Why business is like ... Terrace chanting

Your typical lager-swilling football fan is unlikely to be at the top of any conductor's wish-list of choristers.

by Jennifer Harris, director of JRBH Strategy & Management,www.jrbh.co.uk
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Yet put 12,000 of them together in the Kop at Anfield and their rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone will choke the hearts of even the rowdiest rivals. This transformation from musical anarchists to a capella choir is part-illusion, created by some singing above the correct pitch and some below. The wrong notes cancel each other out to yield, more or less, the intended tune.

Dr John Constable, a fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge, suggests that large corporations operate in much the same way. They create the impression of quality, he says, by putting a load of mediocrity together in one place and letting things right themselves. This summer, we'll be ruing the fact that the England side couldn't do the same.

But the 'averaging effect' is only part of the reason for the surprisingly tuneful chanting rising from the football terraces. Once things have started off, the notes produced can be heard by the rest of the stadium, creating a target for the other fans to work towards. It's a form of guided convergence: fewer and fewer wrong notes are sung as the song progresses, and the fans actually start to sing in tune.

Equally, the quality that is seen to emerge from large, respected organisations is not necessarily an illusion. When employees have the chance to learn from a large talent-pool, they are set a target through which to improve their individual skills, and the output becomes more harmonious. But smaller companies shouldn't worry: not even a heartfelt mass rendition of Abide with Me at the FA Cup final can surpass the perfection of Puccini's Nessun Dorma by Luciano Pavarotti.


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