probably not about to fall off a cliff. But if you listened to the pundits, you’d think he was about to. And Tom Coughlin isn’t a bad coach. He just made one poor judgment. We can all learn to make better decisions, but it starts with who you are listening to. As the old saying goes, garbage in, garbage out.

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