Momentum and Organizational Risk Taking: Evidence from the National Football League

This study examines how momentum shapes organizational risk taking. We define momentum as a sustained and systematic trajectory in performance over time, and we argue that such trends impact interpretations of current performance as well as expectations of future performance. Drawing on the variable focus of attention model, we posit that momentum therefore directs the focus of organizational attention between concerns of aspirations, survival, and slack. Our conceptual model accounts for momentum that occurs within a performance period as well as that which occurs across periods. We propose that within- and across-period momentums are unique in terms of when and how each type impacts risk taking. We tested and found support for our hypotheses in the context of 22,603 play-by-play decisions made by the 32 teams of the National Football League during the 2000–2005 regular season games. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.