We watched. We cheered. We held our breath. And we celebrated. All 27 million of us, worldwide, as we watched teams compete in The World Cup in Brazil. There were tweeting Brazucas and snazzy boots. There were spying drones and stylish haircuts. There was a final with just ten red cards, the least since 1986, and a time stoppage clock with a sponsor plastered all over it. Fun and frustration aside, there were also lessons to be learned from this amazing set of contests, many of them that translate well from the football pitch to the office.
Whilst much of our business knowledge is gained in the classroom or the conference room, handed down by teachers and mentors, there’s no substitute for a live, 3D event. In sport, like in life, there are teachable moments that illustrate the good stuff, making the difference between a glorious win and a disappointing head-hanger. Here are five takeaway lessons that you probably spotted if you’ve been glued to the telly for the past three weeks watching football. Put them to good use:
- It’s not over till it’s over. Sometimes that last effort makes all the difference, like in the 113th minute of the Germany vs Argentina final. Keeping your head in the game for the full clock is what winners do. Focus, then follow through. Your confidence will shine in interviews, presentations, challenges, and whenever your mettle is about to be tested, with persistence at your side. Giving up, even when things seem a bit bleak, prematurely steals away any opportunity for success. Staying on task gives you not just the chance to win, but also the chance to learn some things that may prove valuable next time around, win or lose. Never, never, never give up on yourself.
- Persieing works. We’re not talking launching headlong across the conference room table to score a goal like flying Dutchman Van Persie, but we are talking about aiming high. Going for a little more than you are comfortable with, whether it involves an educational pursuit, a career move, or a personal best in potholder weaving, is a strategy that can deliver results you never dreamed possible. Set your sights high and commit to the accomplishment. If you do happen to fall short, you’ve given it your honest best, and again have probably noted a few things that you’ll do differently next time. If you go for it and get it, congratulations are definitely in order.
- Snazzy boots do not necessarily mean fancy footwork. There was a boatload of fussy footwear tearing up the turf around Rio, and it was fun to watch the fashion show. From Lionel Messi’s World Cup Birthday Boot, to Nike’s flashy gold Neymar Hypervenom, footballers sported some remarkable designs. Style matters, to be sure, and it’s always good to look smart, whether you’re running down the field or striding up to your next boss, but there is more to success. Substance, as in knowledge, experience, creativity, and the like, makes a career take off much faster than new kicks. Keep in mind, however, that even an Einstein genius won’t make it through today’s demanding critiques if personal grooming isn’t up to snuff. Keep things relatively neat and clean, while directing resources to knowledge, skills, and abilities. Those that matter will not be put off if you have yet to achieve that GQ wardrobe. They’re too busy focusing on your interesting ideas and conversation.
- Which wins, an awesome team or a superstar? Yes, that’s a trick question. No matter how accomplished a player is, it is nearly impossible to win a contest without the support of the team. They may not all be out there kicking goals, but they’re all doing their part to help the forward to put numbers up on the board. Similarly, a team without a standout or two is at a distinct disadvantage. It’s like a business without a manager, or a corporation without a CEO. Someone has to lead, others have to support. When leadership and support staff work together, everyone wins, both on the sports field and in business.
- Opportunities are funny things. Some people think they just magically happen. Others believe they are built on the backs of strategy, experience, and hard work. Either way, if you don’t recognize one when it’s coming at you, it simply doesn’t matter. Whether it’s serendipity or strategy that prompts an opening, staying engaged, constantly scanning the horizon for what could become the chance of a lifetime can have big payoffs. Consequently, if you’re away with the pixies while someone else drops the ball, you’ll miss an important opportunity that may not knock again soon. Recognizing every opportunity for what it is, knowing what to do with it, and acting decisively, are all key.
The World Cup won’t come around again until 2018, when we all have reason to watch another marathon of matches, broadcast from a widespread collection of venues scattered about Russia. There will be fabulous teams, standout superstars, a classy new ball, and some stylish trends. Who knows? Black shoes may even become the “it” that everyone must have. There will be lots of chatter about culture, globalization, social media, and personal stories. There will also be winners and losers. For some, especially those at the very top, winning may be everything. For most, there are lots of ways to win, and not all of them are reflected by the score.
In the classic work, The Art of War, Sun Tsu sagely advises that “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” That winning first thing may have some merit. Let’s give it a shot.