Unlocking Human Ambition – Lessons from FIFA World Cup 2018 for Business, Society & Careers

I was incredibly fortunate to have a wonderful career spanning about 21 years building and growing research firm Frost & Sullivan in the Asia Pacific region. I had joined the firm as an intern whilst pursuing my MBA and it was serendipitous that I ended up joining the firm as one of the first employees in the region. As is the case with most of us, I was very passionate about my job and gave it my all. We had a fantastic ride, built a footprint in almost every Asian market and worked with some of the best companies and governments in the region. The company also reciprocated, and I will be forever be thankful for this journey.

I assumed that enjoying the job, the ability to work on some of the most exciting projects, surrounded by very bright colleagues would automatically ensure that my career will take care of itself. A little over a year ago, for the first time in my life, I felt the need to assess, what next. What will the next 20 years look like? What is my “#HumanAmbition”. The pace and intensity of work in a consulting environment meant that there is very little time to explore and answer this question. The only option was to take a break. The company agreed to give me a sabbatical to explore my #HumanAmbition. We had a great team that was very ready to take over and I am excited about how the next set of leaders will drive a new growth story for the company.

Consultants have very fertile minds. Whilst clearing my leave, I was enjoying the FIFA World Cup and all the passion, excitement and celebrations around it. Other than war and natural disasters, sports tend to bring out the best in human spirit. The many surprises in both FIFA World Cup as well as Tour De France meant that social media was abuzz with netizens sharing their wisdom. This led me to organise two events, one each in KL and Singapore, to explore the “Lessons from FIFA World Cup & Tour De France 2018” for business, society and careers. The central theme being how can we use the lure and the passion for sports to help us run our business or develop our careers better. Can this provide me some answers to my #HumanAmbition?

I rounded up my dear friends, colleagues and business associates and it did not take me long to assemble a passionate set of enthusiasts to share their learning. I was also immensely fortunate to have the presence of HE Kreso Glavac, the High Commissioner of Croatia in Malaysia join us at the Malaysian event. His presence (a towering one) added much oomph to the event. I have summarised some of the key learnings below.

  1. TEAMs which did well, followed this philosophy – COUNTRY First, TEAM Second, Individual Third.  The Croatian coach, Zlatko Dalic took a very bold decision in dropping star player Nikola Kalinic in the first round. He had the courage to make this call. As we build our business, we should also adopt a similar approach – Company First, Team Second and Individual Third. There were many instances in my career where I struggled to take tough decisions. This framework is a great aid to decision making for leaders.
  2. France winning the world cup should not have been a surprise as they had the most expensive team by player value. The best talent can ensure a great result. Croatia had a better Return on Investment in terms of the cost of the team vis-à-vis the result. Both have delivered the results, depends on what you are after. Many will pay any price to ensure they emerge at the very top of the podium and for many it’s really the Return on Investment that matters.
  3. The importance of a great support team.  Superstars like Neymar, Ronaldo, Salah, Messi were unable to take their teams to success. They deliver extraordinary results for their club teams when they have the right support teams enabling them to score and perform well. Each one of us should build strong support teams around us to enable us to perform at our very best.
  4. Forty Three percent of goals were scored from set piece situations, more than any since 1966 world cup. There is a great opportunity for us to practice and simulate real life business situations to help improve our overall success.
  5. Technology played an incredible role in this world cup. The use of technology (Video Assistant Referee) enabled 16 more penalty kicks than in Brazil. Technology is helping clean up football and making it more transparent. Many teams also used technology extremely well in their competitive strategy. Are we doing enough in our personal lives to leverage technology to improve our productivity, are we using it enough in our departments. Do we need to just depend on the corporate IT to provide us the tech, or what does decentralisation of IT empower us to take this matter into our own hands?
  6. Four out of last five of the world cup winners suffered early exits in their next world cup? Many organisations and personal careers suffer the same fate. How do we deal with complacency? What systems can we put in place to avoid this?
  7. Interdependence and team work were critical factors for success of most of the top 8 teams. France, Belgium, Croatia, Japan, Korea and England in particular demonstrated these traits more than others.
  8. FIFA has been using theme songs and anthems since 1962. They are used for advertising campaigns for the world cup and are an incredible source of inspiration for the fans. How are we leveraging the power of music to inspire and bring the best in #HumanAmbition?
  9. Japan became the first team to qualify on virtue of fair play as they tied with Senegal on points. In business as well, we see customers prefer to do business with companies who are seen as ethical.  Japanese companies have for long been highly regarded for their high levels of emphasis on core values and ethical behaviour. This has translated into positive customer value.
  10. Iceland with a population of just 330,000 became the smallest nation by population size to ever qualify for the world cup finals. How could this country where the sun forgets to rise for three months every year, rise in FIFA rankings from 130’s (2012) to a best ever 18 (March 2018) in less than 6 years? How can we achieve these magical breakthroughs in our businesses, in our careers, for our societies?
  11. Home teams have always had great success in the FIFA World Cup Finals. There is growing evidence that teams and individuals perform extremely well when cheered on by raving fans. How can companies cultivate raving fans, how can many of us in our professional lives develop our own fan base which can bring out our personal best?
  12. Croatia’s remarkable performance was captured very elegantly by HE Kreso Glavac, who attributed it to the incredible passion for sports that exists in the country.  Every child is encouraged to play sports and social conversations all revolve around sports. This combined with the patriotic fervour that exists for a young country having achieved its independence less than three decades ago has contributed immensely to its success. If we can similarly combine the purpose of our business better with the #HumanAmbition and aspiration of all the stakeholders we will see great success. If we can define our #HumanAmbition to a purpose that inspires us, we will see incredible personal success.

In the coming weeks and months, I hope to delve on some of these learnings in greater detail. What were your biggest learnings, how are you applying them in your work and your career? Let the games begin.  Share your stories as I hope to collectively build a great repository for our common learning.

CREDITS: Many thanks to Shamir Amanullah, Zulfiqar Zainuddin, Srikanth Ramachandran, Hazmi Yusof, Roger Grant, Nandini Patil, Haniza Ros, Simon Donnellan, Simranjit Singh, Mohit Rajkumar, Andrew Milroy and Erwann Thomassain for their inspiring presentations.

Supporting Partners: 3ciety.com, Moving Walls, Frost & Sullivan

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