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What Sport Defines Your Venture’s Culture? June 13, 2012

Posted by Bernard Lunn in Uncategorized.

When I moved from London to New York in 1990, I had a hard time understanding all the sports analogies because I had never played American Football or Baseball (and watching a sport you have never played is boring), but eventually I figured out things like:

Hail mary pass (Football)

All the bases are loaded (Baseball)

My favourite sport is skiing and sadly it took me a long time before I heard anybody use a skiing analogy, which was “don’t get too far over your skis”. For non-skiers, translate that to “let’s cross that bridge when we get to it”.

I had spent enough time in England and India to figure out cricket analogies such as “you have to get off the back foot to hit the ball”.

Corporate culture emerges from the founder CEOs sports enthusiasm. In America that tends to mean Football or Baseball. As business is an aggressive sport, a lot of CEOs tend to be Football jocks when they are young.

So the corporate culture of a lot of America is defined by the Football analogy. This means a highly structured workplace. Your roles are very strictly defined. Somebody “calls the play”.

Rugby is an English version of Football – although Brits would clearly reverse that statement. It is also both structured and aggressive. The phrase “get it over the line” resonates with anybody who has played Rugby and sold enterprise software (getting it over the line translates to get the signature on the contract).

When I could not ski, because my school was in England, I enjoyed Rugby (was never a star, but still enjoyed it). But what I would play with my pals in free time was soccer. I should have guessed then that I would get into the startup game. Soccer is:

A. Global (the ROW calls it “football” but I am respectful of my American readers). Maybe we can track the impact of Globalization by the growth of soccer in America?

B. Freeform. Switching to a music analogy, startups are more like a Jazz Band than a Philharmonic Orchestra. Everybody has a role to play, but nobody is “calling the play”, everybody is sensing what they need to do next based on what just happened. This is the kind of real time, emergent behavior world that most startups live in.

My apology to geeks who are vehemently anti-jock culture based on awful experience at school. That is fine, but there are plenty of geeks who also enjoy athletic sport. As we all know “the geek shall inherit the earth” but for most geeks who really want to do that would probably be well advised to add some jocks on their team to create a balanced team.



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