Sunday, January 20, 2013

Mark "Sunk-Cost" Sanchez

An isolation of linebacker Bart Scott on the outside, an offensive lineman's rear end-induced fumble, and a kickoff return fumbled for a touchdown: over the span of three plays and fifty-two seconds the New England Patriots dispatched the New York Jets to a 49-19 Thanksgiving loss, erasing any doubt who were the turkeys that night. In this 2012 Jets season where "rock bottom" was less of a finite point than a spectrum, the delay of quarterback Mark Sanchez's eventual benching befuddled league analysts and former players. It more than once forced this fan to hurl projectiles at his television screen in frustration.

Mark Sanchez's woeful play was not bad enough to force a benching until the tail end of the season. Because the Jets had awarded him with a $20 million guaranteed contract extension in March 2012, management was willing to live with his NFL-leading 26 turnovers (18 interceptions and 8 lost fumbles).

The article "That Sunk-Cost Feeling" by James Surowiecki in the Jan. 21 issue of the New Yorker uses Sanchez's abysmal 2012 campaign as an example to illustrate the economic reality of why organizations stick with bad investments, even when it would be much more prudent to pull out after poor initial returns and lack of turnaround potential. The article's diverse examples of Sanchez's absurdly unjustified contract, the Concorde airplane, and sitting through a terrible movie after paying for a full-priced ticket explain this economic and behavioral phenomenon.

Surowiecki's piece reads like Malcolm Gladwell's 2000 bestseller The Tipping Point. Both works present complex behavior and social trends in a straightforward, intelligible manner; the overarching messages can be extracted and applied nearly universally.

In the business sphere, patient managers and investors are praised for "sticking the course." Across multiple industries, leaders investing large sums of money would rather stick to a failing project than admit defeat, acknowledge their company's lack of alternative plans, or publicly recognize the organization's strained and misallocated resources. Using Surowiecki's criteria, the 2012 New York Jets are a blueprint of incompetence.

Reputation is a major factor behind companies mismanaging their funds as fear of peer criticism forces companies to stick with their bad decisions. Surowiecki's ability to deconstruct a widespread behavior and economic trend and phrase it in simple language is well-received, especially for this disgruntled Jets fan.

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