Quite a remarkable decision from the soccer world organization FIFA: They will not introduce any additional referees or technology to help referees at the upcoming World Cup 2010 in South Africa.
That decision came only a few days after French striker Thierry Henry clearly played a ball with his hand, leading to the decisive goal in the crucial final qualifying playoff against Ireland that put France through to South Africa while Ireland will be watching the matches on TV at home.
This showed the potential need for ref support in soccer and there are many options available: Additional referees, microchips in the balls that signal when a balled has crossed the goal line, instant replays (there will be a minimum of 26 cameras at each match in South Africa, so sufficient coverage would be available), etc.
Other sports have proven that technology can help: Rugby, tennis, crickets or (American) football, where the NFL reintroduced the replay officials successfully in 1999 after an eight year absence.
So why is FIFA reluctant to leave the past behind?
Vice-president Franz Beckenbauer made it clear: Technology might kill “the emotion of the game”.
To all those of you living in the 21st century this may sound like complete crap, but let’s get back to the France vs. Ireland situation: If an additional referee would have ruled out the Henry pass and France would have scored two minutes later anyway, the result would have been the same, but no one would have talked about it. This way however, millions of fans discussed the issue, it got a lot of media attention and Ireland now is the underdog everybody loves. If you just want to sell the product of soccer without caring about who wins (and FIFA probably doesn’t care too much), then there is a point.
Emotion creates discussion, emotion creates love to the product, emotion creates sales, emotion creates identification.
That’s something we tend to forget in our jobs, when we redesign processes, trying to smoothen them and to debottleneck wherever possible.
I remember I build up a workflow process a few years ago, where everything was clearly defined and all parties involved received an automatic notification on every next step reached in the process. Technically this was well designed, but it never took off until we introduced a personal contact at a crucial point in the process, i.e. someone picking up a phone, calling someone, discussing the issue. That led to identification of all participants with the process.
Emotion and imperfectness can motivate your colleagues, but also your business partners, and can lead to a higher identification with your organization and your products.
So the next time when you design your commercial processes, think twice if you really need that replay booth or if you can leave some room for a human touch. In many cases it won’t change the result a lot, but make the game so much more fun to watch.