Lesson 8

Lesson 8

The 2015 Rugby World Cup has given us so many opportunities to learn and apply lessons from the rugby field to the boardroom and workshop. In rugby, much has been said about the friendships between rugby players from different teams when they are off the field.

Players like Schalk Burger often tell tales of joining the opposition team for beers in their change room after a particularly brutal encounter on the rugby field. South African coach Heyneke Meyer even received a text message of encouragement from their biggest rival for the ultimate prize after defeat to Japan in their first game. This week’s lesson: Keep your friends close but your enemies closer. 

There has been much debate about who originally uttered the phrase “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” This has often been attributed to Sun Tzu and sometimes to Niccolò Machiavelli or Petrarch, but there are no published sources yet found which predate its use by “Michael Corleone” in The Godfather Part II (1974), written by Mario Puzo & Francis Ford Coppola: “My father taught me many things here — he taught me in this room. He taught me — keep your friends close but your enemies closer.”

Back to rugby, we have seen that friendships in rugby cross country, culture and racial barriers with ease. Do not mistake that for being easy on each other on the playing field. Rather we find that teams who have close friendship relations play even harder against each other when they are on the rugby field. This stops the moment the game is over the and the congratulatory handshakes and hugs couldn’t be more heartfelt.

Applying that to business, why should you keep your friends close and your enemies closer?

1.) Friendships support in times of stress. 

In one of the best TED talks I have ever seen Dr Kelly McGonigal mentions that oxytocin (the cuddle hormone) is essentially a stress hormone that is released during times of contact with others particularly in times of stress. The benefits of oxytocin has reached mystic levels. Everything from a longer life to being more satisfied with the current one has been attributed to this hormone. So we learn from rugby (and Dr McGonigal) that if you keep your friends close during times of stress you will manage that stress better with a steady supply of oxytocin.

2.) Enemies can provide new perspectives

I recently finished reading “Leading” by Sir Alex Ferguson. In this book he describes how Manchester United often allowed opposing coaches to watch their team train and how he borrowed ideas from a visit to the the medical complex of the Bayern Munuch team. While these teams are fiercely competitive on the field, they also learned from each other while off the field. Therefore we need to keep an eye on our competitors in the market and learn what they are doing to broaden our own business perspective.

3.) Respect is the key

On the rugby field respect is key to successful performance. Respect for the referee and opposing players allows us to watch a game which has the potential to unravel into a bar room type brawl at any time without any significant interruptions while the game is being played. Sure there were matches in the past where the fight lasted longer than the game, but this has all but disappeared in the modern game. Our lesson is this, we need to respect our competition in the business world. Underhanded dealings and corruption does not only affect your own business but also damages the greater reputation of the country for foreign investors. Respect is key to playing fair.