Friday, October 20, 2017

An Answer to Freek Vermeulen

In the midst of doing some research, I came across an article by Freek Vermeulen, a Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School that caught my eye. The article was entitled Stop Comparing Management to Sport. It caught my eye because in my Strategic Management classes, I often use sports as an analogy.

In his article, Vermeulen states that sports is an "unhelpful analogy" and that managing your company like it was a sport can "lead your business astray" or "create a mighty corporate mess." He cites as support for his claim the notion of "compression diseconomies." Vermeulen does a nice job of explaining that concept here. Basically, the idea is that if one company puts 100 hours in a row into a project, they will likely not have the same level of performance as a company who also put 100 hours into the project--but spread out over a longer period of time, say, in 5 hour chunks.

While Vermeulen uses this concept to support his recommendation to "stop comparing management to sports," my contention is that this is exactly one of the reasons sports is a GREAT analogy for management, strategy, and business in general.

Vermeulen writes that:

One can throw more resources at it (the business), work harder, and whip others into expending more effort too, but the organizational elements that make up a working firm - which by themselves may not be rocket science - need to gradually blend together to grow into a well-functioning organization. This takes nurturing, care, and, simply, time. Prematurely piling more effort onto something that hasn't blended yet can actually make it worse.

How is that different than sports? People who pay attention to sports know that winning comes from consistent practice, planning, strategic planning, leadership, effective culture, and time. Vermeulen implies that sport is the result of a moment in time...and ignores that efforts that lead up to that moment in time. Success in sports--and in business--do not happen overnight.

Vermeulen suggests a "better, but admittedly less sexy metaphor" of being a "builder of communities." This suggests that he doesn't understand the point of analogies or metaphors. The point of those tools are to connect people to something that they don't understand as well by connecting something that they do understand well. My students understand sports better than they do community building. I would argue that so do business leaders.

The entire article by Vermeulen is insulting to anyone who understands BOTH sports and business.

Frankly, it seems to be written by someone who has no real experience with sports.



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