Monday 20 January 2014

Instinct v knowledge in Football

Soccer Pro by martha_chapa95
Soccer Pro, a photo by martha_chapa95 on Flickr.
This month's issue of GQ magazine has a very interesting article about instinct versus knowledge in English football (aka Soccer), entitled "Faster, Fitter, Stronger, Dumber".

It describes how the changing block at Liverpool's training ground was designed in a circle, so the players could debrief after training sessions, and yet - according to Jamie Garragher the Liverpool defender - not everyone wanted to join in.

Certainly most of the non-British players would be happy to analyse the events of the day, the tactics for the weekend, and what had been learned. However Carragher says he can "count on his fingers" the number of times he became involved in a lengthy meaningful conversation about the mechanics of football with another English player. They just didn't want to know.

The article describes British footballers as "instinctive" players, rather than thinking, learning players.

As Sir Alex Ferguson says about Wayne Rooney in his autobiography, for example,
"What he had was a natural instinct to play the game, an intuitive awareness of how football works. A remarkable raw talent plus natural courage and energy, which is a blessing for any footballer... [but] in a training ground exercise he wouldn't absorb new ideas or methods quickly. His instinct was to revert to type, to trust what he already knew".
Clearly instinct and intuition are powerful gifts, but they are static - they revert to type - and in a changing world they are no substitute for knowledge.

Take for example England's defeat to Germany in the last world cup in 2010.

England stuck to tried and tested tactics. The German team however had done their homework, done their learning, and had worked out how to win. "We knew all the English midfield go up towards the forwards and leave space behind "said the German Manager, Joachim Löw, and his team exploited that space to win 4:1.

How does this apply to Knowledge Management?

I think we can see similar behaviours in the workplace.

Many people are instinctive, intuitive players. But instinct only gets you so far, and after that, knowledge and learning need to take over.  I have met many project managers, for example (many of them English, as it happens), who work by instinct.

Watch out for these people!

Watch out for the (often brilliant, high-performing) individuals who do not want to get into discussions about learning, and who prefer to rely on their gut instinct and intuition.

They may need extra help and coaching when circumstances change and when the challenges are different, to avoid them reverting to type and trusting what they have always done in the past.  Old knowledge in a new world can be dangerous.

It can cost you the match.

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