Don’t Work Hard, Work Intelligently

Last weekend I was given the opportunity to watch an U-15’s football match (in which my younger brother played) at a Sunday league game. As a massive football fan the game provided great entertainment for me, and  something more. Surprisingly, I was able to learn a very valuable lesson on flexibility and adapting to change.

This was the scenario: My brother’s football team was playing against a local side. All the players on both sides were fairly tall (as is the norm with teenage boys these days), but there was one exception. The goalkeeper on the opposition’s side was about 5 inches shorter than the rest of the players and very tiny in stature.  Noticing this potential weakness, my dad pulled my brother aside just before he was about to enter the field and advised him to take long-range shots off the ground. The rationale behind this was that due to the goalkeeper’s height, he would find it very easy to save goals close to the ground but extremely difficult to save shots that are going high into the roof of the net. My brother relayed the message to the rest of his team, and needless to say, the advice worked wonders. They ended up winning the match 6-1, with 4 of the goals resulting from long range efforts.

What does a kids’ Sunday league football match have to do with adapting to, and managing, change?

Simply this. Whenever we face a challenge, we must identify its potential weakness in order to overcome that challenge. Too often we are quick to magnify a problem rather than highlight the weakest link or the most vulnerable state in the problem where we can channel our efforts.  This may be due to the fact that we are too close to the situation. So it often takes an outsider (in this case my dad), to point this out for us because they have no personal attachment to the problem. Asking for advice on how to tackle a problem or overcome an overwhelming challenge therefore can be extremely beneficial.

In the world of business, these outsiders are often external consultants or interim professionals who come with a fresh pair of experienced eyes. The trick though is to seek the consultants with first rate stakeholder engagement skills and a good appreciation of the key role that people, culture and behaviours play in the adoption of new and/ or tailored solutions to solve specific problems. This is about change. This about adapting. This is about being flexible. We cannot always adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to every single challenge or opponent we face, because the challenges we face are not always the same….and even if they were, the culture and stakeholder landscape will most certainly be different. Just because something has worked once is most definitely not a guarantee that it will work again. If that were the case, outcomes will always be predictable; results will always be the same, winners will always be winners and losers will always be losers. Everything is subject to change. Change is the only constant, which means that uncertainty is the only certainty. Recognising this and being smart about acquiring the resources and capability to support the transition through a changing environment is therefore more than a little important –   whether you’re facing a tough assignment at work, a rigorous exercise regime, or in the case above, a differently built  goalkeeper.

The key is not to work harder, but to work differently and ultimately, smarter.

Ebony is a Ebony profile picrecent 2:1 law graduate from the University of East Anglia. Passionate about marketing and sports,   she is currently writing a book on business transformation change lessons from the World Cup 2014. She is also a sports writer at

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