Anyone for Soccer?

So often in American culture, we draw analogies from the game of baseball to describe or analyze situations ranging from business dealings to personal challenges. The recent World Cup has brought another sport – football – to the forefront of public attention, and in today’s world the “beautiful game” might be a better source of comparison. David Brooks of the New York Times recently wrote a column that talks about how soccer is a microcosm of how decisions are made and innovation gets done.

So before the memories of the global tournament fade and most Americans go back to ignoring soccer for another four years, we thought we would comment on some of Brooks’ observations that caught our attention.

In his column, he suggests that baseball is the wrong sport for us to draw our business analogies from because it is such an individual sport. While teams are playing against one another, baseball is primarily played by one person at a time who is hitting a ball, catching a ball, or tagging a hitter out. In comparison, in soccer the only way to score a goal is for the whole team to create the space for the moving kickers to get the ball down the field. In other words, they act together. This is exactly how businesses should look at how to operate: together, as one body, working toward a common goal.

In Brooks’ article, he refers to research that has shown how an individual or an organization’s success is determined by the social network that he or she has created.  Innovation is often the result of collaborative effort, which, in and of itself is the result of the fluidity of an industry, such as modern day Silicon Valley and Broadway of the 1940’s and 50’s. These industries rely on how the individuals working within them interact with each other and expand their networks. We become interdependent of each other, and we discover that the end result depends on the combined success of the group.

In baseball, there are only a few possible outcomes because of the individual nature of the sport. But, in soccer, the possibilities are endless when the team must work together.