The Seahawks are a walking case study in why culture matters

The Seahawks are a walking case study in why culture matters

Professional sports teams are interesting organizations. Yes, our focus is usually on cheering for our favorite team, yet these same teams and the infrastructure around them are often like any other complex company. They have a culture. And how they behave gives interesting insights into that culture and what contributes – even drives – team performance.

Culture does matter. In the NFL, the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns have been hapless for many a year while teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers and (sigh) the New England Patriots have been synonymous with playoff appearances and more. How those organizations choose to conduct their business influences quite a bit of what we see on the field.

Take the Seattle Seahawks. I’ve been interested in their culture since their different way of doing things first got attention in the months before their Super Bowl victory. Their prominent use of a sports psychologist, Dr. Michael Gervais, also caught my eye. Even the consulting company created by Gervais and Coach Pete Carroll significantly influences the cultural of client companies with a holistic approach to personal development, similar to how they work with the Seahawks (listen to Carroll on Gervais’ podcast for more related insight).

That background was lurking in my subconscious last night as I tracked what the Seahawks are doing in the 1st round of the NFL draft. They had pick #21 thanks to their finish last season and pick #29 after trading their star defensive end, Frank Clark, to the Kansas City Chiefs in the days leading up to the draft.

As I tracked developments and digested the post-first round media coverage (the remaining rounds of the draft are today and tomorrow), it hit me how what the Seahawks did wholly aligned with their organizational culture. Here’s how:

They’re realists.

Trading Frank Clark was bittersweet. A young, emerging force in the NFL but, one due a huge contract. There are only so many of those any organization can give out and the Seahawks just paid Quarterback Russell Wilson, big time, and need to pay All-Pro Linebacker Bobby Wagner soon as well…among others. Yet, they were clear they wanted to keep the talented Clark. What happened?

Dallas re-signing their own defensive line star, Demarcus Lawrence, raised the market price for leading defensive ends too high for Seattle’s planned budget and the Kansas City Chiefs offered great trade value for Clark. Thus, “we had to help the team and do what’s right for the organization.”

Team first, not emotions.

They’re authentic.

Fans of the Seahawks know the team has its quirks. Carroll and GM John Schneider have specific types of players they want. Often they have unique physical characteristics for their respective positions that fits the Seahawks’ scheme. Usually they have a chip on their shoulder for one reason or another. It’s not uncommon for draft and talent analysts in the NFL to take a different view of some players than the Seahawks, sometimes scoffing at their choices. The Seahawks don’t care.

Which is why after trading down from the 21st pick, the descriptions of who they picked at #29 was not surprisingly someone who very much fits the Seahawks mold: defensive lineman LJ Collier.

Analyst Brian Baldinger raved about Collier as a brawny, on-the-field performer, disregarding the “stupid underwear stats in Indianapolis” as Collier didn’t perform exceptionally at the annual NFL Combine, which might dissuade some traditional scouts.

Longtime NFL scout and head of the Senior Bowl, Jim Nagy, saw the same thing. Collier shows up on the field:

And guess what, Collier has a chip on his shoulder:

Sounds like a Seahawk to me.

They’re focused.

And they stick to the plan. John Schneider likes having lots of picks in the Draft, spread across its 7 rounds. Carroll and Schneider have made a name for themselves in finding high quality NFL talent deep into the later parts of the draft.

Even after the trade with the Chiefs for Clark, Seattle still started the Draft only 5 picks: those two 1st rounders, plus one each in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th rounds.

Virtually the entire NFL knew they were likely to try to trade down at some point. And they did. First out of #21, for which they received a different first rounder, #30, plus two more 4th round picks.

Thus, the Seahawks found themselves sitting on back-to-back picks, 29 and 30, with other teams who wanted to move up to snag a player they wanted falling later than expected in the 1st round knowing the Seahawks were likely willing to trade again.

The potential result? A lot of chaos.

Yet Seattle got their pick at 29 in Collier and traded down again with the New York Giants, this time swapping #30 for picks in the 2nd, 4th, and 5th rounds:

You achieve your goals by being able to stay focused in times of challenge.

They execute.

The Seahawks focus on the plan led to the actions they likely wanted in drafting a player they desire and trading down to secure more picks. But what were the actual results of those actions?

Besides the potential fit of Collier as a Seahawk, after trading down twice Seattle functionally converted the 21st pick in the Draft into a high second round pick, 3 more 4th round picks, and another 5th round pick too. The team with only 5 draft picks before trading Clark now has 8 picks remaining in rounds 2 – 7 even after picking Collier in the first round.

They got what they wanted and they got high value. For the first trade:

And for the second trade:

To be fair, various teams value things different ways, including based on desires for specific players. What’s clear either way is the Seahawks executed against their game plan and got results.

They may well trade down again (or up) in the remaining rounds of this Draft. Not all the players they select will work out. It will take years to assess if this Draft was good or bad for the Seahawks in terms of who succeeds on their roster.

What is clear is the Seahawks have a culture as an organization. It’s specific and unique; and they live up to it. And their performance yesterday was visible proof. That’s fun to see, be that in sports, business, or otherwise.

What we love about Game of Thrones

What we love about Game of Thrones

It’s the characters, stupid.**

No, not because Westeros is a magical world of dragons and knights and white walkers and battle scenes and intrigue. Not even because of the salacious violence and sex, let alone unexpected plot twists (who among us doesn’t still need a little therapy after the Red Wedding?).

It’s the humanity of the characters that creates connection to the show and its tale.

We remember, for example, the incredible Battle of the Goldroad when the Lannister army faces the combined doom of the Dothraki and Daenerys astride a fire breathing dragon. That’s a magnificent spectacle.

And the characters are better yet.

