Sunday, September 30, 2007

In Defense of Boring Farts

Am back to housesitting for my friend with cable TV, which means I actually get to watch Rugby World Cup and last night I managed to watch two games that gave me an interesting insight into how life is lived.

The first game I managed to catch a glimpse of was the Wales-Fiji Game. The Fijians are natural 7-a-side players but have somehow never managed to translate their 7s success into the 15-a-side game. Although each Fijian is physically well endowed for the game, they somehow lacked the discipline and cohesivness to make it as a formidable team. As for the Welsh, they have traditionally been known to play the most 'beautiful' rugby on the British Isles. True, Wales have not done as well as they should have in the past decade but Welsh Rugby is at the core - wonderful to watch and since this was the Fijians you would have imagined them comming out ontop.

The game was a stunner. Lots of tries were scored. Both sides played some attractive rugby. When I caught onto the game, the Fijians were leading31-29. Then the Welsh came out of nowhere (Welsh Magic) to score a try that put them ahead. You would have imagined that with four miniutes left all would have been lost but the Fijians came right back and scored a try, which was duely converted. In the end it was the Fijians who came out ontop.

The Scotland-Italy game, was a less exciting affair. Both sides had billed this as their do-or-die match (both new losing to the All Blacks was inevitable as thrashing Romania and Portugal). The Scots started out well by racing to a 6-0 lead thanks to two penalities. The Italians to their credit fought back and got the only try of the game and lead for a while at 10-6. Howeer, thanks to making less mistakes and having a kicker who was on form - the Scots emerged 18-16 winners.

What lessons can be drawn from both games? I think the first one is about discipline. The Scots for the most part were not the better team when they played against Italy. Yet, they were awarded more penalities and made less mistakes than the Italians.

In a world obsessed with how much you make, we often forget that the winners in life often concentrate on how much they keep rather than how much they earn. People with sky high incomes don't often live well because - well, they forgot that they had to keep a portion of what they made. Success as they say is about self-discipline and self-control and it's quite true in sports.

Last night's Scotish team was boring and defensive but they had supperior discipline to their opponents. Scotish Rugby is often defensive - remember their most famous Grand Slam win in 1990 when they faced a supperior Enland Squad that had blown away all the teams that the Scots had struggled to beat. Wade. The Scots somehow hunkered down and dennied the English scoring opportunities and emerged winners.

South of the Border, the same proved to be true. The England Rugby Team lead by Will Carling managed to win back-to-back Grand Slams by being better disciplined than their opponents. English Rugby was slammed as being "Boring" but it worked! Sure, there was a formula to it - get the penalty and let Simon Hodgkinson or Johnathan Webb kick the points. When the England team promptly abandoned the formula in the final of the 1991 World Cup against Australia - they lost. By 2003, they had learnt their lesson and stuck to their discipline and methodical approach.

Of course one should also be prepared to abandon formulas when they stop working and one should also realise that certain situations require different tactics. Discipline and forumla can only get you so far. Will Carling's double-grand-slam winning team promptly feel to unfancied Irish men 1993 and they promptly got blown away by the All Blacks in 1995. Both the Irish and All Blacks played inspired rugby when they needed to. They knew the English Formula and its weaknesses. They were willing to take risk.

The All Blacks have remained the rugby team with the world's best record (even if their World Cup record is dissapointing) because they are willing to adapt to their opponents. True, they went through a patch when everything evolved around Jonah Lomu, the Giant Wing. Against obviously inferior sides, they play expansive rugby. They are willing to make mistakes in the handling of the ball. But they get the practice. By the time they meet competition - which in the Rugbyverse means South African, Austrlia, England and France, they are able to tighten up and match flair and inspiration with discipline.

Knowing when to mix flair and discipline is probably the key to success. In sort it's about knowing when to play offensive and defensive. In business its the same. Hong Kong businessmen often trump their Singapore counterparts because they are able to mix imagination with discipline. In Singapore business success is simple - ride on the government's coat tails or better still be a government enterprise. Resources are thrown into a project to make it succeed (A case of God being on the side of the Big Battalions). In Hong Kong, businessmen have to fend for themselves. They learn how to take risk and act on them but at the same time they become good at taking care of themselves. - Although the Singapore approach looks more ordered, nine out of ten times, the Hong Kon business is usually more productive.

This was an observation by a top Prudential sales manager in Singapore. He noted that Singapore restaurants are always neat and orderly. Hong Kong restaurants look chaotic and messy by comparison. However, its the Hong Kong restaurant that's more efficient and effective. The trick as they say is in organising the chaos.

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