Playing Defense

There was a valuable business lesson to be learned from yesterday’s Mexico/Netherlands game.

2010_05_26-NED_vs_MEX_006

(Photo credit: colin.merkert)

I don’t know if you watched it, but the Mexicans took a lead early in the second half. This was more than a bit of a surprise – the Dutch are one of the favorites in the World Cup and the Team Mexico had barely qualified. El Tri have rarely made it past the round of 16, the stage of the tournament in which this game was played.  They didn’t make it this time either and we can learn from what they did.

After a quiet start, Mexico dominated the first half and scored early in the second.  They played attacking football.  Once they scored, however, the went into a shell and were content to sit back on defense, making the occasional counter-attack but mostly allowing the Dutch to come at them.  Holland is one of the best teams in the world and features three of the best players in the world in the attacking end.  It was only a matter of time before they tied the game given many chances to do so.  yet Mexico played defense.  Sure enough, the game was tied after a corner kick (Mexico had kicked the ball out defensively) and lost when a Mexican defender gave the ref a reason to call a penalty on a (perhaps phantom) trip.

Why the sports report today?  Because we often make the same mistake in business.  We get to a point where we’re happy with what we’ve got and then we play defense.  We don’t develop new products or services.  We don’t encourage our people to advance their skill set.  We sit back and allow the competition to come at us and put all of our resources into defending or delaying their attacks instead of making them wonder how to defend ours.

The time to play defense in business is when there are overwhelmingly negative forces in the market and not when you have a lead.  There will always be other companies attacking you and playing defense is part of any business plan.  However, building a small advantage and then expending all your resources to defend it usually puts you out of the tournament.  Thoughts?

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