Business, as a sport

Are all these sporting analogies good or a bit of distraction?

Is it me or are these becoming more commonplace? Not surprising, I guess as we’ve all just had Olympics fever.

I don’t doubt that business and sport have some very close connections…to be the best in sport requires tremendous sacrifice.  Is it the same in business? In sport — even in a team sport, it relies heavily on each individual. Is it the same in business?

Not surprisingly, the internet has a healthy balance of views — both believing they are very well linked and conversely of no use whatsoever.

My natural conclusion – is that some will be good references, others will be poor – so don’t discount any or accept all.

I have picked out a few interesting ones…

  • You can’t cut costs by firing the coaching staff and expect good results even though the other practices are still used. And yet, many businesses see some of these practices as optional extras that can be ignored when convenient or cut when the budget is tight.
  • When a team plays badly for a major event (ref England Football), the coach gets fired.  Sporting teams can be a lot more agile in who they have to coach and lead them.
  • Both elite sportsmen and businessmen, whilst born with a level of natural ability, will only succeed with hard mental training.
  • Sports people are very good at celebrating their successes – the champagne podiums, victory runs, medals, etc.  This is because they recognise their success can be relatively short lived, and so they must live in the moment.  Most businesses don’t see this and are considering the long rather than the short game. So achievements and successes tend not to be called out as much.
  • The coach in a sport team is very much telling the individuals what to do and how to do it. In business, the formal definition of coach is the opposite i.e. a coach does not give an opinion but enables the individual to find the answer themselves.
  • Sporting achievement is very much about being the best.  Many business organisations have taken the same approach – and failed.  A great example of an organisation not doing this is is Southwest Airlines – the CEO did not base his company’s competitive advantage on superior airplanes, landing slots, or booking systems; he also did not set out to hire the top graduates from the most prestigious universities; instead, he carefully fostered a strong identity within his company and an organizational culture of employee motivation and morale. Superior organisations bring business success; not superior people.

Why do we do the comparison?  Mainly because a lot (majority?) of business leaders enjoy comparing themselves with their sporting heroes as there is definitely a lot more kudos associated with it. There are definitely some strong lessons to be learnt (for me the celebration of success is key), but also some opposites- you don’t have to have the “best” people to be the best company…more it’s the right people.

This post first appeared in Neil’s blog, Neil’s Thoughts.

Neil Fagan is CTO of the UK Government Security and Intelligence Account in Global Infrastructure Services and chair of CSC’s Architecture & Engineering Community. He is an enterprise architecture expert, leading teams of architects who work on solutions from initial concept through delivery and support. He is co-creator of the CSC Global Architecture (A10) Capability Framework and created the Architecture Best Practice course at CSC, delivering it to hundreds of architects. He has received the Silver President’s Award twice.



  1. Great piece of writing and a great link you provide. Thanks you so much, I appreciate your work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nick Sydenham says:

    What you’re alluding to is that culture is a more important indicator of success than individuals or strategy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. thanks for the feedback Nick – and yes, exactly…


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