Monday, April 30, 2007

Webster's article: Makes sense in India too

One of the more interesting people I met while in the West Indies was Rudi Webster. We in India have heard his name in connection with Greg Chappell. Webster has made a name for himself as a sports psychologist, and Chappell had invited him over to India to spend some time with the players and help them with the psychological side of things.

Now Rudi, a former Warwickshire regular, was a very good medium pacer whose best figures were 8 for 19 in a county game. His average was a mindblowing 19.44, so we have to accept that he does know his cricket even if we in India haven't really heard of him much.

He is a Barbadian. Or a Bajan. But lives in a beautiful house overlooking the sea in Grenada with his wife, who is Grenadian. Rudi is full of stories. Fascinating ones at that. Including of the one where he talks of the time when Clive Lloyd told him - a few drinks down, sitting at a bar - that he would never play a Test again without four pacers. Rudi was the manager of the team at the time.

My interview with Rudi was also one of the high points of my work here, though in a 'news' sense, some of the other stuff would have been more significant.

Now here's something Webster wrote yesterday in the Trinidad Express. Found it very, very interesting. And thought that most of it makes sense in the Indian context as well..

Different thinking needed to move WI forward
By Rudi V Webster

One would have thought that by now West Indies supporters had become immune to the failures of their team. But this is not the case.

Since the World Cup, the mood in the region has turned nasty and supporters are expressing great anger, disgust, and animosity towards the team and the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB). Many of the supporters and stakeholders are now engaged in adversarial thinking and acrimonious fights. It is in that context that adversarial thinking and its antidote, design thinking, will be discussed.

During crises, negative and adversarial thinking are quite appealing. But how often does destructive criticism result in positive change or beneficial solutions? Not often. Should we not then abandon this style of thinking about our cricket in order to chart the way forward? This will need steady nerves, cool heads and clear minds.

There are many people and some cricket experts in the West Indies who do an excellent job of criticising just about every aspect of West Indies cricket. But when they are asked to articulate comprehensive solutions, they are usually very silent.

The purpose of adversarial thinking is to win the argument and score points by discrediting or defeating your opponent. In that system one side attacks and the other defends or counterattacks. As arguments get heated each side stops listening and their points of view become more rigid and polarised. One side wins and is happy and the other side loses and is bitter and disappointed, unwilling to conform or cooperate. Opponents mistakenly believe that by proving the other persons wrong, somehow proves them right. This is nonsense. If you prove the other person wrong and he proves you wrong -you may both be wrong.

People who use this type of thinking have a simple formula for finding solutions to problems-find the cause and remove it.

Brian Lara is the cause of the West Indies' problems-get rid of him. Ken Gordon and the WICB are the cause of the West Indies' troubles-get rid of them. The players do not care-drop them.
This is a simple and attractive idiom but it is inadequate.

People who think this way believe that once the cause is removed then the problem is automatically solved and all will be well-remove the dictator and democracy will flourish; remove Lara and West Indies cricket will immediately prosper. We know that this is not so because complex interactive systems simply do not work that way.

West Indies cricket is now in one of its darkest periods. Moving forward will require a different type of thinking-design or creative thinking. This entails designing a specific outcome and tailoring energies and resources to fit and create that outcome.

What type of team must we have in five years if we are to become a world power again? What types of players are we looking for to create that team? What attitudes, work ethic and cricket culture do we need to promote? What selection policies and philosophies do we need to put in place? How can we improve the identification of talent in the region?

Once that talent is identified, how do we go about developing it fully? How can the WICB enhance the confidence, motivation and the performance of its players? Should the Board and players establish a contract of expectations between themselves? Then each party would know what exactly is expected of them. What types of development programmes and development modules should be put in place at the grassroots level? Should the WICB be restructured in order to perform better? Are the cricket boards throughout the region prepared to put a major part of their resources into domestic cricket and development programmes at the grassroots level? It is no secret that the true strength of Australian cricket is at the grassroots level.

Those are just a few of the questions that could stimulate creative or design thinking.

Adversarial thinking is about the past and focuses on what is wrong. Design thinking is about the future-creating something that isn't yet there and fitting or tailoring personnel, financial resources, structures, systems, programmes, strategies, checks and balances, development modules and selection policies and philosophies to create that outcome.

We have a choice. We can either stay trapped in the past or free ourselves and move ahead to the future.

OBSERVATION: I think it's fantastic that the people in the West Indies still feel so involved with the game. Their team hasn't done well in ages, but most people I have spoken to - bartenders, drivers, shop owners, attendants, et al - have expressed surprise in the way India's loss was reacted to by the people back home. These people, especially in places like Barbados, Guyana and Jamaica, are very cricket-educated. And while they would love to see their team win, they are understanding of the fact that there are things that are wrong and the team will not win for a while now.