I just met a guy whose favorite soccer team had quite a bad time recently. Within a few years, they were relegated from the first division to the third division. It’s still very early into their new season and when I met him, he started joking: “Did you see the recent series of wins they put up?” Note: He referred to the fact that they won the first two matches of the season. In a row!
I answered: “Wow, great. If they keep it up they can come in fifth or sixth this season” – a result that would be heavily disappointing in the third division for a team that’s used to playing in the top league. We both laughed and moved on into opposite direction. As I continued walking I thought about how meaningless it is if you finish fifth or sixth in the third division, were only the first one or two teams will move up to the second league at the end of the season. However, if you are playing in one of the top leagues in Europe, fifth or sixth place would mean that you are battling for a spot in the European Cup.
In the top leagues, everybody is fighting for something: The title, qualification for Champions League or Europa League, the right to play in the first division again next year, etc. In the top leagues, for most teams the results matter as they will have an impact on something. In the lower leagues, only very few teams get a shot at moving one league up or are endangered to be relegated one down. For the rest, most of the season is pretty unfancy in the sense that it does not really have an impact on the team’s future if they win or lose one more game or not.
Thinking about this, an idea came up in me: Why not create something like a European Cup of third divisions? A tournament in which maybe the third to sixth placed team of the English League One, the French National D3, German Dritte Liga, Spanish Segunda División B, Italian Lega Pro Prima Divisione, etc. determine their champion.
Yes this idea is completely nuts. It’s too expensive, too time intense, can’t be coordinated, doesn’t make sense, etc. But thinking like this is not the right way to deal with creativity, so let’s ask ourselves instead: Okay, all that may be true, but not considering these negative points, what is positive about the idea?
It would for sure create a motivational incentive for all teams in the third divisions. Also, the third divisions are in many cases where the very young and talented players grow up before taking the step one or two levels up. For them it would be very helpful to be exposed to other influences and to gain international experiences already at a very young age. Then, it might boost the image of the third divisions as fans would link the league to an international competition. And most importantly: It would make the league more interesting, as most of the matches would have a meaning.
The next step should be to take these positive effects of the idea and adapt and transfer the idea to an environment where the negative effects do not matter, or at least not matter as much as in the original setting. As you know by now, the target of choice for all transfers in this blog is the world of business.
And isn’t it the same situation there: The guys on top of the stairs qualify for the big international encounters, while those on the lower level are also working all the time, but their work is less recognized, less incentivized and often has less meaning than what the big kahunas discuss in global executive meetings.
One way to translate my idea would be to identify challenges your company has not solved yet, create global teams of people from lower management levels – not the usual upper levels that have not been able to solve the issue yet and are too busy anyway – set up a global meeting structure and give them decision power for their respective challenge. And hey, that sounds a whole lot more feasible than in soccer. Why not incentivize those great performers on the lower management levels, maybe those that you can’t immediately promote to a higher level at his point in time for whatever reason, maybe young and talented women and men, by putting them into an “international competition”: Working and deciding on global challenges that your organization is facing.
Make them learn the style of play in other countries, challenge them in new ways, motivate them for their everyday job and profit from their commitment, effort and great results.
All of a sudden this idea does not seem like it’s too expensive, too time intense, can’t be coordinated and doesn’t make sense:
Yes, it costs money, but organizations can profit from the results, as the participants bring in a fresh view and perspective and avoid getting stuck in silo thinking. And by the way: Working global does not always mean travelling around the world. In some cases it is necessary, in some it’s not. Trust me, they will show you how to use technology for working together remotely (note another benefit: Top management can learn other, new, modern approaches to work and work organization).
The participants also have to allocate their time to it, but hey, they are no amateurs, it’s their job, it’s work that produces results, it’s what they are paid for. Yes, they will have to reduce the amount of time spent for other topics, but it’s worth it if the global topic is not just exhibition work, but real stuff with real decisions to be taken and the real confidential data shared with the participants.
It can be coordinated. International companies have the organizational means and the power to make this stuff happen. It’s not like soccer leagues that didn’t even know about the existence of the others that you would have to bring together, it’s the same group with an existing overhead that can support.
And yes, it makes sense. You just have to give it a shot.
I can see a couple of you scratching their head in front of their monitor at this very moment. How about agreeing on the following: You think about it a little longer, and no matter if you buy into the idea or not, you can anyway enjoy and try the approach towards creativity I offered (wow, one blog entry offering two different benefits!): Take a “creative” idea and don’t look at the obstacles, but at the benefits only. Then try to transform or transfer the idea to a shape, situation or environment where the benefits are still valid, but the obstacles are less severe.