Sport lessons for business

Sporting analogies are beloved of speakers and consultants alike. But are they helpful?

by Alastair Dryburgh
Last Updated: 27 Mar 2014

Recently, I have heard 'mostly when you win, you win by a very small margin', and 'what makes the difference is the will to win'. There is value in these comparisons, but there is also real danger.

It may be true that most major sporting competitions are won by a very small margin, and it may also be that it is the will to win that makes the difference. But that's because in sport, the rules are designed to make it so. Otherwise, it gets very boring for the spectators.

Business, on the other hand, offers a whole range of ways to win that wouldn't be allowed in any sport - being boring is no bar to success. Here are some examples.

Turn up early and score some goals while the other team is still in the changing room - accelerate your product development.

Play in the dark, using night-vision goggles only you possess - develop superior information systems.

Only play when the field is tilted in your favour - follow the basic strategic principle of competing only where you have an advantage.

Change the game. You don't need to choose between running the 400m or the 800m. If you determine that you have the greatest advantage over 647m, then that is what you run. Smartphones are tech business game-changers, just as low-cost operators are to the airline industry.

Introduce a radio-controlled ball (controlled by you, of course) - develop new technologies.

The danger with sporting analogies is that you develop a frame of mind in which you are training hard and seeking a marginal advantage, while actually doing pretty much the same as everybody else. Business offers many more creative and productive options. Don't let yourself be blinded to them.

- Alastair Dryburgh is chief contrarian at Akenhurst Consultants. Subscribe to his newsletter before the end of the month and he'll give you 11 strategies for winning in business that wouldn't be allowed in any sport

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime