Lessons biz IT can learn from the Beautiful Game

The World Cup 2010 fever has come to an end--and what a World Cup it has been!For the record, I caught most of the games from the second round, with all games from the quarters onward.
Written by Edwin Yapp, Contributor

The World Cup 2010 fever has come to an end--and what a World Cup it has been!

For the record, I caught most of the games from the second round, with all games from the quarters onward.

There were a lot of good matches being played and although the finals this morning was not quite what everyone expected and a rather ill-tempered one--with 14 yellow cards including one red one being handed out--there were still moments to savor the Beautiful Game in the past month.

Undoubtedly, the best match for me was the semifinal tug-of-war between Germany and Spain. The best because that game was not only a show of the mighty passing prowess that Spain has come to delight the world with, but I was abroad on assignment when watching the game, lending to the excitement of the moment.

The game boasted of the best counter-attacking team in the tournament versus the best tactical and passing team in the world. Coming into the match, Germany certainly had more of the momentum.

Beginning with its trashing of Australia 4-0 in its first match, right to the mauling of Argentina in the quarter finals with the same scoreline, the Germans were expected to run over the Spanish which had somewhat qualified not as impressively up to that stage and mostly through mere singular goal differences.

But anyone watching that day would know that wasn't the scenario. Despite the statistics that were in favor of the Germans, the confidence they gained in the lead up to the semis, the skill and organization they possessed in the games before, Germany failed to stifle the Spanish slick passing game, which eventually led to the latter cracking the deadlock on the 73rd minute.

So what does this all have to do with a business IT column?

Well, IMHO, I can think of at least three lessons the business world can apply.

First up is that statistics don't mean squat in competitions, especially head-to-head ones. Germany may have had the better record coming into the semis against Spain but that did nothing for them on that day as statistics won't determine the outcome of any game.

Similarly, in the business world, statistics may mean very little to companies battling it out with their competitors. Every battle a company goes into with its competitors is a battle unto itself. Even if a company won the previous rounds, it must still compete as if the next battle is a fresh new one.

Simply put, businesses can't live on past glories. This is what I suspect some companies have been doing in these tough times and have paid the price of doing so.

While leads me to my second point: trends may help tell you where you're coming from, but strategy and agility are more important than trends.

In the quarter finals against Paraguay, Spain were pinned and pressured from the get-go, disallowing the Iberians from quickly settling down with their game. Consequently, the Paraguayans grew in stature as the game progressed and even created a few moments that genuinely scared the Spanish side although they did not score.

Germany on the other hand were quite contented to soak up the pressure of Spain's passing game but left it too little, too late before Spain struck late with the winning goal. This, to me, was a wrong strategy that Germany employed, which I believe cost them the game.

For businesses today, applying the right strategy is therefore more important than trends. Looking at a particular trend is useful as a guide but at the end of the day, having the critically thought-through vision as to what works best for a company is the key to success.

This strategy should be all encompassing and includes not only strategy for growth but strategy for R&D, succession, manpower development and communications and branding.

Add to that is the necessity of speed and agility which, in today's highly competitive world, can only be made possible with the intelligent use of IT.

But sad to say, companies today more often than not view IT as necessary evil rather than a means to an end. This mindset has to change, especially among the small to midsize businesses (SMBs), where they must learn to leverage IT in their daily business lives.

Of course on the flip side to this, as I've blogged before, vendors must do their part, too, by not overhyping and overselling IT such that SMBs get scared and worse still, lost in the kerfuffle of jargon and promises.

The last lesson comes from the fact that all the incumbent stars that were set to shine at this world cup failed, some more than others. These include the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, and to lesser extent Lionel Messi and Fernando Torres.

So while individual skills mesmerize football spectators, what counts in the final analysis is that teamwork is what matters. Personifying this was none other than Spain and Germany which showed the world they did not need to depend on a mere man to make a difference.

A business may have its star performers--be they sales, marketing, advertising and promotions, even CEOs--but for a company to thrive, it all comes back to teamwork. Having these stars wouldn't hurt but simply put, no one should or can be indispensible in a company.

Just as world champions Spain joined together to become more than the sum of all its parts, a company can still thrive if its top star leaves or underperforms--as was the case of the misfiring Torres, who was benched in the semis and for the most part in the final game.

The World Cup 2010 for me may not be the classico that everyone hoped it to be but it certainly has been entertaining for the most part. And we can certainly take home some lessons in business, too, if we think hard enough about it.

Now, to catch up on my sleep and wait for another four years before I do this all over again...

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