How the NBA helped England compete in the World Cup

In many of the human-centered design trainings, workshops, and projects we run, I am often introducing the concept of creative analogies (or precursors as my old firm called them). It has been surprisingly hard to do, or rather, surprisingly hard to make the concept stick. I suppose I sometimes saw this with my consulting clients, but I also wasn't operating at the scale or breadth of reach as I am now, being on the inside of the client.

As with many large corporates, there has been prolonged historical success that has come from doing what you do best, keeping your head down and working, and to a certain extent acting as a fast follower, versus sticking your head out in the market. In my role as an innovation execution lead, part of my job is getting employees to look beyond our four walls to both be aware of the change happening around us, and to be inspired to drive change here.

The concept of creative analogies has been one way to start to open up the dialogue - how have others facing analogous challenges found innovative and impactful solutions? Yet making that leap to examples beyond insurance or financial services has been harder, and I am always looking for new examples to use.

"England's Soccer Team Needed Help So They Stole From the NBA" - WSJ

This article highlights a great example of how seemingly disparate "industries" can provide inspiration to each other. For Gareth Southgate, this meant looking to the NBA and borrowing their set plays, adapting strategies for corner kicks in particular. He likely framed the question as "how might we create space for our players to execute on a goal?" starting with a broader question like "how might we win more games?" and continuing to ask "how" until getting to a design challenge that was constrained but still open enough to allow multiple solutions.

Philadelphia 76ers vice president Daniel Medina summed it up as, “he used to look at not only basketball, but other sports like handball and indoor football,” Medina said. “Similar collective ideas with different constraints can lead to different solutions.”

England has performed surprisingly well in this World Cup, set for a match today against Colombia. Even if they don't advance, it will be interesting to watch Southgate's continued use of multi-sport applications, and see if other coaches follow in suit.