What We Can Learn From Gareth Southgate
“If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.”
– Thomas Jefferson
We’re all familiar with competitive advantage. Sourcing information that sets you apart from the rest is the best way to secure success and high returns.
Often, in spite of it being an uncomfortable process, finding an edge over the competition relies on looking beyond your comfort zone and exploring environments where you learn something new. To get ahead, you must tread where competitors do not. England’s success at the football World Cup reminds us of the benefits of practising this habit. As manager, Gareth Southgate, has championed learnings from other sports.
This year, Southgate visited the USA, watched the Super Bowl and attended many NFL and NBA training sessions. He wanted to discover how England’s attackers could find space in congested moments during matches, such as when attacking at corners and free kicks. Southgate learnt tricks that NFL running backs and NBA forwards used when heavily marked which opened up space and lead to advances upfield, baskets and touchdowns. Southgate applied what he learned to his team’s set piece routines. England scored 9 of their 12 goals in Russia from dead-ball situations. The edge gained by Southgate in the US paid huge dividends.
Southgate isn’t the first manager to look beyond football textbooks for inspiration. Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola counts chef Ferran Adria, director Woody Allen and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov as friends and mentors. He often talks about what he learns from these titans. But Southgate is one of the first England managers to seek an edge from nontraditional fields. It’s a bold move, considering the intense press spotlight that scrutinises his methods and the price he knew he’d pay for an embarrassing performance in the tournament. But to get better, you must be brave.
Other sports have shown football the way. British cycling, led by director, Dave Brailsford, attributes much of its success to the theory of marginal gains. Learning from other sports and industries, Brailsford aggregated small margins that added up to big differences. British cycling’s success at the Olympics and in the Tour de France leant heavily on lessons learned in fields such as engineering, technology, transportation and nutrition. Brailsford applied many lessons learned to his sport and the cumulative advantage allowed his team to dominate for a decade.
Similarly, Rugby World Cup winning coach, Clive Woodward, borrowed techniques from other sports and from business. The coaching textbook he wrote, Winning, is practically a business management textbook. His idol is legendary NFL coach, Vince Lombardi, and Woodward based many of his coaching philosophies upon those more commonly found in NFL. Like Brailsford, Woodward looked beyond his own sport in order to find gains. His team won as a result.
In a post-Moneyball world, you could assume that all the easy wins in sport have been arbitraged away as they are in the financial world of algorithmic trading and uber-efficient markets. But it’s fascinating to observe the opportunities that appear for those with enough courage and creativity to find them.
England’s success isn’t down to one change. Adding up the inches results in a destination that can be miles ahead of your starting point. To find inches, you must look for something different, and you only find something different by looking somewhere different. This doesn’t just apply in sport. It applies in business and technology, too.
Business icons like Gates, Buffett and Dalio are all famous lifelong learners. Buffett’s reading habit is legendary, with his appetite for learning from a vast array of sources the reason for his success. Jefferson, Brailsford, Buffett and Southgate teach us how we can be blinded by the world we live in everyday and how much we learn if we look beyond our comfort zone.
At Origin, me, Rob and the rest of our team have found that when we step out of the finance bubble and explore the world of technology, we gain an edge over our competitors. There’s so much we’ve learned by exposing ourselves to this new realm, such as starting with MVPs, rapid prototyping, relentlessly seeking customer feedback. Finding the new in uncomfortable, unfamiliar places has become a cornerstone approach for our business. Technology can learn much from finance, too, especially when it comes to attitudes around spending, cost management and focusing on revenues and profits rather than vanity metrics.
Finding an edge in sport or business is hard – it’s why winning a World Cup or founding a successful business is really tough. But the commitment to seek learnings, inspiration and edge in unfamiliar territories pays huge dividends. Just ask Gareth Southgate.