School of Hard Knocks

Publisher's Note

Let's see what's on my list of topics... Hmmm. Income inequality, the stuff Obama's talking about — we can definitely do better. In fact, Washington state is proving that raising the minimum wage can help — without killing jobs. Drought in the West — scary, and like California Gov. Jerry Brown says, "we do live in an era of limits."

How about something positive? Well, there are real signs of our economy improving, building on last year's progress in D.C. and on Wall Street. And here in the Inland Northwest, signs are everywhere — the UW Medical School, a new flagship hotel downtown, Kendall Yards, a growing local aerospace industry, even lines to get into SpIFF shows this week.

But all that can wait, right? The Seahawks are in the Super Bowl, and I have no choice but to feed your unquenchable demand for all things blue, green and gray. (Sorry, "Action Green" and "Wolf Grey" according to Nike.) So today I'm going to talk about the Pete Carroll School of Management. Seriously, the guy should write a book.

Here are a couple of surprising things about our head coach: He's been fired — twice — from the job he is so good at; despite his youthful demeanor, he's the second-oldest coach in the league; and he's leading the second-youngest team ever to play for a championship. How does he do it?

Unlike most coaches, who are terrified to fail, Carroll has failed — he was fired after just one season at the helm of the New York Jets in 1994.

"We all make mistakes," linebacker Heath Farwell told ESPN, "but with Pete, it's about learning from it."

Carroll just won an ESPN poll of NFL players asked which coach they'd most like to play for. He blasts music at practice, and even jumps into drills, but as linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. told Sports Illustrated, "He understands how to let people be themselves. He formulated a blueprint that was heavy on fun and competition and taking advantage of the uniqueness of each individual."

While all those control-freak coaches want to keep an iron grip on every facet of the game, Californian Carroll would say, "Hey, mellow out, man!" And as NFL team strategies have gotten ridiculously more complex, he has kept his schemes simple.

Bosses take note: You, too, can win the Pete Carroll way. Don't fear failure; learn from it. Let your employees be who they are; it'll bring out the best in them. And keep it simple; unless you run a rocket science factory, success is probably a lot less complicated than you've been led to believe. ♦