From the rugby pitch to your field

I wrote this post a couple of months ago, while we were all enjoying (well, all those in the Southern Hemisphere at least) the 2015 Rugby World Cup. So it is with great sadness that I repost it on the occasion of the passing of one of the sports greatest players of all time. Jonah Lomu was only 40 when he passed away unexpectedly in the early hours of this morning. He had had his share of health challenges, having had a kidney transplant back in 2004, but the news must come as a great shock to all his friends and family – just on Friday he was posting photographs and sending his love and best wishes to Paris.

Named by some as Rugby’s Muhammed Ali, he was a true giant of a man in every sense – not only did I enjoy every minute of working with him and the rest of the AB team, but I learned so much from him. His passion and compassion, his sense of fun and kindness and his unending strive for excellence and desire to use his position of influence to give back to others. He was never too busy or important to have a word, take a photograph or sign a book/ball/you name it for a fan. One of my own personal highlights was sitting in a bar in Scotland back in 2002, after which he took one of my sample sign off jerseys back to the hotel for the whole team to sign. It’s still in my living room at home, just waiting until we find the right premises and it can take pride of place where it can be seen.

Our thoughts and best wishes are with his family, friends and loved ones. RIP Jonah – a true legend!

With Rugby front of mind right now, it came to me that ideas from sport transfer well into business. In 2002, I was working with Jonah Lomu and the All Blacks rugby team in the role of head of rugby apparel at adidas. Jonah’s dedication to finding any competitive edge resulted in a surprising answer to the simple question: ‘how can I score more tries?’

Now for those of you too young to remember Jonah Lomu, he was a massive fella, 6’5 tall and weighing in at 120kg, but boy was he fast – he could run 100m in 10.7 seconds. So why then this fixation on shaving even another micro-second off his time? Well, his speed on the wing, combined with his extreme power gave him 37 international tries for the All Blacks during his career – he wanted to maximise his try scoring potential – simple as that.

Analysis of his performance showed that one of the things most likely to stop the New Zealander from getting over that line was him being taken down by a grab to his jersey. So, we worked closely with him to develop a strong, single seam tight-fitting top for all the forwards (Back then it was only the forwards who would wear those tight fitting jerseys, now it has become the norm even for the biggest of players). The testing we went through to deliver this in time for the 2003 world cup was intense, and Jonah was a stickler for the detail, but it was well worth it to deliver the end result – particularly if you remember how easily the English jerseys, developed by our arch rivals Nike, ripped in those opening games. In this instance New Zealand were put out in the semi finals by Australia in front of a sell out crowd in Sydney, who then went on to lose in the dying seconds of the final thanks to ‘that drop goal’ by Jonny Wilkinson.

But the point is this – successful people, and successful businesses look for the smallest advantages, the tiniest changes which will make the biggest difference and position them at the fore of their game and ahead of their competition.

So what one thing could you do, to give your business that competitive edge? What’s the difference that will make a difference??

It’s good to look outside your own area of business for ideas and you can check out more tips in forthcoming newsletters.

Rugby ball

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