June 24, 2014
I don’t pretend to know a lot about the game of soccer (other than I know it’s not football) but it’s clear that the game mesmerizes the world every four years during the World Cup. Soccer is a great game that can be played by the youngest of children in what looks like a swarm that rambles up and down the field or by the oldest of movers who recall their days of glory during every LACMA conference. It requires little in the way of equipment and the rules of the game make it easy to play or follow as a fan.
My only experience in playing the sport semi-competitively came in college when a group of my friends and I competed in a league of 16 teams that played at Lincoln Park in Chicago. I think we entered that fall season with only one guy that really had any training or experience with the game. The rest of us were all athletes from other sports who had very little in the way of ball handling skills, no comprehension of spacing on the field and we certainly didn’t understand the rules of contact with other players. We led the league with those yellow and red cards things and didn’t even know what they were during the first game.
For the coinsurers of the game we were likely viewed as awkward thugs but that really wasn’t out intent. Our whole strategy was to get our one good player the ball in a position to score one goal per game while the rest of us kept that ball away from our end of the field. We successfully won each game one to “nil” over the course of a 12 game season with this very simple strategy. While the rest of us on the team teetered on being incompetent players we were both fast and dedicated to what we called “running through the ball.” Even though we didn’t know our positions very well we knew that we were faster at every position and we made the most of that.
While we didn’t have 10,000 hours of practice in the game individually or as a team, we had the speed and desire that created positive outcomes. Because business closely resembles a team sport the same principles apply. In his book “A Sense of Urgency,” John Kotter talks about the importance of incorporating the ethos of speed into the business world because complacency is the norm. A determination that speed is an imperative must constantly be reintroduced or too many important meetings will take place without decisions being made or acted upon.
You may be a coordinator in your first summer in this business. You may not be an expert at your position yet and you may feel just as incompetent as I did on that soccer field in the fall of ’79. You, however, can react quickly and with a heart that has “want to” written all over it as you work through every business day. Others may have 20 years of experience and you have fallen into this pattern of being able to do your job in your sleep because you know you are an expert, but you are letting your team down if you don’t respond to issues and opportunities with urgency.
Please understand that our work day should look more like a game of soccer, football, or hockey that involves constant interaction and a reliance on one another. There should be energy, there should be flow, and there needs to be speed. This is not meant to be a leisurely game of golf, horseshoes or botchy ball.
Very few goals in sports, business or life come through a perfectly executed play. More often than not they are scored by being in the right place at the right time, with great anticipation of what you and your teammates will do, and then great reaction to reality. The very best players in all three venues have figured out that being in the right place does require a little bit of luck but the lucky are usually blessed with desire and speed to be to the ball first.