In essence

Avantika Sinha
Sep 04, 2012

The Dutch recently lost their third world cup final. In 1974 and 1978 they played an ambitious, attractive style of ‘total football’ but ended up as the losing team on both occasions. The country suffered decades of hurt and the team itself acquired the tag of ‘chokers’. In 2010 they were determined to set the record straight and adopted a ‘win at all costs’ mentality in the final against Spain. But once again they lost the matc. They also lost the support of many neutral observers horrified at the cynical tackling, theatrical diving and negative stifling tactics. This time they acquired another derisive tag – that of ‘cloggers’. The wooden shoes that had always been a pretty national symbol now represented their clumsy aggression. In trying to lose their innocence they had gone and lost their essence.

Many executives however follow a very similar path in their careers. Their style of play is idealistic when they join their first company. They want to invest time with their people, think long term, implement culture changing initatives and focus on customer service but find that the real world does not always, in the short term at least, seem to reward, appreciate or even acknowledge these behaviours. In order to protect themselves from further disappointment they become more competitive, politically correct, short termist, risk averse and transactional in their work and relationships. What could have been a beautiful game transforms into a gritty battle. But are there any other options?

Well… the Spanish had had an even more painful football history than the Dutch and had learned to become more pragmatic too. They scored the lowest number of goals of any championship winning team and they had to tone down their natural style – show patience against the packed defences of Portuguese and Paraguayans, hypervigilance against the speedy counter-attacking Germans and poised resilience against the tough tackling Dutch. But they retained their essence – a kaleidescopic passing possesion game that they imposed on all opponents regardless.

Spain have taught us an important lesson on how to respond to the pain and pressure of failure by producing results while staying true to and expressing their essential selves. When you immerse a carrot in boiling water it enters resolute in its firmness but leaves as mush. An egg survives but it becomes increasingly hard boiled and uses its shell to cut itself off from its surroundings. But there is a third option – a coffee bean, dropped into scalding water, adds its own flavour, aroma, colour and ultimately its essence to the surroundings and in doing so actualizes the highest reason for its being.