The South Africa that we could become

World Cup lessons... strictly for the fans.

30 June 2010, by Tracey Swanepoel

JOHANNESBURG - Vision, mission and strategic intent - the classic business school lingo which sees most people's eyes snow over like a faulty TV set.

The hyper analytical among us only make it worse by adding complexity in the form of graphs, maps models, and the like. Unless you work for a management consultancy or are doing your MBA, these potentially powerful concepts remain overused, meaningless buzzwords.

What a breath of fresh air then, when I unearthed the following definition of strategy (coined by an esteemed business school professor, no less) as "telling a happy story of your future". Simple enough for a five year old to grasp! And what's more, as waves of World Cup euphoria wash over us, we happen to be in the unique position to experience this in action, right now.

As well as being a great success, this World Cup brings into sharp focus the fantastic story of what it really means to be a South African:

Hard news headlines that by nature are negative and cynical, went soppy. Tears of national pride rolled down our faces at our bittersweet exit. Chain e-mails made the point: "What started as a game is becoming so much doesn't matter that we did not qualify....what matters is that our team inspired us all".

Will it last?

Those of us caught up in football fervour have loved it. The mirror socks, window flags, acid yellow Fridays and of course, the inimitable vuvu. All symbols, very tangible symbols of unity and pride. And it works... it really works. I am a little less frustrated by the taxi driver who cuts me off when I see his flag, just like mine, flapping outside his window. Suddenly my normally monosyllabic petrol stop takes ten minutes longer as the yellow-shirted attendant and I yak about the Bafana team selection and strategy!

We all have our anecdotes. I wish there were some way of capturing them -they are the fibre of our collective World Cup story. And this is a story we need to take forward. This is the "happy story of our future". In the boring language of business schools this is vision, mission and strategic intent LIVE!

What can we take forward? Five World Cup lessons for SA

  1. A common goal unites

    Strategy is NOT a democratic process. Attempting to balance all interests, appease all stakeholders, tackle all issues simultaneously means that we are in danger of falling into the classic strategic trap -on the road to nowhere!

    What the World Cup so clearly demonstrates is how a common focus point unites - one event, a deadline, do or die consequences. Can you imagine if we approached the housing problem, unemployment or crime with such fervour? Nothing could stand in our way!

  2. Believe in miracles and ...they happen!

    Back against the wall, against all odds is our bread and butter. Many of us have lived through a few miracles: our peaceful transition to democracy; our 1995 Rugby World Cup win; a stellar performance from Bafana Bafana; the successful (some say best ever) hosting of the world's largest sporting event. And yet... we often let scepticism triumph over belief and beat ourselves up even before "the game" in our true own-worst-enemy style!

  3. Not one of us is better than the sum of us

    The French team's failure, due to lack of leadership, infighting, politics, whatever... is writ large. Brilliant individuals (whether on the field or off it) can never make up for a lack of co-operation, coordination and trust.

  4. We are the brand

    Acutely aware that the eyes of the world are on us right now, we have been on our proud South African "best behaviour". We need to carry on long after the last supporter has flown out. No matter where we are we need to find opportunities to tell our great South African story, the story of how against all odds, we did it and will continue to "do it" in our unique and sometimes miraculous South African way.

  5. Tell a happy story of our future

    This doesn't mean we ignore the problems we face right now and let's be honest there are a multitude (we're shocking at implementation generally, shaky on values and lacking strong direction).

    It means that we translate what we have done to what we could do, in the powerful language of hope, passion, energy and commitment.

    Dostoevsky said: "To love someone is to see him/her as God intended them to be". What the World Cup has done facts and figures-wise is one thing. Better yet it has allowed us, for a few short weeks to get a glimpse, a feeling of the South Africa that we could become. Let's make it happen!

  6. Read published article on MoneyWeb site