Play the game

Every sport has its pundits, who scrutinize its every aspect, discuss strategies and tactics, formulate game-plans and make predictions. When they commentate, they fill us with insights on the team and each player on the field. Televised sport would never be complete without them.

Nevertheless, all of their skill and knowledge is only a small fraction of what a player requires to actually play the sport. When Lionel Messi sees a football looping into from across the field, he has to first estimate its trajectory and run towards where it would land. Meanwhile, he has to scan the area to see where the opponent’s defenders are. He then has to gently bring ease the ball down to his feet, control it and put it in a zone free from those defenders. He has about 3 seconds to process and execute all of these steps, and yet, his brain does them without as much as a conscious thought.

The essence of what Messi is accomplishing here can never be explained away by pundits or spectators, regardless of how many thousand games they scrutinize. Playing a sport requires kinesthetic skills – knowledge that is ingrained within our muscles. Anybody who has played a sport has had the feeling of going through physical motions without thinking, to perform feats that are surprising in hindsight. If we were to show Messi a video of his best ever move, he would never be able to break it down into a series of well thought out steps.

Similarly, a huge percentage of our learning is built into our intuition – the involuntary muscles of our brain. Given a professional situation, the experience of having faced it teaches us to respond in a particular manner that is burned into our unconscious minds.

This is where the profession of management consulting can turn dangerous. When we live in a world of theoretical constructs, there is no feedback from the frameworks, the models and the recommendations we make for us to complete this learn. To truly understand systems such as Lean, agile, continuous code integration and DevOps, we need to have gotten our hands dirty and build the requisite connections in our brains to sense an opportunity, assess the obstacles enroute and respond automatically without having to think about it.

It’s nice to have pundits around, but past a point, their theoretical constructs are but castles in the air.

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