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Siya Kolisi, Good to Great and My AI Buddy

Never has a warmup game had such an impact.

The Springboks, still smarting from a humiliation at the hands of their old rivals the All Blacks just two months ago, where they looked completely outclassed, came back in the strongest way possible. They handed the Kiwis, so far unbeaten this year, their biggest defeat IN THEIR HISTORY on Friday night at Twickenham. All South Africans are smiling this Monday, and the World Cup hasn’t even started yet. Even though we are on the wrong side of the draw this year and that makes a victory unlikely, this performance gives us hope that it is still possible.

We have momentum. Which is a critical piece of Jim Collins’ Flywheel concept, and it prodded me this fine Monday morning, just before I walked the dog and just after I unsuccessfully tried to dress my 4-year-old, to pen down some parallels between what makes great companies tick, and what makes the Springboks win.

My co-author on this project is ChatGPT. Seeing as the AI can’t really see past 2021, I’m going to supplement my arguably smarter friend’s thoughts with my own contributions. Here we go:

**The Springbok Rugby Team: An Epitome of 'Good to Great' Principles**

The world of sports offers endless lessons about leadership, perseverance, strategy, and success. Some of the most compelling tales come from teams that rise to dominance against the odds. The Springbok Rugby Team, South Africa's national team, presents one such story. Interestingly, many of the team's strategies and accomplishments mirror the principles highlighted in Jim Collins' renowned business literature piece, "Good to Great."

**1. Level 5 Leadership: Siya Kolisi's Captaining Marvel**

Central to Collins' research is the idea of Level 5 Leadership: leaders who blend personal humility with professional will. Siya Kolisi, the Springboks’ first black captain in its 129-year history, epitomizes this notion. Under his captaincy, the team was transformed from one facing numerous challenges into World Cup winners in 2019.

Kolisi's leadership style was never about individual accolades or recognition. Instead, he always highlighted the team's collective efforts and embodied humility. His life story, rising from an impoverished background to captaining his nation, further underlines the blend of fierce determination (professional will) and grounded humility.

PG’s Five Cents:

I watched amazed to see how deferential the referees were to Kolisi on Friday night. Refs hate us, always have, always will. But somehow Kolisi (with maybe a bit of help from Rassie two years ago) has now got the personal gravitas (same-same but different in the way Richie McCaw used to have refs doing his bidding) to really alter the flow of games. And he did it by being a true warrior leading with everything he’s got, but always respectful and humble. Class act. He is by far our most important weapon in our quest for repeat glory.

**2. The Flywheel Concept: Incremental Changes Lead to Momentum**

Collins describes the Flywheel effect as a process where good-to-great transformations never happen overnight. Initial pushes to drive the flywheel may be challenging, but with persistent pushing in a consistent direction, momentum builds up, leading to a point of breakthrough.

This idea mirrors the Springbok's journey, especially leading up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup. The team's successes were not overnight. Years of preparation, multiple training sessions, and countless strategic discussions built momentum. Each win, each learned lesson, was an incremental push that gave the Springboks the energy to win the World Cup.

PG’s Five Cents:

I remember a talk by Springbok physio Renee Naylor which showcased the two-year plan the Boks had leading up to their 2019 victory. It was granular, and they targeted specific games to win. Not all games, because that’s unrealistic. Specific wins that can compound to victory. Now, four years later, what we’re seeing is not only two monster packs but also two amazing backlines. Spoiled for choice, really. Plus, the team has gained momentum at exactly the right time, through small tweaks that have compounded.

**3. The Hedgehog Concept: Bomb Squad Strategy**

In "Good to Great," the Hedgehog Concept signifies simplicity within the three intersecting circles: What you are deeply passionate about, what you can be the best in the world at, and what drives your economic engine. The best companies, according to Collins, simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea.

