FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014

Fresh innovation lessons from the Football World Cup

Next week the 20th FIFA World Cup will begin, and for the next month much of the world, including me, will focus on the momentous trifle of football. Leonardo da Vinci said, “Everything is connected to everything else.” So let’s connect our passion for football to our passion for innovation. What does a team need to win the World Cup? And how can that help us win at innovation?

Lesson 1: Win by coupling creativity with action

Think of the Hungary team in 1954, Holland in 1974, and Brazil in 1982. Each of these teams scored the most goals in their tournaments, and each mesmerized audiences with their fluidity and creativity. And each was beaten by a less glamorous, more focused, no-nonsense team that went on to win the tournament. It’s not enough to be creative — that creativity must be complemented by hard work.

Win at innovation: Innovation is creativity coupled with action. Yes, it starts with creative ideas. But unless you act and put in the hard work to implement an idea, it will never become an innovation.

Lesson 2: Win by thinking like creative leaders

Throughout my career I have studied, and experimented with, the mindsets of many creative leaders, including Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, and Charles Darwin. I have identified seven levels of creative consciousness that form the essence of Thinkergy’s creative leadership development method Genius Journey. Fortuitously, these seven levels correspond to the seven games that a World Cup champion must play.

  • Group game 1: Fight your fears with courage, action and belief.
  • Group game 2: Fight your ego, but play to your own strengths.
  • Group game 3: Be openly curious, positive and playful.
  • Round of 16: Be more passionate than your opponent.
  • Quarterfinal: Combine careful tactics with creative surprises.
  • Semifinal: Live in the moment, and introduce fluid changes to be unpredictable.
  • Final: Balance intensive attack with concentrated defense to get into “flow,” while remaining alert to scoring opportunities to seize an elusive golden moment that make your team lift the cup.

Win at innovation: In business as in sports, the innovative mindset of a creative genius breeds success. This is true for everyone, not just the likes of Steve Jobs or Walt Disney. As Albert Einstein said, “There is a genius in all of us.”

FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 - Copacabana Kick

Lesson 3: Win by learning from Charles Darwin

This World Cup is likely to be more challenging than most, as the teams will be playing games in varying climates, altitudes, and times of day, with long flights between venues and an infrastructure and culture that is prone to offer a lot of “surprises”. This will lead to increased risks of fatigue, injuries, and illness. Given this, the team that prevails will be the one that is most able to flexibly adapt to unexpected problems. Charles Darwin’s insight is as true in sport as it is in natural selection: “It is not 
the strongest […] that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

Win at innovation: Today’s business environment is as challenging as Brazil is for the World Cup teams. How can you cope with a fast changing, complex and risky environment? Creatively adapt to changes in your industry and markets, so you survive by riding the waves of change.

Lesson 4: Win by learning from Fritz Zwicky

How can teams at the World Cup in Brazil best deal with changing conditions? By creatively “playing with” and modifying key game parameters. They can vary parameters like people (starting team selection, substitutions), space (tactical line-up, player placement), and time (speed, rhythm, intervals), to fit specific environments and opponents. By carefully designing ideas based on new elements or combinations related to these parameters, it’s easy to adjust your game plan to the environment, and to surprise an opponent. The Swiss astronomer Fritz Zwicky popularized this form of systematic combinations under the name “morphological thinking.”

Win at innovation: When you innovate with a project team, identify core categories such as materials, shapes, functions, sensory design, and users. Then list elements related to each category. For example, for “functions” you might list “warning,” “energy-saving,” and “vibrating.” Then combine different elements in the various categories with each other to inspire ideas. Morphological thinking is one of over 15o creative power tools that form part of X-IDEA, Thinkergy’s systematic innovation process method.

Lesson 5: Win by learning from the real winner of the World Cup

Who is the winner of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil? You might think that we won’t know until after the final game is played. But one winner is certain: FIFA, the organizer of the tournament. FIFA is likely to generate US$4 billion in total revenues and US$200 million in net profits from this World Cup. Only a small part of this comes from ticket sales — the vast majority is from broadcast and marketing rights, including sponsorship on the field. They can do this because they own the intellectual property rights for the tournament, as well as the “right of way” to everything related to the tournament, including stadiums, teams, players, TV rights, sponsorship, etc. What can we learn from this?

Win at innovation: First, protect your ideas by securing your intellectual property rights. Then, think about how you can create a “right of way” for yourself. How can you create enough value or prestige so that others will want to associate themselves with it?

Conclusion: I hope everyone has a great World Cup. And I hope that you watch the games carefully to see what mindsets lead to success, and then use them to innovate better. If you liked my ideas of bridging the worlds of football and innovation, then please take a look at six related yet different lessons that I offered four years ago right before the start of the mesmerizing 19th FIFA World Cup in South-Africa in a related article. And if you want us to help you win the innovation game with your organization game, then take action and tell us about your challenge.


© Dr. Detlef Reis 2014. 
This article is published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on June 5 2014. All rights reserved.