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5 Things Businesses Can Learn From Brazil’s Crushing World Cup Defeat

Brazil made some undeniable mistakes that led to their devastating World Cup loss. Here’s what you can learn from them.

5 Things Businesses Can Learn From Brazil’s Crushing World Cup Defeat
[Image: Flickr user Ben Tavener]

Sometimes opting between passion and precision becomes a difficult choice, as evidenced by Germany’s stunning victory over Brazil days ago.

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On one side of the World Cup semifinal clash was a nation known for its flair, passion, and natural love for the game, to which one naturally is drawn. And on other side was a country known for its engineering, clinical precision, and a systematic preparation–a formidable unit.

People predicting a Brazilian win ignored the pent up hunger built over the last two World Cups, where the Germans bowed out in the semifinals. The match was forecast as a battle between engineering and artistry, rationality versus emotion. What we witnessed, though, was abject surrender to clinical precision. Through hard work, smart preparations, and looking at the bigger picture, the German team triumphed in a 7-1 victory.

Such scenarios are quite familiar in corporations, where capability building is often indexed on emotions, individual brilliance, and flair rather than grand design, strategic thinking, and operational precision. The result is a combination of mental collapse and decimation.

Here are five game-changing lessons that corporations and their leadership can draw from the unforgettable clash between Germany and Brazil:

1. Discourage Individual Brilliance: Build Collective Acumen

Nurturing your company’s Neymars and Silvas at the cost of a larger pool of talent could be hugely detrimental to long-term success. As the individual stalwarts succumb to unforeseen contingencies, out goes the fighting will and capability of a unit.

There have been many instances where an organization’s fortunes suddenly turn into misfortunes because key leaders departed from the scene. Organizations must build a better bench and create fungibility wherein no one is indispensable.

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Irrespective of the non-availability of an exceptional individual, the team must trudge along on its pre-determined course. Great organizations are those who have decoded this formula of building collective-systemic strength rather than investing in individual flair.

2. Test the Bench in Peace, Not in War

Many organizations and teams continue to rely on their select few players who are always fancied, hogging the limelight, and sought after by competitors at higher wages. The Messis, Ronaldos, and Rooneys of the world inadvertently drive coaches’ indifference towards equally great players, who are left rotting on the bench.

Many CEOs and boards are guilty of doing this subconsciously. Why take the risks when their main arsenals are still firing in full flow? But the bench must be tested in peacetime, not during “do or die” situations, where suddenly the main players have been incapacitated.

This is the golden rule of succession planning in organizations. Create your bench and test it through proactively created opportunities. Star players will often leave organizations hapless if there are not enough leaders to take their place.

Baptism by fire seldom works in real life. And if it does, it works more as an exception rather than a rule. So, don’t let your bench get wasted. Create opportunities for them when the tide is in your favor.

3. Harness the Interplay Rather than the Individual Play

No organization or team is immune to collapse. There will be situations when something, someday will collapse. It is unavoidable and cannot be planned for. However, when such breakdowns do occur on account of individual absence from the scene rather than collective acumen, the systems can bail us, provided they are in place.

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However, in the event of a systemic failure like Financial Meltdown, nothing comes to rescue. In this situation, the injury of Neymar and absence of Silva led to a systemic failure. There was complete absence of the interplay among the temporarily configured Brazilian team. As a result, individuals were running ahead or behind in complete disarray. There was no coordination, harmony, or synergy of purpose, in contrast to the Germans, whose ball passing, possession, and integration were remarkable.

In fact, the Germans matured with each game. The substitution among players during the league games as well as quarterfinal was almost seamless. So much so that no one ever noticed when Klose left the field or when Özil entered, without an iota of disruption.

Corporations need to invest in a strong pipeline of leaders. Besides, they must harness the acumen of their bench in different combinations so that their fungibility is almost inconspicuous, as demonstrated by the Germans, ably anchored by their coach. Such a practice will ensure a robust supply of leaders who can seamlessly ease into new and diverse roles. This will provide the organizations a healthy sustainability and feasibility of configuring their teams in an ever-dynamic context, without any loss of control.

4. Regroup Before You Run Amok

Sometimes things go wrong in spite of the best designs. This is what happened between the 23rd and 29th minute of the game, when the Brazilians were hit by an avalanche of four goals in six minutes, having conceded the first one in the 11th minute.

Brazil lost their coherence and the ability to regroup, recoup, and reorganize. Many organizations undergo such experiences when caught off-guard by the onslaught of a competitor, a new player, or the changing customers’ expectations. They get trapped in the catching up game, often falling behind with significant gaps, while trying to leap ahead.

At such junctures, taking control is imperative. During the match, instead of increasing the possession of the ball and improving their passing, Brazil tried to generate momentum, often in disarray, at the opposition’s defense line, and then trailed behind the counter attack of the German forwards. This rendered Brazil ineffective, both in defense as well as attack, leading to their surrender of momentum into the hands of opponents.

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Companies such as RIM (Blackberry) and Nokia were caught up in the onslaught of smartphones, paralyzing their capability to decide whether to chase the smartphone war or regroup to reengineer their business portfolios. Pauses are infallible components of victory, provided they are exercised with strategic acumen and tactical precision.

5. Be Prepared to Change the Winning Definition

Two goals down in the first 25 minutes, especially with the pace and momentum generated by Germans, Brazil needed to think about the very definition of victory. They probably started the game with the mindset that the emotions, passion, and hype of millions of fans would sail them through without realizing that the rules of the game had changed.

It was time for them to take stock, regroup, and not cede additional territory to the Germans rather than still nursing that faint hope of equalizing and prevailing over the tough opponent. They may have been much happier going down 0-1 or 0-2 rather than 1-7, a defeat that will haunt them for decades.

Such defeats often engender the paralysis of mind, dismantling the sheer will with which one can hope to rise again. Many companies have faced such onslaughts and could never bounce back. They simply refused to change the frame through which they were looking at the changing world and could not re-calibrate their meaning of growth and sustainability, as well as the definition of success.

The only determinant that never remains constant, whether in soccer or the corporate arena, is reality. With the change in reality one must change the frame through which that reality is being viewed. And it is this reframing that will enable teams, units, and organizations to carry themselves through the tough situations with élan and pride, whether in defeat or in pursuit of victory.

Himanshu Saxena is a thinker, writer, and speaker on concepts such as Big Picture, Reimagination, Strategy & Innovation and Leadership @Top Level. He is currently enabling TCS BPS in aligning strategy, coaching, and developing leaders of tomorrow. He has held significant leadership assignments in military, United Nations, and corporations.

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