Bending the Map

Volume 19 Letter 6

Jose Mourinho was one of Europe’s most successful football (soccer) coaches.   After starting his career in Porto and Lisbon and winning Portuguese league titles he moved to Barcelona enjoying more success.  The English football club, Chelsea, came calling in 2004 and in his inaugural campaign Mourinho brought Chelsea their first title in over 50 years.

After leaving Chelsea, Mourinho found further success in Italy with Inter Milan where he won the UEFA1 Cup Champions League in a memorable 2009/10 season and then titles followed with Real Madrid who, under Mourinho, went on to win the La Liga title.  Returning to England in 2014 for a second spell with Chelsea, Mourinho earned a third League Cup but, shortly after this victory, Mourinho’s football magic stopped scoring goals.

At the end of 2015 Mourinho left Chelsea who were sitting in 16th place, just one point above relegation.  He joined Manchester United and initially did well but departed as coach in December 2018 leaving the Red Devils lying in sixth place after 17 matches.   What happened to coach Mourinho?

Early on, the self-taught Portuguese coach identified an innovative approach to the game of football.  Employing a unique defensive style, Mourinho’s teams forced their opponents into making offensive mistakes that were quickly spun into goals.   However, over time as the game evolved, players changed and opposing coaches developed new strategies, Mourinho clung to his trademark strategy, refusing to adapt to the new world of football.  All too often this same scenario plays out in business as we fail to adjust to new developments and re-align resources with new opportunities.

Strategy is always situation specific!   What may have worked in one situation may not work in the next and, to adapt, we need a strategic mindset.   To describe a strategic mindset, authors John Huth and Julia Moulden2 compared those who remain faithful to one successful strategy with those who continually adapt to market changes.  Those that tend to adapt to new situations, they called navigators, or “way finders” and like a GPS system that is constantly updating and looking for a better route, navigators are updating and adjusting their strategy depending on new market updates.

The authors go on to say that Navigators are keen observers, learning from the past and incorporating that with current experiences.  Then, through scenario planning, they create stories about how things might unfold.  It’s these stories that build a map of the future – the strategy.  (Interestingly, scientists can identify navigators by the size of their brain’s hippocampus.  This is the area of the brain that lights up in MRI tests when we think about what’s ahead.)

For this reason strategy is not a sometimes thing; it’s an all times thing and experienced strategists consistently seek sources of new information to compare to their current strategy, recalibrating as needed.   Failure to update your strategic map runs the risk of what has been called “bending the map”.   This is when we try to make the new information conform to what we believe versus what’s actually true.   In holding fast to his narrow view of the game of football and only seeing what he wanted to see, Mourinho ‘bent the map’ and allowed himself and his once winning strategy to become outdated.

What can we learn from coach Mourinho:

  1. Strategy is situation specific:  what works in one set of circumstances will not necessarily bring success in another.
  2. Constantly update your strategy: Vision and objectives (what we aspire to accomplish) are written in stone.  Strategy (the how) always needs recalibrating in light of market updates.
  3. Don’t bend the map:  Conjoint analysis, Positioning maps, and Portfolio analysis are all tools we can use to bring us the information we need to hear.   Don’t bend the map and only listen to what you want to hear.

Coach Mourinho failed to see that the game had changed and what had worked in the past would no longer bring his team a competitive advantage.    He lost his inquisitiveness which is at the root of emotional intelligence, from where all strategic capabilities emerge.   At some point all industries will face massive disruptions.   It’s the inquisitive, the navigators, the strategists who survive – those curious souls capable of finding new ways to align business resources with future market opportunities.

Don’t bend the map!   When is the last time you held a workshop with your team and updated your strategy?

1.     UEFA stands for Union of European Football Associations
2.     More reading: Cars have GPS. Your brain needs it too.;John E Huth, Julia Moulden Globe and Mail June 23, 2019
3.     Does Jose Mourinho use the same tactics on every team he coached   Quora.com

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