For the Springboks, the "Bomb Squad" strategy serves as their Hedgehog Concept. In the 2019 World Cup, they introduced a 6-2 split between forwards and backs on their bench, which was unconventional. This strategy allowed the team to maintain pressure throughout the match. It was simple: utilize the strength and freshness of the substitutes to overpower opponents in the latter stages of the game. The Bomb Squad strategy was born out of understanding their strength (physical prowess and forward dominance) and leveraging it in the best way possible.

PG’s Five Cents:

What Rassie and the coaching team did was build on the traditional Springbok strength of dominance through physicality, and take it, tactically, to the next level. It still works, but other teams have caught up on ways to counter them. So the challenge now is for the team to keep what worked, but also introduce some new tricks. This has never been a core strength of our team. Let’s see if they can execute. More on this with “Confront the Brutal Truths.”

**4. Culture of Discipline: Commitment to Excellence**

"Good to Great" emphasizes the need for a culture of discipline. With disciplined people, disciplined thought, and disciplined action, one achieves greatness.

The Springboks demonstrated a profound commitment to excellence, from their training routines to their gameplay strategies. Every member knew their role and executed it with utmost discipline, ensuring that the team’s collective efforts always led towards victory.

PG’s Five Cents:

We have always been a team that seems to be on the wrong side of refereeing decisions. They think we are thugs, they like punish behaviour with the Boks that they would let go with other teams. And this all blew up with Rassie’s famous video two years ago. And the blowback was hard and immediate… but maybe, just maybe, we’ve all settled into a different rhythm. The Boks are still physical but in a disciplined way. And refs are still critical, but more consistent. One hopes.

**5. The Stockdale Paradox: Adaptive Evolution Amidst Steadfast Belief**

A standout principle from "Good to Great" is the Stockdale Paradox. It's about confronting the harshest truths of one's present circumstances, all while maintaining an unwavering belief in eventual success.

For the Springboks, this was manifested not just in enduring the lows but in recognizing that the strategies that brought initial success might not be sufficient for continued triumphs. Their ability to adapt and refine their game plan, even when they were winning, showcased a balance of realism with optimism. Recognizing the need for evolution while holding onto their foundational strengths was pivotal in their sustained excellence.

PG’s Five Cents:

For as long as South African boys picked up rugby balls, our national team has been painted as one-dimensional, boring even. Contrast with those slick running and fabulously entertaining All Blacks, and the narrative of “kick less run more” pops up every few years. It’s a conundrum, hey. Winning is what counts, but winning in style is what puts bums in seats. It is entertainment, after all. This team has been building towards a side that can vary game plans, much like the All Blacks learned to do in their golden era a decade ago. Not because they want to be “less boring”, but because there is a realization that what won the Cup four years ago will not be enough this time. Other teams have caught up. The intent is to have more arrows in the quiver than just a strong pack with a dominant flyhalf, so we maintain advantage. Can we execute? We shall see…

I’ll tell you one thing. Siya accepted the Qatar Cup (which isn’t really a thing) on Friday night, posed for the cameras, and then you could see it on his face. He was ready to get out of there and refocus. To him, it was great, but it wasn’t the big show. You could see him thinking: We have work to do, and let’s keep our eyes on the prize. The man believes we can win, if we stay focused. I like that in a Captain.

PG’s Addendum:

Because the AI doesn’t know who Canan Moodie is, I need to add in something about “First Who then What.” It’s a Jim Collins principle that states you get the right people on the bus, then you figure out where they are going to sit. Frans Steyn, Pieter Steph du Toit, Franco Mostert, Damian Willemse… we have had a good run of people who start in one position but end up in another. Talent, commitment and cultural fit supersede positioning. Our latest example is Canan Moodie, who has shined wherever they put him. This talented 20-year-old suddenly makes us think that losing Lukhanyo Am is not the disaster we thought it was. He played a few tests (excelling every time) on the wing, but this weekend they put him into centre. And he-was-awesome…

Get the right people on the bus. Then figure out where they sit. Love it.

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