Episode 2 of this last season is nearly devoid of action, yet gripping. Yes, Cersei, Jon, Deanerys, and more continue to play the great game. But, even that quest for power takes a back seat to the characters this week. Lord knows it’s not the splendor of a drab, gloomy Winterfell that draw us in.

It’s not the majesty of Game of Thrones that keeps us watching so eagerly, though it may draw us in at first. It’s the characters and the subtlety of the production.

Subtlety like the unforgettable Season 6 closing scene with Sansa’s smirk as Ramsey Bolton meets the gory death he so richly deserves. Subtlety like the looks shared this week between Jaime Lannister and Brandon Stark as the former faces a hearing before his family’s enemies, the Targaryens and the Starks. You could watch the entire scene on mute and guess the sequence of events just by watching Jaime’s eyes.

Even taking the main figures of this episode not named Jon/Aegon and Daenerys there is a rich tableau of character development and expressions of the spectrum of the human condition to woo us:

Jaime Lannister – the arrogant sister-fucker has redeemed himself. Not 100% remorseful, he mostly declines to apologize for his earlier acts in defense of his family. But as he stands in Winterfell, humbly requesting to join the defense of the realms of men, he says what fans of the show long ago discovered: “I’m not that person anymore.” Redemption indeed.

Sansa Stark – the prissy naif of Season 1 has matured into a Bismarckian realist of a leader, with a touch of Machiavellian ruthlessness. And the trajectory of her hellish journey in between has helped transform her from one of the most annoying characters to one of the most endearing.

Brienne of Tarth – in some ways she hasn’t changed, a character intrinsically true to her nature. Yet, since we first met her at tournament before Renly Baratheon, she has transformed from a wandering soul seeking the right role for herself in the world into perhaps the most honorable living knight in the Seven Kingdoms. And that smile after she was thus honored…

Sir Brienne of Tarth

Tyrion Lannister – how has the lecherous, drunken “whoremonger” of Season 1 become one of the most beloved character’s on the show? His is one of the great character arcs in modern entertainment…aided and abetted by Peter Dinklage’s superb portrayal. His fireside lament to Jaime this week that he cannot return to whoremongering due to the “perils of self-betterment” is one of those delightfully subtle moments that says a lot without saying much at all.

Arya Stark – the dark side of greatness is often overlooked, especially in entertainment. Arya is a great character. She’s also a great killer. And her path to that reality is littered with windows into that darkness.

In her own words this week: “I know death, he has many faces. I look forward to seeing this one.”

She has issues. And we love her for that.

Poderick Payne – the incompetent yet faithful squire of his youth has transformed into a warrior, training combatants under Brienne’s tutelage. Yet, it was the glory of his singing that is the climax of Episode 2. A scene both lovely and haunting on the eve of battle, leaving moist eyes for many a fan.

Jorah Mormont – there may be no greater person of service in the show. He goes from admittedly heart broken at the news Daenerys named Tyrion her Hand to counseling her to forgive Tyrion for his most recent error. “You’re advising me to forgive the man who stole your position?” she asks. 

Yes, yes he is. Showing that the best advice to give is that which the person needs to hear in their shoes, not what you want to say in yours.

Theon Greyjoy – a story of undeserved grace if ever there was one. His crimes against the Stark family merit great punishment, even if not the horrific ordeal administered by Ramsey Bolton. Theon’s return to Winterfell to defend House Stark is a lesson in honoring that grace.

Brandon Stark – yeah, he’s a weird dude now that he’s the 3 Eyed Raven. Really weird. We also got a small insight into how he has suffered to embrace becoming something bigger than himself, and with heavier burdens. One even senses traces of lament.

Yet, as he says to Jaime in the Godswood after sparing Jaime from shame before the assembled alliance of lords and ladies, “I’m not angry at anyone.”

Not angry, and ready to use his crippled ass as bait to draw in the Night King. Remind me not to underestimate this guy.

The Hound – Sandor Clegane is readily hateable in the early seasons. Yet, his character, a walking testament to the inner-conflict facing most of humanity, is a reminder of the good that lurks within even the worst of us…if we’re willing to let it take the reins.

Samwell Tarly – a man with faults. So many so that even as Jon, Sam, and Eddison stand atop the walls of Winterfell reminiscing on the beginning of their time together with the Night’s Watch, Sam still comes in for affectionate ribbing for his lack of fighting skills and appeal to the ladies.

Sam knows what he’s good at: reading, learning, and being there for Gilly; and what he’s not. His gift of “Heartsbane” to Jorah out of respect for the fallen Lord Commander Mormont is an example of honoring your own strengths while empowering others to honor theirs.

Lady Mormont – speaking of Mormonts, if I’m the Night King I might not tangle with this one in the battle to come. She’s a testament that greatness comes in all forms, even if those forms are entirely unexpected.

Tormund Giantsbane – a rascal’s rascal. Yet, the consummate realist. His earlier lament of the human cost of Mance Rayder’s pride planted the seed for Jon’s eventual bending of the knee to Daenerys. And his succinct yet glorious “Fuck tradition” line this week prompts Jaime to knight Brienne. Proof that profound statements need not come wrapped in excess fluff.

How many of these characters will remain with us after next week? Sadly fewer for sure.

Yet that’s why the show appeals. It draw us into these characters. Into all their strengths and faults. Which is why as spectacular as one of the great battle scenes in TV history is likely to be this Sunday, it’s going to be a longer, more drawn out – if entirely expected – martial version of the Red Wedding.

And we’ll all be watching anyway because the show is that damn good.

**Speaking of stupid, if you’re on the internet, clicking on Game of Thrones headlines while trying to avoid spoilers,stop it. People complaining about spoilers on the Internet might be worse than the “Am I the only one who has never watched Game of Thrones?” crowd. Thanks for listening to my TED Talk.

Note: this post was originally published at