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Learning from Football

I really liked this post from Chris Dillon on what football can teach us. He makes several great points talking about how great teams are the product of how the component parts (the players) collectively work together and how you can't read the properties of a collective simply from its individual elements. A great team doesn't necessarily comprise the best players (e.g. Leicester winning the title in 2016), and great players don't always make the best teams (just look at the England team from not so long ago).

History matters (systems grow out of what happened in the past). As does matching, particularly with matching the manager with the team. The lesson here being about how the impact of good leaders come not just from their individual skills but also how well those are matched to the specific challenges they face. One study that he links to, for example, looked at 20 executives who left GE (considered at the time to be a real talent generating business) between 1989 and 2001 to become Chairman, CEO, or CEO designate of other companies. The study found that the companies did well (or poorly) relative to the market depending on whether the executives human capital was a good fit with the company's strategic challenges. Executives whose strategic skills were a good match with the company had a high rate of annualised abnormal returns.

Sport also teaches us how complexity produces unpredictability which can lead us into biased decision-making (like the so-called hot-hand fallacy, caused by our predisposition to see patterns in randomness). As William Goldman said in Adventures in the Screen Trade:

“Nobody knows anything…… Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess and, if you're lucky, an educated one.”

It feels like we should remind ourselves of this often.

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