Business with the rules of Cricket

Two of the things that I am very passionate about are Business and Cricket. Both these things have a very important role in keeping me sane and I can’t imagine my life without either. So, when I am traveling and not really doing much, I think about both these. And then this idea that ‘Business is like Cricket’ has come to my mind more than once and I thought that I will write a post on the same which will just help me organize my thoughts. The idea is not to make it funny but it might turn out to be funnier than my other posts (look, the bar is really low there).

And then the choice of the title stems from the fact that Bill Gates is one person I admire a lot. He authored “Business @ The speed of thought”. I can at least write “Business with the rules of Cricket”. Let me elaborate and I will again use bullet-points to do that:

  • Starting small and having bench-strength: When a team starts to play cricket, their team size (not limited to the playing 11) is really small. The total number of players playing the game in that particular country (Kenya is an example) is so small that there isn’t much of a concept of bench strength. The better you are at the game, the better is your bench strength (Australia is the best and they have the best bench strength). Similarly for the business, the team doesn’t have any buffer (if not under-staffed) in the beginning and this only changes with time and once the team starts becoming big. The bigger team / business can also utilize the bench that much better as they can afford to spend time / money / energy there.
  • Flamboyance is exciting but substance is preferred: In cricket, we all love to see Sehwag / Afridi in action more than we want to see Dravid. This is because there is an element of unpredictability / flamboyance associated with them. They can play the most atrocious shots and provide immense entertainment to the spectators but when it comes to crunch situations, Dravid is preferred over his more exciting colleagues. This is because Dravid symbolises comfort, maturity, reliability – it doesn’t mean that Sehwag / Afridi are not competent. Similarly when it comes to creating some life saving drugs, vaccine, the doctors prefer Ranbaxy more than they will prefer the smaller companies – even when there are quality checks in place. Again, this does not mean that the products from the smaller companies are any inferior – it is just the ‘comfort factor’ that makes a small company lose. And this is true for any business, not just medicines.
  • Planning: This is my favorite point. Since I am most aware about the software sector, let me ask this – what do the companies like Flickr, del.icio.us, YouTube provide? Features – yes! These companies are essentially ‘feature companies’ – not product companies. The success for these companies is determined by the amount of dollars they were acquired for. Mind it – I am not showing down these companies – I am just trying to emphasize that the smaller companies do not (cannot) plan as well as the bigger ones. If Flickr was not acquired by Yahoo, they wouldn’t have been called as successful as they are now. But the same does not apply for Apple or NVidia or Sun or even other medium sized companies. A lot of these smaller companies really don’t have a strong traditional business plan and people are okay with it. Similarly, the smaller and weaker cricket playing nations put in a much smaller effort planning as compared to the actual execution. Don’t they say that Australia wins half the matches before a single ball is bowled in a match of cricket? It is that planning only which makes them do that.
  • You are hated for being the best / biggest: Microsoft is easily the most hated software company in the world. Similarly, Australia is the most hated team in the world cricket. Yet – people are trying various ways to walk on their path and reach as close to them as possible. And if you are the one who has the best credentials / chances of toppling the best, everybody will love and help you UNTIL you reach the top spot. Just a human nature – it is fashionable to hate the best / biggest.
  • Interest among others and cost of get-togethers: This is funny and people have this complaint that the big conferences are always paid and expensive. On the top of that, there are many sponsors for that who end up paying big bucks for the big banners they put up at those conferences. On the other hand, the smaller companies like ours organize barcamps where we pay from our own pockets to sponsor the event. Similarly if a cricket player is from a team like India or Australia, there is a big queue for the businesses to sign them for advertisements while the players from Kenya / Bangladesh have to do another job to make sure they can have a decent living.

I have a few more ideas to support my point but I will save it for when I actually write a book on this ;-) To sum up – I think both these things have a lot of similarities. You start with being small in both, be more flamboyant but you always aspire to be more mature, more sophisticated, more organized and more planned. One can either be a part of the more organized and more planned organization / team or choose to start small and take the journey of maturing from a more exciting / flamboyant to more matured / reliable / planned team / organization. The choice will always remain with the individual!

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9 thoughts on “Business with the rules of Cricket

  1. Dear Ashish,

    I liked your idea and out-of-the-box thinking that ‘Business is like Cricket’. Your post makes an interesting read. Since I am very passionate about Business and Cricket as well, I could not resist myself replying to your post. However, I tend to disagree with some of your logic.

    Starting small and having bench-strength

    This particular logic of cricket teams does not apply to business. In business you really don’t need bench-strength, meaning you do not need any of your employee to be on bench or without enough work. All employees should be working and producing efficiently (to almost full capacity) at all times for a business to be competitive.

    Your analogy of Kenya, saying, “Total number of players playing the game is so small that there isn’t much of a concept of bench strength” is also flawed and does not apply to business.

    First Kenya is limited to picking players from her limited pool of players in Kenya. Similarly India is limited to picking players from her limited pool of Indian players. But this limitation does not exist in business. In business, you are free to attract talent from other companies. And why only limit to local companies, you are free to attract talent globally. If a company says it is unable to attract talent, that company should close its business as it will be out of business sooner of later anyways.

