Do You Have Precious Sporting Constructive Delusion?

England rugby union seems on the right track to challenge for World Cup glory next year.

As this season’s Six Nations conclusion neared, with expert opinion feeling England may well need to rack up a cricket score in Rome to win the tournament, 2003 champion centre Will Greenwood divulged this fascinating anacdote:

In 2001, in the lead-up to England’s game against Italy, Clive Woodward asked for the players to come up with targets for the day.

The usual mumbled sound bites came out: “Win”, “100 per cent scrum”, “Dominate the line-out”. Pretty average stuff, until a little voice piped up: “Score nine tries”.

It was Austin Healey, never one to be shy. The forwards scowled; disrespectful little man. Iain Balshaw crowed with laughter; these two wound each other up all day.

For a second everyone looked embarrassed. Then he upped the ante: “Why not?” he asked. It was a good question. Why not indeed? What was stopping a team from dreaming big, of setting targets that were crazy.

If things went badly, you could change the plan, regroup, grind it out, nick a win. But if you didn’t at least try, how would you know your true abilities? We won 80-23 and scored 10 tries.

Greenwood duly opines:

There is a sporting skill I like to call constructive delusion. There is probably a more clinical name for it but, to me, it describes a sports person being willing to dream big, put aside the constraints of “why you won’t”, and focus on a world of unending possibilities.

I have seen it at work in other parts of life: write-offs who turn their lives around, heroes who piece themselves back together after catastrophic injuries, modest folk who inspire communities. Are they mad, driven or just too stubborn to give up?

So, there’s two brilliant sales points here.

If you think big, it might just come to pass, yet if you think small, you’ll never see big.

Of course that chief exec will benefit from seeing you. Of course you can sell that new product. Of course you can eat away at that bigger nastier incumbent.

Then there’s the reveal of super-coach Woodward’s idea of team building.

I have been in several sales kick-offs. Dancing girls, trumpets, free booze.

I’ve never witnessed a discussion asking anyone for specific targets around a given goal.

You might not be seeking a win in a foreign field. But you likely are trying to sell against a particular objective. Competitor displacement, new product shifting, client wallet share, territory manoeuvring, margin growth, longevity protection.

Who is ‘mumbling the average stuff’? Where are the potential winners, thinking big and embarrassing the rest?

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