What the World Cup Is Telling Us

By Holly G. Green

Have you been watching the World Cup? I am a huge soccer fan and really enjoy the World Cup because it’s such a fascinating international spectacle. Plus, it never fails to serve up some interesting lessons that have real application in the business world. For example:

Life isn’t always fair. The U.S. team was victimized more than once by highly questionable calls by the ref. Fortunately, the players quickly put the calls behind them and stayed focused on playing winning soccer. In business, sometimes our competitors don’t play fair. Or markets react in strange, unanticipated ways. If we overreact and get caught up in the problem rather than the solution, we can easily get off track and miss opportunities. In soccer and in business, focus on winning is critical to success.

The best team doesn’t always win. The first round saw numerous upsets by supposedly inferior teams. In fact, for the first time ever both the defending champion (Italy) and runner-up (France) failed to advance to the second round. Likewise, in business the best product doesn’t always win. An inferior product with superior marketing often trumps a better product that is poorly positioned in the minds of consumers. In soccer and in business, winning often comes down to who executes the better strategy and connects most effectively to others, not who has the best or most talent.

Other cultures think very differently than the U.S. One word says it all - vuvuzelas. Have you ever heard anything more annoying in your life? Can you imagine paying hundreds of dollars to watch your team play and having to listen to that incessant buzzing the entire game? And yet, much of the world has embraced them. Another not-so-subtle reminder that when doing business abroad, don’t expect customers or competitors to think like you.

It only takes one big play to win the day. After 90 minutes of play (and many missed opportunities to score), it appeared the U.S. would end up with a tie against Algeria. Which meant that, depending on how England fared, the U.S. might fail to advance. But with two minutes to go in stoppage time, Landon Donovan scored on a rebound off the Algerian goalie and saved the day. In today’s markets, one big play (disruptive innovation) can make the difference between market leadership and being an also-ran.

But here’s what really made me sit up and take notice about this World Cup. According to CNNTech, the dramatic ending to the match between the U.S. and Algeria came close to setting a new record for Internet traffic. Immediately following Landon Donovan's goal, Internet traffic spiked to 11.2 million visitors per minute, moving the event past the 2008 presidential election and into second place for the highest traffic day of all-time. In addition, tweets containing "USA" spiked to six percent of total tweet volume. Think about that for a minute.

Eleven million Internet visitors per minute translates to 670 million per hour, or roughly 10 percent of the world’s population!  And with Twitter averaging 55 to 60 million tweets a day, it becomes increasingly clear that the world is communicating in new and different ways. What does this mean for your business?

The answer depends on whether you see it as a problem or an opportunity. If you see it as a problem, you’re already in trouble. If you see it as an opportunity, the issue then becomes how to take advantage of it.

Start by asking some basic questions. Are we currently using these new communication channels to reach out and connect with our customers, employees, and other stakeholders? If not, why not? What are our basic assumptions about how we connect with our customers and markets? Are these assumptions still valid? How do we know? What “thought bubbles” do we need to reset in our brains in order to effectively connect with our key stakeholders in new and different ways?

Used to be if we wanted to watch the World Cup, we got tape-delayed TV. Now we can watch it live on TV, the Internet, our cell phones, iPods and PDAs - basically anywhere that has wifi. Which means that customers can now access your business at any time from virtually anywhere in the world.

How is this changing the way you think about doing business and connecting with your customers?

Read other articles and learn more about Holly G. Green.

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