“In sports, what is true is more powerful than what you believe, because what is true will give you an edge.” 
Bill James

David Sally and Chris Anderson wrote kind of a “Moneyball” book about soccer called, “The Numbers Game; Why Everything You Know About Soccer is Wrong”.  In the book, they extensively compare the game of soccer (a “weak-link phenomena”) to the NBA (a “strong-link phenomena”).  

“In certain sports, having weaker players hurts your overall chances of winning more than in other sports. Think about soccer. There are very few opportunities to score, so mistakes by weaker players have a proportionally higher impact. Then think about basketball. There are many opportunities to score. So typically, one dominant player–Michael Jordan, say–can make up for the weak links on the team. Therefore, having a few weaker players isn’t going to have as big of an impact in basketball as it would in soccer. Basketball is a strong-link game. Soccer is a weak-link game.”

David Sally

International soccer teams are notorious for giving record setting contracts to their superstars.  According to Forbes, Ronaldo and Messi are the two highest paid athletes in the world.  Even as a pretty illiterate soccer person, I have heard those names.  Sally and Anderson have made their pitch for focusing on the “weakest-link” to team owners abroad and have found limited acceptance.

They contend that if winning is their primary objective, owners are very interested.  If notoriety, jersey sales, and rubbing elbows with the rich and famous are a priority, then the “strong-link” phenomena prevails.

It would almost take a team with the lowest payroll, eschewing the superstar mentality and finding supreme success (like the Oakland A’s in “Moneyball”) to change conventional thinking.

Sally contends that the most extraordinary goal by Messi and Ronaldo is often only as good (or even possible) as each of the 9-11 passes it takes in the average scoring sequence.  So, with 11 players on the soccer pitch at all times, it is often the play of the weakest link, the 11th best player, that materially affects the actual outcome.  The best superstars, requiring the most disproportionate amount of resources, might be handicapping their own future success.

This got me thinking about the average small business.  It seems like there is often one area (sales, engineering, etc.) that gets a disproportionate amount of our resources and focus.  I could even make the argument that this is rightly so, but Sally’s thoughts on weak-link phenomena challenges us to think more broadly.

Our companies are likely constrained by our weakest links.

Should we neglect the talent in our companies for the sake of focusing on the least common denominator? 

Maybe the best answer lies in a “yes and” solution instead of an “either or”.  Maybe we need to take care of the talent on the tip of our spears, but also apply the focus, resources, and energy necessary to our “weakest links” to make sure we are not constraining our entire process.

And as Kingdom-minded folks with a broader lens for how we view the world, maybe applying a little more focus to the least of these is the inherent right answer.  But, don’t hear what I am not saying either.  Strengthening our weak links likely means replacing some of our folks with stronger links and valuing them appropriately

  • Do you think you are more of a “weak-link” or “strong-link” type of person?
  • Do you think your business favors one more than the other?
  • Are you aware of the incredible impact your weakest link might be having on overall success?
  • Do you need to focus resources and attention or possibly even make a change in a weak-link?