John Robbie. Photo: Cara Viereckl

This week I attended the big ThinkSales convention in Joburg. In addition to making a contribution, I decided to hear all the other speakers. It was fascinating.

In days gone by it was believed that if you invented a superior mousetrap, the world would beat a path to your door to buy it. Nowadays, even conventional marketing and advertising are not guaranteed to bring success.

The incredible effect of the internet and social media have changed things forever. 

One mistake can go global in a flash and a young entrepreneur anywhere in the world can publicise an idea via cellphone, capture imaginations and become a billionaire almost overnight.

Brands that seemed untouchable for decades are now vulnerable because everyone in the world is vulnerable. It is terrifying but also exciting. The key word and concept is “disruption”. 

Every speaker, all world experts in their field, was talking about it and unless your business is aware of it and, believe it or not, disrupting itself, you’re on thin ice.

The idea is that innovation can now spread so quickly that it can almost instantly create a new market and value network and disrupt the status quo to a massive degree. Established market leaders, if they are complacent, can be displaced quickly, so they have to be busy innovating themselves.

There are numerous examples of how an idea has changed the status quo and, I suppose, Uber is the best known example. Disruption is in and I wonder, are there lessons for sport and for rugby in particular?

Today we start the Rugby Championship, in Sydney and Port Elizabeth. We expect the All Blacks to bounce back from the British and Irish Lions setback – for them, a drawn series was such – and to beat the Aussies. Similarly, we expect the Springboks to build on the French success and beat the Argentinians, even if it is a tough game.

Everyone has injuries. Everyone has been preparing in squads. Everyone is talking up their chances. Such is the way of the rugby world before new campaigns.

The All Blacks will stick to their winning formula of excellence in all areas but especially in finishing off chances.

We will be less ambitious but hopefully even more organised than before.

The Pumas have been a revelation recently with their play behind the pack and we wait to see if there is further improvement.

The Aussie players and Super Rugby sides have looked unfit and demotivated this year and their month together under the redoubtable Michael Cheika will show a marked difference in energy, rest assured.

But most expect more of, more or less, the same from the four sides.

Is there a chance of disruption? Is there a chance of an innovative surprise strategy or game plan that can disrupt the status quo? I wonder. I wonder, is anyone even considering it?

In a way the Lions disrupted the All Blacks. Initially, they abandoned traditional modern rugby and based their game on defence and tactical kicking. 

This disruption allowed them to develop attacking options that were gradually introduced, and at the end of the tour they were potent. Think of the tries scored in the Tests. 

Had they simply gone to New Zealand and tried to play like the All Blacks, they would have been slaughtered.

We all think our generation is at the top of the evolutionary tree. We all think that almost everything in our sphere of activity has been considered, tried, and adopted or discarded. 

But history tells us that innovation and, yes, let’s use the term, disruption, has always happened. Nowadays it just happens in an instant.

I wonder, around clubs, schools, universities and professional rugby teams has somebody come up with a new idea? I wonder, has a scholar of the game got a thought that could be developed?

Remember that offloading and foot passing, today taken for granted, are relatively new. They disrupted the status quo. Remember Carlos Spencer and his amazing tactical kicks that went the other way? He did the same.

If I was a national coach, I’d use technology and encourage anybody with an idea, however whacky, to get in touch via the internet.

I would even incentivise this by offering payment if the innovation was adopted. It could be a national campaign. It could be fun. It could bring in sponsorship and it might just disrupt.

* Robbie is a former Transvaal, Ireland and British and Irish Lions scrumhalf.

Saturday Star

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