Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Football, execution, social networks and innovation!

The last month has been all about ... football ... and execution! Brazil, my favo(u)rite team, played the ultimate collaborative team game, weaving the ball around the field, and creating the most unexpected patterns in attack, but they had a single point of failure in defense, and their team network failed - instead of executing when in a position of strength (leading 1-0 against Holland), they focussed on denial-of-service attacks, and behaved as defensively as Yahoo! did vs. Google. The result -> they, like England, are out.  Beckham, in a fancy suit, was the marketing icon for both England and Yahoo! during the world cup. Marketing and execution are 2 different things!

I spent the last month at Bangalore, and one thing I learned, is that everything works there based on social networks. You call into the ether, you get Biryani delivered. You lower your car window and ask the autorickshaw-driver next to you, and you get to your destination (no need for Google maps :-)). "Aagey se right" and the social network executes for you. (Hyderabad is a different matter, as all answers seem to be "Seedha-eech". It's called "auto-forwarding to the next friend" :-)

Football is a social network - you pass the ball, you get it back, you score! It's like WebEx :-) The key learning is that the real power is in team-nets vs. anonymous social-nets. You want Messi on your team, not Joe the Plumber! This is true on the Internet as well - I trust my friends, colleagues more than anonymous followers.  This basically means that social features may have unexplored power in the enterprise (where the trusted team lives). (I'm not sure about the equivalent of a match-saving handball in social networks - blocking someone on Facebook?)

Maradona, with an opportunity to win, underestimated what the competition could do - the Argentine defense looked amateurish, especially on the 4th German goal (which should not have happened at a World Cup!!) You need  offense and defense to win, and that's true of technology as well. Yahoo! only had a "defense" strategy. Google and Facebook play like South American teams! Opt-out instead of opt-in is an aggressive strategy, followed by both.

Companies that underestimate the competion have chinks in their armor - which is why I place three elements into product strategy - mandatory features (trapping, passing, penalty kicks), defensive features (set plays, goalkeeping), and differentiating/offensive features (messi, forlan, klose and ronaldo9 (who may have done more than fabiano!)). Ghana lost because it missed a mandatory feature - slotting in a penalty kick when it mattered. African teams lose composure at key moments - unnecessary fouls late in games, etc. - they often beat themselves with a lack of discipline (Nigeria-Italy 1994)!  (similar to India/Cricket). Not so with teams like Germany, who have the ultimate discipline - they never beat themselves - you have to *beat* them, as Spain did today.  See this article on Africa's date with failure. Quoted:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” - Aristotle
This brings me to innovation. Innovation wins! Germany gave up on the old cross-and-head strategy. They innovated! England did not innovate, and their kick-and-rush was boring and predictable (even Beckenbauer said so). The result is that Germany's results were stunning. England came in with a Nokia and Germany spoke on an Apple iPhone 4 (4 goals/game?). I would not be surprised if Ballack being out actually helped Germany innovate. At the semi-final,  Germany played a scared, defensive, boring game, and got out-innovated! Simple! You need to play to win.

And when you have killer features in your product (Milito), play them to win!

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