Business needs some German Soccer in it

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Social Business is the rage, but structure and segmentation don’t go away

When publishing the article “Social Business is like Brazilian Soccer” a month ago, I predicted a World Cup final between Germany and Brazil. I also used an analogy between somewhat obsolete stereotypes of German soccer’s efficiency, physical vigor, and tactical discipline and the Brazilian soccer’s reliance on improvisation, individual talent and creativity.

I had argued that  “corporate functional departments are like social networks and projects are like communities” and that companies had to move towards real-time response and individual empowerment.

But, as competitive pressures increase, innovation accelerates, and information spreads faster,  companies are required to respond in real-time and the classical strategic planning model falls apart. Communities become the most effective model of primary corporate organization.

Social Business seeks to make the classical corporate structures more flexible and fluid so that they can better leverage the collaboration. To embrace Social Business, corporations will have to embrace changes in structure (less hierarchical, fluid organization charts) and attitude (let information flow, empower and react in real-time).

Social Business is priority of Communities over Networks. It is a move from tactical discipline  towards real-time response. Social Business is less like German and more like Brazilian soccer.

My educated soccer guess proved to be wrong but not by far. Germany is entering the field to play its semi-final against Spain as I write this and Brazil has lost its quarter-final game against The Netherlands (which is now a confirmed finalist).

On the stereotypes, anyone who follows soccer knows that Germany is not short of great talent and Brazil has been criticized at home and abroad for favoring tactics and physical conditioning over abundant undisciplined skill.

As imperfect as business-sports analogies go, I think it still applies in this case. The same way world-class soccer has converged into a balance of “European” structure and task segmentation and “South American” improvisation and individual talent, world-class Business needs to blend both styles to be competitive on the world stage.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating a half-hearted embracing of change or a diluted adoption of social strategies. Remaining competitive will require a full measure of both classical discipline and social responsiveness.

My thoughts on the dynamics of that business transformation from predominantly classical to blend Social techniques are described in “The Future is not Tomorrow”.

As with any technology-triggered transformation, there is a lag between the hype and expectations of “market experts” and the adoption and execution by real business people. But the transformation is in progress and we must not slow down even as the inflated expectations subside in the next few years.

In soccer, I still think Germany is the favourite to win this year (though I may have been proved wrong again by the time you read this) and Brazilians need to recover some of its roots to win the next World Cup at home in four years.

As for where Real Business stands today, it needs to keep some German soccer in it, but it also needs to add more Brazilian to remain competitive.

See more about “Functional Departments are like Social Networks, Projects are like Projects” and “The Social Business Hype Cycle”.

This article was originally written for and posted at

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