Dare to be different
“BOWLED! Stephen Harmison with a slower ball, one of the great balls! Given the moment, given the batsman, and given the match that is a staggering gamble that has paid off for Harmison”
There is palpable excitement in cricket commentator Mark Nicholas’ voice as England’s Stephen Harmison’s unusual delivery cannons into the batsman’s stumps during the second match of the 2005 Ashes series. It was a must-win match, with England trailing by one in the series. But the truth is that Harmison wasn’t taking a ‘staggering gamble’ at all – regardless of the outcome of that ball, England would still have been firm favourites to win.
The fact that it was both different and the stakes were high meant that the perception of the risk outweighed the reality. It was seen as risky simply because it was different.
In football, we see this all the time. With relegation prevalent the stakes are too high to risk making a mistake – going down can sometimes have lasting, existential consequences, the fear of which can stifle our willingness to leave the herd, innovation only coming when financial pressure or other limitations force our hand. We therefore stick to what we know.
Interestingly, MLS and other closed leagues offer an environment shorn of this fear, creating an ideal testbed for experimentation where one poor season is the worst that can happen. City Football Group’s ownership of New York City is interesting in this respect, as it provides a safe environment to try things – Vieira’s apprenticeship being a good example. Owners may wish to consider multiple-club ownership to take advantage of this when devising strategies for the future.
Not everyone has this luxury, however, meaning that to do something different in more traditional leagues requires a certain type of bravery. Bravery to ignore potential ridicule. Bravery to accept that the reaction to any failure is likely to be exacerbated. But the rewards are there for those who try.
In truth, Harmison was not taking a ‘staggering gamble’ but a calculated risk. Knowing what we stand to gain as well as what we may lose can help us to do the same and in mustering the bravery to execute, we may have a chance of achieving beyond our own expectations.