Iceland has shown us a way to achieving success

I pray that I will be forgiven by those readers for whom football belongs in another galaxy. The truth is, however, that I couldn’t resist the temptation of writing about the marvellous example of sportsmanship, which Iceland's team and fans have given us during the UEFA Euro 2016; an example worthy of study and applicable outside the world of sports.

Iceland's performance during the recent championship has shown us some of the ingredients for success: long-term thinking, and an appropriately sized and coherent project which is tailored to fit the specific skill sets and conditions of its members. Additionally, the Icelandic team is built up around a unique identity which is aligned with their 'stakeholders' who, though feisty when playing, are honourable, and they allow themselves to have good, plain old fun.

Historically, the Icelandic national team had not been able to compete at all on the international scene. More often than not, they would be eliminated in one or another knockout phase of international championships, and would even be sought out in the group draws for being 'easy prey'. In fact, in April 2012, Iceland ranked 132 out of 203 national teams from around the world, meaning that there were 131 national teams in the world which were more competitive than they were.

Around 15 years ago Iceland decided to take the bull by the horns and included football in the national school system, which not only went a long way to fostering the values of team sports, but it also became a way of connecting this remote island with the rest of the world. They also organised their sports infrastructure to be able to better withstand the often inclement weather of Iceland, and their coaches and teachers were trained to meet FIFA standards, to such an extent that foreign coaches with experience in medium-sized national teams were 'imported'. Furthermore, the sport of football was promoted throughout the country in order to create a climate of interest and excitement amongst Icelanders. Eventually, it all paid off with dramatic results: an enormous sporting triumph which also proved to be an excellent example of civility, in sharp contrast to the violence we have witnessed, both on and off the field in some French cities.

The Icelandic football story can serve as a wonderful metaphor for business in general: it disproves, beyond any doubt, that size is what matters when it comes to competing internationally. Indeed, what is truly relevant in terms of realising success is that the scale of the Project must be efficient enough to be truly competitive, whilst focusing both on the essential capacities, and on its specific client segments. Such a Project also needs to be designed around a shared vision and project, and must be coherent with its own identity, something which is easier to preserve and enrich in smaller organisations. Finally, it is critical that the unique Project provide its clients and relevant players with a unique experience whilst raising a protective barrier against the 'attacking' competition. 

I sincerely hope that the applause, accolades and acknowledgement being received by Icelanders move those of us who are involved in SME's, more than ever, to commit to and to specialise in our own business projects, and to be ever aware that 'small is beautiful, as well as powerful.'

Read the original article in El Economista.

Sabin Azua

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