Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Chasing Stars and Socialism


   I didn’t manage to do any posting on the World Cup prior to England’s demise (I was leaving it to the finals!) although I did manage one tweet during the match we did play reasonably well in (can’t remember who it was against now which shows how much I like football):

“How can a team of people perform so differently at different times? #england (the value of performance improvement vs performance management”


I was really just thinking about how much peoples’ performance can change in a short period of time, and the range of subjective and intangible factors which contribute to the difference.  Hence performance improvement.  And then contrasting this with measuring and ‘managing’ performance (as in performance management) which I don’t think can contribute as much.

But I could have been referring to the performance of the team, as I think all those factors that make performance improvement difficult for individuals and magnified significantly for a team.  I though this article by Lane4 in Human Resources magazine summed it up quite well.

But not as well as this (from the Evening Standard):

“According to former England winger John Barnes, South American success and Fabio Capello's failure in South Africa can be explained by one thing. Socialism.

"Football is a socialist sport," he explains. "Financially, some may receive more rewards than others but, from a footballing perspective, for 90 minutes, regardless of whether you are Lionel Messi or the substitute right-back for Argentina, you are all working to the same end.

"The teams which embrace the socialist ideology rather than having superstars, are the teams that are successful. Or if there are superstars they don't perceive themselves to be that. That's why I use Messi as an example. As much as he's a superstar he respects his team-mates and their collective efforts."

"Players from other nations when they play for their country are once again a socialist entity, all pulling in the same direction," he tells me from a dressing room at Supersport's studios where he is an expert analyst on the World Cup. "The most important thing for every Brazilian player is to play for Brazil.

"It doesn't matter if he plays for Milan or Manchester United. A Brazilian who puts on that yellow shirt feels the same as the man next to him in that yellow shirt. They have a humility to the shirt. It is not the same for those who wear the Three Lions."

For Barnes, the answer is simple.Whether Capello remains in charge or not, England have to start playing as a team and lose the tag of the Golden Generation.

"We have empowered our players so much that they are superstars at their clubs. Too many have been put on pedestals and treated as untouchable.

"Look at John Terry after the Algeria match. He comes out and tells you what the problem is. But he doesn't see himself as part of the problem."

"Spain has an identity. If you black out the faces and don't know who's playing, you can still say this Spain because of the way they play. You can see Brazil because of the way they play. We haven't got a method. We need to create an identity."


It’s not that new a point (think the Real Madrid Galacticos) but it’s the most intelligent thing I’ve heard a footballer, or many a business leader, say.

And that’s why I want to do this post.  I think the general points that John Barnes makes apply just as much to business as they do to footballers – we’ve been chasing superstars as well.  And there’s a lot of evidence to suggest this works just as poorly in business as it does in football.

The best of this come from Boris Groysberg and I’m currently reading his new book, Chasing Stars.

You probably realise that I’m an avid reader, but I’ll admit I’m finding this book quite hard going and unless you’ve got a really deep interest in this research, I’d stick to Groysberg’s SMR article ‘When Stars migrate, do they still perform like Stars?’, or even just this blog post by Bob Sutton.

Basically, the research suggests that stars are only stars because of the context they work in and particularly the network (or team) that backs them up.

So do we need a more socialist approach in business too?  You’ll probably know my answer because that’s largely what this blog’s about!  But I’d be interested in yours as well.


Also see these recent posts:


Technorati Tags: John Barnes,England,World Cup,Boris Groyberg,Stars,teams,Socialism


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