On the heels of Brazil’s poor showing in the recent World Cup – and by “poor showing”, I mean the sort of showing that causes profound national despair – Brazilians are saying it is time for their country to reclaim their rightful position as the pre-eminent “futbol” country on the planet.
By now you’ve heard of Brazil’s legendary record in World Cup soccer, the years of no losses on home soil, their collection of championship trophies, etc. Given the way Brazilians reacted to their country getting trounced by Germany, and then losing to the Dutch in the consolation match, it’s as if their powerful mens national basketball team had been dominated on the court by a bunch of Puerto Ricans…..
Which is exactly what happened to the US Men’s Olympic Basketball team at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, and is a good segue into the difference between actual decline and relative decline. Leaders in both sports and business should start getting used to the difference.
As the terms imply, actual decline means that the entity – a team, a company, whatever – has regressed, and is objectively worse today than it was at some point in the past. Relative decline means that while the entity may have improved, it has improved at a slower rate than it’s competition.
The access to information and resources in the soccer world has proliferated every bit as much as the access to information in the healthcare world. Great coaches travel, the best methods for forming young players have been shared, and as a result the World Cup trophy will likely see a lot of different homes in the coming decades.
All this is tough if you’re a Brazilian watching your team give up more goals in one game than they did during entire tournament, or if you’re an American watching your 2004 “Dream Team” get dominated in a sport that favors tall people by an island nation with fewer people than the state of Oregon.
What’s the takeaway for us? It is concerning if you’re a defender, and empowering if you’re an attacker: attackers can pull off the upset and establish credibility faster than ever. I’m not talking about the one-in-a-million upset that will never be repeated, but the sort of upset that tells all market participants that the fundamental order of things has changed. No lead is safe. Companies can be formed for less capital than ever before. Gigantic markets can be disrupted by outsiders in a garage.
You don’t get to win basketball games just because your team comes from the cradle of basketball, and you don’t get to win World Cups despite being the most decorated country in World Cup history.
And you don’t get to lead markets tomorrow even though you may be a “market leader” today.
This year’s Brazilian team might have been better than past Brazilian teams (I know, a stretch), but the rest of the world got better faster. It is happening in every market, in every country, in every sport, and we should all keep that in mind when we lace up our shoes.
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