    Second, in this highly competitive global economy companies that will win are not the ones that have bench-strength or buffers but are companies that can tap on strength of other companies (strategic alliances is just one example) or attract talent globally on-demand (outsourcing is just one example).

    Flamboyance is exciting but substance is preferred

    “…this does not mean that the products from the smaller companies are any inferior – it is just the ‘comfort factor’ that makes a small company lose.”

    I agree with you that the products from the smaller companies are not necessary inferior. However, the term ‘comfort factor’ you are using is in fact capability of a company. It is not about the size of the company, it is about how mature are your processes. Or how mature are your capabilities. A company can be very big but can still be immature on some of its processes; on the other hand, a small company can be quite mature on some of its processes. For example, a company can have a star programmer who produces excellent software products but if that star programmer leaves the company, there are no processes in place to replace the programmer and produce excellent products consistently.
    (Note: Jatinder Kapur is six sigma black belt and teaches process improvement to management professionals through American Society for Quality (ASQ))

    Importance of each team player

    One important analogy between cricket and business that you have missed is “contribution and importance of each team player”. In cricket, there are bowlers, wicket keeper, batsman, fielders, etc. No one player is more important than other. Every one has a distinct role to play to win the match. This is very true in business as well. Some team members are good at marketing, some at product development, some at handling finances, some at building teams, some at influencing others, and some at analyzing the business landscape better than its competitors. Again no one-team member is more important than other. Business cannot win unless all team members work with cohesiveness and crystal clear vision.

  2. Kris, I do think that a book on this subject will be successful. That’s one of the things I want to do before I die – need not be on the same subject ;-)

    Jatinder, Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I agree with a few of your disagreements and I also disagree with another few :-) By bench strength – I didn’t mean that people are not doing anything or they are free. I believe that every business need to have some buffer, some bench – just to guard against many things (attrition, illness, randomizations). The difference is that, like cricket, the bench is working on further developing their and the team capabilities and acting as backup when there is a need.

    I liked your point of being able to attract talent globally. Point well taken :-)

  3. Jatinder’s comments are really interesting. However in cricket and in business one can not do without bench, and for this full marks to Ashish. It would be an interesting experiment to put each employee including the CEO of a co. on bench for a week and ask the person to elaborate on the similarities between business and his / her favourite sport.For my kind of business its Chess, and I should write a book Business and Chess are Close Friends.Any sponsers for this book?

  4. Dear Ashok,

    Bench Strength is an interesting concept. I don’t know why they never taught us in our MBA program :-)

    Well after Ashish clarified the terminology and what he meant by bench strength, I have no disagreement with him. Attrition, illness, randomizations are some things a manger must plan for. That is part of doing business. No question about it.

    Only slight disagreement I have with Ashish is when he applies this principle universally and says, “…(employees) acting as backup when there is need”. It sounds good in theory but in practice that need may never come. In practice you will be out of business if you are paying employees without some anticipation of true need. What prevents your competitor from hiring your best people when your competitor needs them? Are there processes in place in your business for not allowing your competitor to do just that? Most employers think this can’t happen to them. But I have seen this happening all the time.

    What I am saying is backup is good thing for some businesses but it cannot be applied universally to all the businesses in same way. Businesses need to do Benefit/Cost Analysis for their unique situation.

    In simple terms, each business should be able to put a $ (I also mean Rs not just dollars) figure for the Benefit each additional employee will provide (harder to compute $ figure due to some intangible benefits). Business should also be able to put a $ figure on the Cost each additional employee will incur (easy to compute $ figure, mostly tangible costs). In simple terms, higher $ for Benefits than $ for Costs indicates to the manager to hire an additional employee, and vice versa.

    Some businesses need more backup than others.

    Like I mention above, each business is unique, therefore, some businesses need more backup than others. For example if you are in the businesses of outsourcing or in the business of supplying temporary staff to other businesses, you need a good backup. In this case, you are much better of having backup because opportunity cost of not being able to serve a customer can be huge as compared to incurring a small cost of additional employees on bench.

    On the other end of the spectrum, you can have a well managed commodity business, where demand is well known several months in advance. This is a very low margin business and only way to be competitive is, lower costs. In this scenario, you keep minimum number of employees that need to run the core functions. You outsource or hire temporary help on-demand. Ironically, we are taught a great deal about “Stick to your core” concept in our MBA program in US :-) . In US, most business leaders believe in “sticking to the core” and outsourcing non-core activities. (How businesses define core vs. non-core is another discussion topic :-) . Most companies fail to distinguish between the two. )

    Now if you look at the big picture, these two distinct concepts (“bench strength” in India vs. “sticking to the core” in US) worked out good for both India and US. With its mindset, US was ready to outsource non-core activities, and India, with its mindset, was ready to accept the work as India has a large number of qualified people on bench. :-) Timing could not have been perfect.

  5. The post is really interesting, but i think this way you can relate every aspect of your life with business.

  6. I couldn’t understand some parts of this article Business with the rules of Cricket, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.

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