The most noticeable facet of Australia’s relentless march towards a hat-trick of ICC World Cup titles in the West Indies last month was its seemingly mechanical approach to the task of playing cricket at the highest level. But was it just natural ability of the Australians to make runs, take wickets and field superbly that set them apart from those pursuing it? For a team that was seen as coldly clinical, it packed a lot of creativity that could be missed if you were not looking for it. Its field placements were innovative and bowling changes imaginative.
You could turn around and ask where is the need for teams, as a collective unit, to be creative. Surely, sports squads cannot afford to be arrogant even when they are resting on the top rung. Faced with choices, the human mind usually prefers shortcuts and rules of thumb which make decisions easier and faster. An idea that is a has-been and is still being used at a time when the requirements are different could be stale and counter-productive.
Team leaders sometimes get sucked into a mindset that puts doing things right ahead of doing the right things.
Yet, they also recognise that their teams have to keep reinventing themselves, come up with fresh ideas to prevent monotony from creeping in and becoming predictable. It would be insane to do the same things over and over again and hoping for different results. The truth is that, whether a team is flourishing or failing, it needs a leader who changes his stance to fit changing times. Nobody has greater need for the new ideas than the people at the top.
An environment that encourages creativity to flourish in a team situation is most important. The Australian team discusses issues such as tempo, the state of the opposition batsman’s mind, team-mates patterns and situations relevant to the whole game so that the leadership group is free to develop tactics with real time solutions within the basic strategic framework. This is in direct contrast to other teams who have become bound by rigid game strategies.
Team leaders – captains, coaches and managers – must not be blind to reality and resist an addiction to their own power. On the contrary, they must develop the ability to recognise and eliminate mistakes. This is more important in leadership than mere charisma. The thinking leaders usually spot the existence of possibilities and allow the generation of alternatives. Creativity, after all, happens when people do new things with old things, either bringing old ideas to new places or creating new combinations of old things.
There are other ways in which this is achieved. For instance, team leaders offer their team-mates scope to increase their motivation, work on their thinking habits and skills as well as develop lateral thinking technique. Back in ICC World Cup 1992, New Zealand captain Martin Crowe surprised many opponents by getting opening batsman Mark Greatbatch to use the aerial route and using off-spinner Dipak Patel to bowl with the new ball. Then in 1996, Sri Lanka skipper Arjuna Ranatunga turned the world upside down by getting Romesh Kaluwitharana and Sanath Jayasuriya to attack the new ball as if they were playing in the slog overs.
Leaders also change the way teams think as a unit and the way they perform, observe the world around them, ideate together, tweak the ideas and try them in competitive situations. In hockey, for instance, the creative variations that a team has as its disposal when taking penalty corners stands it in better stead than sides which are predictable. To take up another example, the victorious Italian football squad at the FIFA World Cup 2006 was thought of as a most defensive outfit but ended up having four strikers on the field in the semifinal against Germany.
So then, if creativity can help sports persons and teams stay ahead of competition, making the difference between winning and losing, between being good and great, it can surely make a difference to the lives of business executives and fortunes of corporate houses.