Analyzed individually, they can’t predict success.
“Poor build, skinny. Lacks great physical stature and strength, lacks mobility and ability to avoid the rush, lacks a really strong arm, can’t drive the ball downfield … gets knocked down easily.”
Whether you’re a football fan or not, if asked from whose NFL scouting report this quote was taken, chances are your answer would not be one of the most decorated quarterbacks in NFL history. Yet while the NFL didn’t initially have high hopes for Tom Brady, he went on to lead five Super Bowl wins and seven Super Bowl appearances with the New England Patriots – and he’s still playing.
In contrast, the NFL thought very differently about 2007 No. 1 draft pick JaMarcus Russell. As one analyst described, “Three years from now you could be looking at a guy that’s certainly one of the elite top five quarterbacks in this league … look out because the skill level that he has is certainly John Elway-like.”2 However, after three years, Russell was unceremoniously released from the Oakland Raiders.
On and off the field, we’ve seen this happen before: apparent underdogs surprising the world and the seemingly best players never realizing their full potential. That’s because individual components can’t predict the success of an entire team. It’s the team as a whole – specifically, how players integrate and communicate – that makes it great and successful.
Best-of-Breed Is Not a Strategy
Having good players is important, but it is not strategic. Strategy is found in integration, not individuals. As the JaMarcus Russell example demonstrates, a top pick often doesn’t translate into wins. Who you put on your team is one part of building winners, but bringing them all together into a singular whole is where the art of strategy lies. The New England Patriots understand this. The team has been organized under the same framework with coach Bill Belichick for the past 17 years. While players with varying skill levels come and go, the consistent structure gives the team a common platform upon which to perform. Whether a player was a first- or sixth-round draft pick is irrelevant to how they perform as part of that team. The most recognized players on the roster were not originally considered best-of-breed.
Recently retired Rob Ninkovich, a fifth-round draft pick, joined the Patriots after six mediocre years in the NFL, playing for the New Orleans Saints and the Miami Dolphins before being released after his second stint with the Saints. Once New England brought him on board, he became an integral part of the team’s defense for five years, helping the team win two Super Bowls and further proving that a proper strategy for success is about integration and communication, not individual best-of-breed players. “I didn’t play in Miami – their wonderful 1-15 team (in 2007). Couldn’t play on that team,“ Ninkovich said sarcastically during his recent retirement speech.3
Winning Integration + Winning Communication = A Winning Team
Just like you can’t judge how good a football team is by looking at the number of top draft picks on the roster, you can’t judge how secure an organization is by looking at the number of so-called “best-of-breed” products in their security lineup. A better indicator is how everything integrates and communicates in a platform approach. “Best of breed” is not a strategy; it is a tactic. With disparate, unrelated and unintegrated point products, network defenders have the difficult task of maintaining multiple products. This additional complexity actually increases risk, because it creates a greater opportunity for human error and mis-configuration to be injected into the system. We’ve talked often about how a “conga line” of security products that don’t seamlessly integrate is doing more harm than good – and vacuuming up budget that could be spent on more strategic investments.
Preventing cyber events and data breaches requires simplification. It requires having integrated, automated and effective controls in place to detect and prevent threats, both known and unknown, at every stage of the attack lifecycle. This is where the platform approach comes in. The power of the Next-Generation Security Platform comes from the sum of all components, fueled by a global threat intelligence engine that leverages the network effects of thousands of customers, technology partners and researchers sharing threat information. Just like a winning football team bringing on new players, with a natively integrated security platform in place, organizations can securely adopt new applications and technologies while maintaining a comprehensive and consistent prevention-oriented security posture.
[Palo Alto Networks Research Center]