THE BLOG
21/10/2015 07:07 BST | Updated 18/10/2016 06:12 BST

Wealth Versus Winning - What the Rugby World Cup Is Telling Us

As an Anglo-Scot currently living in a Australia the results of the Rugby Union World Cup quarter finals doesn't surprise me. Granted Scotland should really have beaten Australia, which would have been a wonderful poke in the eye for the other Northern Hemisphere teams, but really an all Southern Hemisphere semi finals says a lot not just about rugby but the influence that wealth has on talent, organisations and societies.

The bulk of the money in rugby union is in the Northern Hemisphere, but the bulk of the success, leadership talent and innovation lies in the south. What this points to is the influence that wealth disparity has on cohesion, innovation and spirit. The French Rugby team used to be known for its passion and flair. As more and more money has flowed into its domestic league - and more and more foreign talent - its national team has come to resemble the marketing department of many large corporates: data driven, dreary group thinking, and no one allowed to step outside tight guidelines. I image they may well have a brand strategy that says something like 'Gaelic flair, passion and individuality' in the same way that supermarket cookies claim to be 'hand crafted and home made'.

The Argentinian team meanwhile has become the new French. The team with the least money and the biggest hearts, they play with a wonderful unity and joy. For them it is not about being part of some corporate machine but proving something. They play like their lives depend on it. The same can be said about the Australians. Australia has a small population and rugby union is very much the fourth football code now soccer is on the rise. The Australian rugby union team is similarly out to prove a point, which is why they rise particularly to a big occasion. In both New Zealand and South Africa rugby transcends sport and is a matter of national pride. New Zealand is currently looking to replace its national flag with some pretty awful designs. Really all it needs to do is use the silver fern on a black background as that is at the heart of the national identity.

Northern Hemisphere rugby union has gone the same way as the major soccer leagues, especially the English Premier League. It has shifted from being a matter of national and personal pride, to a branded experience where talent is pulled in with huge wage packages rather than a desire to play for a particular team or for personal pride. While this makes for an epic domestic top-tier league with all the high production values of an HBO series, it shifts the game from being... well a game, to a premium product to be managed with all the risk aversion that goes with that. The result of this is showing up in its national team's performance.

I see this situation mirrored in many large modern businesses. The more they try and tightly control and manage talent, customers, change and risk, the less innovative and effective they become over time. This is the modern paradox of leadership and what I spend a lot of time working on.

People perform best when they are galvanized by an authentic and genuine challenge - something other than business outcomes and KPIs - where metrics and data are used to empower rather than control, where responsible risk taking and experimentation is not only accepted but encouraged, and where the onus is on building a balance of cohesion and personal freedom. This is why a Southern Hemisphere team will win the rugby world cup. It may be a tournament too early, but it would be wonderful if it were cash-poor but passion-rich Argentina.