We’re heading towards the grand finale of this year’s World Cup and yes, most of my blog entries during the last four weeks were built around soccer and this tournament. I promise I will come back to other sports soon.
As usual during World Cups, I watched a lot of games and read a lot of analysis. The World Cup coverage on the Internet again took a giant leap since 2006. I read reports from all over the World: From Europe and New Zealand, from the US and from Africa, from South America and India. There is no other sport which is as global and as big as this one. But why do so many people love soccer?
I found it particularly interesting to watch the opinions on soccer in the US, still one of the relatively least supportive countries for soccer, but at the same time probably the one with the fastest growing number of soccer viewers and players: Nearly 20 million people watched the second round match of the US vs. Ghana – one million more than the average for a regular season NFL game in 2009. Soccer fans from the USA were also among the biggest purchasers of tickets to the South African World Cup. At the same time, many in the US still seem to consider soccer a boring sport compared to for example baseball. I read one US report stating that while in baseball, the duel of pitcher against batter kicks in every few seconds and brings a lot of excitement, one might end up waiting for hours until a goal is scored in soccer. An opinion for which it might be tough to find supporters in Brazil, England or Germany.
I won’t jump onto the baseball vs. soccer discussion now because it seems to end up being simply a question of different tastes. However, a couple of days ago, I read the blog of someone who obviously has more of a soccer taste.
I only met Tim Leberecht in person once in a brief business meeting a few years ago. He’s a European working in the US, and as many Europeans working there a strong supporter of the game they call “football”. Since we met I’m a loose follower of his blog entries, and given the quality of his output I should definitely follow more consistently. A few days ago I saw his post on the dramatic loss of Ghana in their quarter final match against Uruguay in which Tim described the fascination of soccer in simply a brilliant way:
In sports as in life, losing is part of the game. Yet football might be the sport with the biggest emotional roller coaster-rides. Because there is so much room for human error (of both referees and players), victory and defeat, drama and tragedy co-exist in close vicinity. No other sport is so unjust and stirs so much controversy. No other sport can shatter dreams and throw a whole nation into mourning within just seconds. There is no other sport with such a fine line between heroism and embarrassment, euphoria and depression.
In an environment like this, even the best team can lose – and sometimes it’s not even their fault. Tim is right, there probably is no other sport like this – unless you consider your job a game, too. In your job, too, losing is sometimes part of the game, and don’t tell me it never feels like an emotional roller coaster ride. Just a few days ago, I blogged about mistakes at work and how to force them (click here for the blog entry). We see controversy every day. Why is A’s work rated better than B’s? Why are we following this strategic direction and not the other one? Why is she promoted? Why does my boss seem to hate me? Or simply: Why don’t they understand?
All this also creates a “fine line between heroism and embarrassment, euphoria and depression”. If that’s what makes soccer enjoyable and great fun, why don’t most people recognize their jobs as enjoyable and fun, too?
Probably because they cannot accept the view of the job being a game. A job is too serious!
Wikipedia mentions that “Games are distinct from work, which is usually carried out for remuneration” but admits that “the distinction is not clear-cut”. And money is a serious thing, as it is the basis for your alimentation. But does that mean that playing should not be allowed at work? Who can prove that if a job is carried out at an extremely high level of seriousness, it is performed better than when carried out in a creative, playful way? That may be true for some jobs (playing at the control center of a nuclear power plant is probably not the best idea), but in most cases I don’t buy it.
People play not because they are lazy, they play to win. Playing in a way is a serious approach, too, it just means trying out new approaches and, yes, taking some risks. The crucial point is: What kinds of risks? A good player only takes risks when the opportunity and probability are promising. If you don’t believe me just buy into a pro poker tournament and you’ll see what I mean.
Seeing your job as a game does not mean to risk being fired every other day. It means trying new things. Asking questions that were never asked before. Presenting something in a way you never presented before. Bringing in the freaky nerd who’s working on this highly interesting, unusual project into one of your meetings.
Playing means pushing the boundaries a little further all the time. Playing means improving. Playing means winning. Yes, playing also means losing. Sometimes.
People may not understand why you ask that question that was never asked before. People may hate your new presentation style. People may consider the freaky nerd too far off the line to really listen to what he has to say.
That brings us back to what Tim said about soccer:
“victory and defeat, drama and tragedy co-exist in close vicinity.”
His blog entry continues like this:
“But there is also no other sport in which losers can win so much respect and compassion. As much as winning in style is admired by football fans, losing in style is an art in and of itself and will guarantee a permanent spot in football’s hall of fame.”
Get ready to claim your spot in the hall of fame of your company.
Note: This topic, “play in business”, is one I personally consider very important and try to give a lot of room here on businessgametime.com. If you want to know more about it and my views on it, please feel invited to read my older post called “The Ultimate Competition: Play” in which I also bring in the notion of competition and the view of Mark Cuban.