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Is there a lesson for business networks in Brazil’s 7-1 defeat to Germany in the 2014 World Cup?

Not too long ago I wrote a blog series on the transformation of Brazil’s soccer playing model from an individualistic style to a network-oriented style. In the early 90s, more than two decades since the last World Cup championship title and Brazil faced an interesting juxtaposition – continue with what led to past triumphs of Pelé and his peers, or move on with the new rules of the game.

The new rules were clear – minimise the individual wizardry of foot play, dribbling and nimble dexterous touches, and replace these with the power-play of networks of players moving in formations to conquer the opponents by outwitting them, by outsmarting them, and by outnetworking them using a better method. In the in the same series,

I contrasted Brazilian successful transformation with the failure of Indian hockey to transform itself. Under somewhat similar conditions, the Indian selectors, the coaches, the trainers and the players – all struggled to re-produce their stellar success of decades past. Therefore, the blame game has started and now all parties are blaming one another for the failure.

There were a number of useful lessons to be drawn from this successful transformation of the Brazilian soccer which I wrote about in that article series. However, the World Cup 2014 semi-final match between Germany and Brazil proved that their transformation was not as complete as I had thought. No matter how much the world wanted them to win, their traumatic 7-1 loss was a harsh reality still mourned over by many.

This loss, to a formidable networked style play of German team, has at least three important lessons:

A network is only as strong as its weakest link:

Brazil’s defence was always suspect, but without Thiago Silva, there was really no defence left. Everyone at the back, from the goalkeeper to the rest of the defence team was left wringing their hands in futile gestures as the German scoring machine outnetworked them on every front.

Risk-management and security of network is paramount:

If your network relies on one or two stars – watch out. Analysts have been asking a lot of questions about post-Steve Jobs Apple for exactly the same reason. Protect your best network assets – but also try to make them redundant by making rest of your network assets of somewhat equal capability. What would have happened if Neymar and Thiago were playing in the match? More importantly, why was the rest of the team so heavily dependent on them?

When two networks compete – stronger one wins:

No secrets here – except for the fact that the competition in business is also now between two business networks, and not between two individual companies. Those companies that manage to formulate and utilise stronger business networks will always outclass their less well-networked competitors.

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