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Transcript: What sports taught Roger Martin about business

KARL MOORE – This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, talking management for The Globe and Mail. Today, I am delighted to speak to Roger Martin, the former dean of the Rotman School [of Management at the University of Toronto] – one of Canada's, in fact one of the world's, top business thinkers. It is great to have him here today.

So Roger, you have written a lot about sports and you are a sports fan. What can sports teach business about life and success?

ROGER MARTIN – I think sports is interesting to me, in part because I am a jock and sports fan, but partially it is such a reflection of the nature of competition.

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I have written about the NFL [National Football League] because I think the NFL is a wonderful example of how you have to keep the offence and defence in balance in any game, or it ceases to be a useful and enjoyable game. So the NFL ownership has figured out that, every year, you have to tweak the rules of the game to keep it exciting.

Every year, after the season, the competition committee meets and makes important rule changes and, as a consequence, the National Football League has continued to be an exciting game where [there are] more fans, more dollars, bigger TV contracts every year. In contrast, in the last 90 years, Major League Baseball has made only three consequential rule changes and, because of that, it is a declining sport with an aging demographic.

So I like the degree to which sports can be a metaphor for business: If you don't keep tweaking, nothing lasts forever, unless you tweak it and tweak it and tweak it to keep it current.

KARL MOORE – Why should young people get involved in sports? What does it bring to their lives so they are more apt to be successful?

ROGER MARTIN – I just think there are so many lessons for life from sports. Certainly the need to work hard for long periods of time, to train to be good, so it necessitates dedication.

I think when you lose – there is just no sport in which you can win all the time – so you learn to lose, which is so important. Many business executives don't know how to lose; they just get furious and mad when they start to lose and go into a downward spiral. I think if you are a sports person, you just say, "That just was not my day. He or she is better than me," and you learn how to lose.

Most sports involve a significant level of teamwork. Even solo sports, like tennis – and I am on the board of Tennis Canada and have been working on making tennis better in Canada – even that requires the relationship between the player and the coach or the physiotherapist and lots of folks. So there is a team aspect there, where the team needs to function well or you won't do well, and that is a great lesson for life and for a business career.

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