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How business organizations can learn strategy from the world of sports

144   //    26 Sep 2017, 16:30 IST

New Zealand v India
MS Dhoni is one of the shrewdest strategists in cricket

When a business comes up for a strategy-building exercise, they can look at sports and draw parallels with their current situation, which in turn can help them adopt a suitable approach.

The importance of innovation

April 25, 2010. DY Patil Cricket Stadium. An IPL final featuring two champion sides. Mumbai Indians battled it out with Chennai Super Kings. The match was drifting in favour of the Chennai Super Kings.

But then came Kieron Pollard, showing his big hitting prowess to keep Mumbai in the hunt. The only thing that could stop CSK from winning could be him.

On the fifth ball of the penultimate over, a masterstroke from MS Dhoni clinched the deal. His ability to think out of the box helped the team’s cause.

Matthew Hayden at mid-off was kept really straight, a pretty unusual field placement. Albie Morkel delivered the ball to his field - wide outside the off stump - and Hayden pouched the catch. Chennai Super Kings won their first IPL title.

In today’s competitive world, businesses need to come up with strategies that are innovative and sustainable. They need to think on their feet like Dhoni did.

Take the case of Reliance Jio. They come up with new strategies which helped them penetrate a market dominated by big players like Airtel and Vodafone. The idea of using data to make calls while offering a basic 4G handset is exciting, that has attracted customers and will continue to do so in the future.

Customers of this era are willing to try out new options. They are not too brand loyal.

Looking to the future

The major shock of the 2015 Cricket World Cup was the England cricket team being knocked out in the first round. While other teams had adapted to the needs of the 50-over format, England were still lagging behind. They were playing conventional cricket in the limited overs format, which was not working.


Andrew Strauss, the director of England cricket, realized this and set out to build a new-look English side for the 50 over and 20 over game. In came the likes of Jason Roy, Alex Hales, Ben Stokes and Eoin Morgan. England were a transformed side in white ball cricket, and started playing with a lot more freedom.

Strauss had built such a team keeping in mind the 2017 Champions Trophy and the 2019 World Cup, as also the frequent changes that are coming up in the game. The move has paid rich dividends; England finished as losing semifinalists in the 2017 Champions Trophy, a far cry from their ignominious exit in Australia two years ago.

On the same lines, a business strategy needs to be forward looking. Let us take a hypothetical example. Hyundai’s research team reads a report stating that customer awareness on environmental pollution has increased and that they are looking for alternative modes of transport. Seeing this report, they should look at a strategy of producing electric cars. It might involve a large investment but it will pay rich dividends in the years to come.

Flexibility can work wonders

There are many more examples of strategy working wonders in sport.

The game of hockey consists of four quarters. India play with the strategy of two players moving into the circle to target the goal. Ramandeep and Sunil generally take care of the activities in the opposition circle.

On match day, Rupinder Pal Singh was seen to be more agile and making more circle penetrations as compared to Sunil. Sunil looked out of sorts. The team was a couple of goals down after the first half.

So Coach Roelant Oltmans changed the strategy. He decided to play three players forward and fewer players in the midfield. Rupinder Pal joined the other two people in the circle, which helped the team's cause.

In this case Oltmans showed that his strategy was flexible. It could be changed according to the demands of the game.

Companies also need to revise their strategies according to market demands. McDonald’s, one of the largest fast food chains in the world, have altered their menu according to the country in which it operates. They have understood the fact that what works in one country might not work in another.

Their strategy is to serve customers food that suits their tastes and preferences. They have not placed one standardized menu across all countries. They would also be willing to bring in additions or deletions to the prevailing menu.

In short, sports teaches us that strategies must be creative, future-oriented and flexible if they are to be effective.

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