Johan Cruyff, we'll always play on your side

For those of us who like football, we felt a profound sense of loss with the passing of Johan Cruyff. It was a true pleasure watching him play.

I admit that having watched him play on TV, I admired his playing style, but it wasn't until I actually saw play him on the field at San Mames Stadium in Bilbao, that I was completely won over. What a clever way of moving about on the field! He didn’t seem to be running. Instead, he made everyone else move around him in such a manner that he orchestrated their role in the game, and he could boldly do what he wanted on the field. However, what impressed me most of all was how his moves seemed so natural and harmonious.

Cruyff revolutionised a sport that, even in his day, seemed to allow for little innovation. Both as a player, and then as coach and manager, he was able to prove that aesthetics, fun and efficiency were not only compatible, but were also parameters for a successful formula. Additionally, he turned the Barcelona team, so shy and self-conscious, into a team with a unique identity, coherent in its playing style, attractive to the spectator, and with an impressive winning gene. Thank you 'Flaco' for all those moments of joy!

In terms of sport, some of his quotes are famous, and personally, I believe that they can even teach us about business. The first one I’d like to share with readers is how he always drew upon imagination and excitement as driving motors behind business competitiveness: "How often do we see young boys using their backpacks, coats, or even a couple of stones to mark the goalposts! This is proof that we don’t always need everything we think we do and that imagination and excitement can make up for whatever may be lacking."

And therein lies some of the most critical aspects for strengthening a business: creativity, the ongoing search for motivation, and rebelling against limitations, which, amongst others, must all be present in the majority of business projects. Although our organisations must foster these behaviours, we sadly have a strong inclination in the opposite direction, effectively, curtailing the very behaviours we so desperately need. May we leave behind our drab, grey, and unexciting organisations as we recruit new professional for the future!

Cruyff was known for making one particular quote time and time again, and it's a painful truth in both the football and business worlds: "If you’ve got the ball, your opponent hasn't". Some readers may find that this sounds silly, but from my point of view, it's a solemn Declaration of Principles. It is indeed the Company that must define its 'playing field', take the lead role in realising its own destiny, and focus on its capacities to corner the opponent being faced.

As with football teams, too many business plans are built upon the foundation of defensive and uncreative strategies which are designed as a response to the opponents’ capacities. They're also rather uninspiring for their employees and team-members alike, who to a great degree, depend on capitalising on the opponents' mistakes and weaknesses. As a consequence, the driving force doesn't originate from within the organisation itself.

These creative projects, and a feature of good football, become a banner for professionals to rally behind, who almost always prefer to work in organisations seeking to 'carry the ball', allowing almost any one of us to be the captain of our own destiny.

Of all the huge challenges faced by businesses today, one of the greatest is to create a work dynamic and a sense of belonging which would go a long way to encouraging professionals to keep at it. Johan has shown us that this can be accomplished with fun, trust, and courage.

As a footballer and coach, one of the hallmarks of Cruyff’s career was his constant push to take risks and to experiment, despite the criticism which rained upon him for being so unorthodox, and for breaking with established norms. For these and other reasons, his legacy is immense. He also walked his own talk: "Play like you can never make a mistake, but don't let it surprise you when you do."

And this is one of the maxims of business competitiveness: being constantly obsessed with taking a gamble; creating and exploiting capacities; and being ready to act in response to our opponent's errors. Additionally, keeping an open mind, and seeking out innovation, and even occasionally transgressing, provides us with a competitive edge in the market. Furthermore, it also affords us the opportunity to make up for our mistakes, or to counteract the competition’s action. What must be eradicated from our organisations, though, is inaction out of a fear of erring, or shying away from what is novel, since these two attitudes are the opening quotes of a chronical of a death foretold.

Johan often came under fire as he apparently didn’t run enough on the playing field. He used to say that, "All coaches talk a lot about movement, and running a lot. I say that you don’t have to run so much. You have to use your head in football. You have to be in the right place at the right time, not too early or too late."

Both on the field, and the bench, a number of elements can be taken from Flaco's playbook and applied to the business world; namely, maintaining a unique identity, taking risks, and keeping a sense of good timing, all whilst taking control of one’s own destiny. Of course, this does not exclude co-operating with others, getting excited about what one is doing and having fun. Cruyff's basic paradigm was to build up the team from within its own internal capacities, continuously enriching them as an element of differentiation. Let's learn from it and apply it to our professional world.

After all his victories with Ajax, Holland and Barça, he commented: "Let's show the world that you can have fun playing football. I belong to an era that proved that beauty in football makes it fun and wins titles". Thank you Johan for giving us so much enjoyment with your art in the world of football. As I cannot try it on the playing field myself, allow me to apply it in my profession. Farewell Johan; your number 14 will always be with us.

 

Read the original article in El Economista.

Sabin Azua

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