Monday, March 30, 2015

All about game theory

Book review - "Lessons from the Playground"; Author - Vinay R Kanchan

Sport is something that excites, enthrals and rewards or on occasion even devastates the viewer. Business — on the other hand — is dull, serious, strategic and, in some cases, can even be a matter of life and death for those running organisations.
Clearly, at a first cursory glance there is nothing in common between the two. You work to earn a living and watch sport to make that life interesting, is what the average person might tell you. But Vinay R Kanchan, the author of Lessons from the Playground, is no average person. He seems to be a ‘sports tragic’ whose interest spreads across a variety of games.
In his book, Kanchan attempts to give a method to brilliance and success on the sporting field and talks about the learning that the corporate world can take out of that. So, whom does the book target? This book is for anyone in business who is interested in some sport or the other.
Is this all about cricket? Sadly (for me) it is not. The book covers a multitude of sports and sporting personalities such as tennis star Roger Federer, Brazilian football legend Pele, boxing giant Ali, US basketball sensation Michael Jordan and our own cricketing phenomenon, Little Master Sachin Tendulkar.
Of course, I have missed a few others thanks to my ignorance of sports other than cricket.

What’s it about?

The book is classified into four Ps (such as the four Ps of marketing that we grew up with). They arepeople, platforms, processes and pinnacles.
The section on people highlights and eulogises the achievements of heroes of the sporting world who have thrilled spectators and audiences in different playing fields of the world. This section features Tendulkar.
The section on platforms is interesting, talking about Wimbledon and the uniqueness of the grass surface, not to forget the rituals of strawberries and cream, and other huge sporting events such as the Olympics and the cricket and football World Cups.
‘Processes’ is a significant section given the Indian fixation with results.
One remembers the much vilified Greg Chappell (the former Australian cricketer and erstwhile India coach) constantly talking about processes. But he was sacked unceremoniously as all we wanted was results, the process be damned.
The final section on pinnacles speaks about unforgettable sporting achievements. What better example could be chosen than Kapil Dev’s match-winning innings against Zimbabwe when the cause was almost lost.
As luck would have it, the BBC was on strike, so we came to know of this after the fact!

Some lessons

The book is strewn with examples on all the four ‘Ps’ with pertinent questions to corporates on what they could learn and apply from Lessons from the Playground.
I must mention too that at the end of every chapter there is a quick summary of the lessons from the examples detailed.
Having authored two books in English and one in Tamil, I believe I have an understanding of how authors go about writing and positioning their books.
Marketing a book is much like marketing a brand — just as brands try to differentiate themselves from the competition in a multitude of ways, authors too try to position their books differently.
Both my books, One Land, One Billion Minds and Googly. Branding on Indian Turf, were built on the fact that India is a cricket crazy county. India must be the only neutral country in the world which watches a Bangladesh vs Ireland match! My books catered to this audience with extensive references from the cricket field and related it to the world of marketing, branding and communication. It worked I thought.
Kanchan has realised that India is evolving. Its youngsters are no longer unidimensional in their viewing.
They are watching a variety of sport from across the world. They are equally familiar with football, tennis and basketball (the NBA), unlike my audience.
Their exploits are firmly entrenched in viewers’ hearts. Hence Lessons from the Playground is perhaps extremely relevant to today’s sport-loving audience which is spending time at the corporate work place.
I have nothing but admiration for the author who seems to have followed every game under the sun. Where would he have had time for anything else!
On a more serious note I found the book comprehensive, well-researched and addressing the modern Indian viewer who watches NBA, the English Premier League, and Wimbledon in addition to the inevitable cricket, unlike my generation who were fixated on just one sport.

On strategy

As a management teacher, I tend to be really annoyed at the indiscriminate and ill-advised use of this word ‘strategy’ today.
Thankfully, the book addresses this sensibly with examples and speaks of innovations in sport like the switch hit which have become an integral part of modern cricket.
The author urges corporates to think out of the box and reinvent themselves the way sports and sportsmen have done. While there are many parts of the book worth talking about I will stay with one as it struck a chord.
Indian hockey has lost its lustre over the years. In many ways it is like a brand that was once dominant and which is now struggling for visibility and recognition.
What can we learn from this trend? How do we ensure that our company or brand does not tread the same tortuous path? This is a question we might wish to ask ourselves.

Food for thought

To sum up, Lessons from the Playground is an interesting if somewhat long read (434 pages). It has examples from multiple sports to cater to readers with diverse interests. Read it if you love sports and are working.
From my side, I learnt a lot about sports other than cricket, even if I had the niggling thought that some of the greatest sportsmen such as (former West Indies cricketer) Viv Richards were naturals reared on the “see ball, hit ball” principle and that, to my mind, could well be the difference between sport and business.
Sport values natural ability while business might be a little more mundane.

Meet the author

Vinay R Kanchan is a Mumbai-based brand ideation consultant and trainer. A former advertising professional, he has worked with Lowe Lintas, Mudra, Rediffusion, Everest, Triton and Network. Kanchan is the author of The Madness Starts at 9. An electronics engineering graduate from Mumbai University, he holds an MBA from NMIMS