Millions of fantasy owners drafted Le'Veon Bell in the first round last season, and all of them probably think that was a bad decision because he put up zero points for the season (and maybe even a disastrous decision if they didn't also draft James Conner). But what if I told you it was actually a good decision?
Fantasy football players are constantly looking for an edge. Often we're searching for a perfect stat or an inside scoop when, in fact, we can improve significantly by analyzing our own decision-making. In this article, the first in a three-part series on how decision analysis can help your fantasy skills, you will learn an important concept that will lead to better decision-making in fantasy football and all aspects of your life.
Decision process versus decision outcome
Think of decisions as having two distinct parts: the decision-making process (how you came to a decision) and the outcome of the decision (what happened). At a high level, these two parts can combine in four ways, as illustrated in the "Process-Outcome Quadrants."
The top-left and bottom-right quadrants are straightforward. When you have a good process and a good outcome, it's a deserved success, and you feel good about the decision. When there is a bad process and a bad outcome, it's a deserved failure, and you know you need to improve your process next time.
It gets interesting with the other two quadrants because of the misguided way people judge decisions: focusing on the outcome or result of the decision rather than the process. We think of "good decisions" as those that turn out well and "bad decisions" as those that turn out poorly. This is sometimes referred to as the "Resulting Fallacy" or "Outcome Bias," and it is one of many cognitive biases or hardwired misjudgments that lead to irrational thinking. This type of thinking is flawed because it ignores the role of chance and information that comes to light after a decision is made.
Drafting Le'Veon Bell in the first round last season is a classic case of the "Bad Break" quadrant. The decision process was good: He was at the very top of all experts' rankings, given his incredible talent and heavy volume, the Steelers' potent offense and an impeccable track record of past fantasy success. He is not just a fantasy stud but one of the best fantasy performers in recent memory. The outcome, however, was as bad as possible: He did not play a single snap last season due to his unprecedented contract showdown with the Steelers. There was talk that he would possibly hold out into the beginning of the season, but it was inconceivable that he would sit out the entire season. Therefore, due to an unforeseeable chance occurrence, a well-considered and rational decision proved to be a devastating "bad break."
This example and further ones to follow illustrate why we need to take the Philadelphia 76ers' mantra a step further and "judge the process." Instead of asking "Did the decision turn out well?," we should be asking, "Was this a good decision at the time it was made?" It is the process, not the outcome, that matters for better decision-making in fantasy football and in life.
How this applies in fantasy football
Distinguishing process from outcome and being aware of the "Process-Outcome Quadrants" is vital for effective fantasy football performance and helps make it less discouraging. For all fantasy football decisions, from start-sit calls to trades, this concept provides two important lessons: (1) focus only on putting yourself in the best position to win and (2) "judge the process" when analyzing past decisions.
On the first point, as Matthew Berry reminds us each preseason in his "Draft Day Manifesto," focus only on what you can control and put yourself in the best position to win. The way to do this is to have a deliberate and comprehensive decision-making process. Consider various statistics, consult multiple sources, think through matchups, and do anything else you can to make your decisions as informed as possible. You can't control the many chance elements of fantasy football (including injuries, suspensions, contract holdouts and fluke plays), but by using a strong process for making decisions, you will see fantasy success over time.
Second, when analyzing past decisions, especially for gleaning lessons for future decision-making, focus on your process. If a decision works out poorly, determine if it was due to a flaw in your process (the bad process-bad outcome quadrant) or if it was due to chance or new information that became available after you made the decision (the good process-bad outcome quadrant).
For example, you started Running Back A over Running Back B, and B ends up with more points than A. If you realize that you did not pay attention to the fact that RB B's opposing defense does terribly against pass-catching backs such as he, then there was a flaw in your process. You should learn from it and take a deeper look at this type of information going forward. Conversely, if B ended up with a better game than A because A got injured in the first quarter, then this is a "bad break" or a case of good process-bad outcome. There are no lessons to draw, and you should not be discouraged. As with the example of drafting Le'Veon Bell, you put yourself in the best position to win, but due to a chance occurrence that you couldn't anticipate, it didn't work out.
The same is true with decisions that work out well. Examine them to see if your success was due to a good process or you just got lucky, and model the behavior from good decisions that had a good process.
How this applies in life
This concept applies to decisions of all kinds in a variety of contexts. In our personal lives, we generally judge our decisions based on how things turn out and beat ourselves up over "bad decisions" that were actually good decisions that worked out poorly. For example, let's say you leave an existing job for a job in another city after a thorough analysis of all the relevant factors, including a new boss you really like. A week after you start your new job, your boss leaves unexpectedly and is replaced by a boss you can't stand. Most people will get mad at themselves in this case for the "bad decision" to move and take the new job, but this falls into the good process-bad outcome quadrant, so you should accept a bad break in this case and move on.
The opposite situation is also true: People will think they made a good decision when it really was a bad decision that worked out because of good luck. For example, you might send a text while speeding and not get into a car accident, but that does not mean that you made a good decision or that you should keep testing your luck.
As you make your fantasy decisions this season, remember these two points. First, put yourself in the best position to win with a strong decision-making process, and don't be discouraged if luck goes against you. Second, when analyzing decisions to draw lessons for the future, "judge the process" and focus only on how you can improve your process for next time. This mindset won't guarantee fantasy trophies, but it makes it much more likely that you'll see success both in fantasy and in life.
This article is written by The Alliance for Decision Education (formerly How I Decide Foundation), an educational nonprofit dedicated to the belief that better decisions lead to better lives and a better society.