Why Sports are a GREAT Metaphor for Business

I was stopped in my tracks by the HBR article ‘Why Sports are a Terrible Metaphor for Business’.  And intrigued.  We work with high profile rugby teams including Saracens, Bath and Gloucester and global businesses like MARS and Levis, and see real synergies and value in sports into business, and business into sport.

So here’s a couple of reasons why I think sport is a brilliant metaphor for business

  • Sport is about attainment – and many businesses need to refocus on their ‘goal’ or North Star.  Asking a board or senior leadership team, ‘what’s your purpose?’ and hearing 7 or 8 different answers tells you something.  You don’t get that lack of clarity in a sports team
  • Team work is inherent in sport – and some businesses have the sense of team, but have it in the wrong format.  Often teams are defined by functional expertise, or space in their diaries, rather than by picking the individuals with the inherent strengths to collaboratively work together to achieve the ‘win’ today
  • Performance feedback in sport is instant.  And sometimes brutal.  But given without fear or judgement – and always with good intent.  Businesses often ‘fear’ giving praise and objective feedback in equal measure – tied up in performance appraisal frameworks and pay review jargon. When was the last time someone in your business asked you for feedback on their ‘game’?

The issue in sport as a metaphor for business as I see it is in the ‘transfer  – the links, the ‘so what?’ needs to be translated to make it applicable and accessible to the specific challenges and opportunities each business faces.  It’s far too easy to get a great Olympian to ‘tell the story’ and leave it hanging.. and who doesn’t love a great Olympic story!

I’m sorry Bill Taylor, but I believe there are tonnes of learnings from sport into business – in exactly the same way as there are learnings from communities, children, books, film storylines and other organisations.  You just have to make the links.


Patrick Marr
Owner Director


Bill Taylor’s HBR article 3rd February 2017


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