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GP 17 May 2006: What Do They Know of Cricket Who Only Cricket Know?

Buffalo Hunters.  “We’ve got a bunch of buffalo hunters here.”  That was the plaint of the managing partner of a Dallas law firm several years ago when he was describing the business dilemma of his firm to us.  His senior partners, who needed to be phased out, were all too comfortable, sitting back on their duffs waiting for business to roll in from around the Southwest.  As the new leader put it, “It is not even enough anymore to dream of becoming national: we can only survive by becoming global.” 

Buffalo hunting arose at a time when this nation could be resolutely parochial and quite self-satisfied.  Passengers mowed down buffalo from their railroad cars.  A fine account of this sport from 1867 catches a nation of abundance that did not have to look beyond its borders: 

Our engraving represents a sport that is peculiarly American.  At this season of the year the herds of buffalo are moving southward, to reach the canyons which contain the grass they exist upon during the winter.  Nearly every railroad train which leaves or arrives at Fort Hays on the Kansas Pacific Railroad has its race with these herds of buffalo; and a most interesting and exciting scene is the result. The train is “slowed” to a rate of speed about equal to that of the herd; the passengers get out fire-arms which are provided for the defense of the train against the Indians, and open from the windows and platforms of the cars a fire that resembles a brisk skirmish.  Frequently a young bull will turn at bay for a moment.  His exhibition of courage is generally his death-warrant, for the whole fire of the train is turned upon him, either killing him or some member of the herd in his immediate vicinity. 

National Sports.  America’s dominant national sports—baseball and football—are relatively young affairs, picking up steam in the 1860s and 1870s, even as buffalo hunting was peaking and descending.  Only basketball, coming along in the 1890s, has become a truly international sport, though baseball has its moments in modern Japan and Castro’s Cuba.  But they are first and foremost American sports, the more so since they have claimed ownership of our TV screens, shielding us, if anything, from what is going on in sport across the wide, wide world.  Further, their dominance of our live media conceals from us the growing importance of a whole raft of other athletic activities that claim more adherents and more players every day—ranging from lacrosse to cycling to ice hockey—which can be followed in a timely manner on Yahoo Sports.  The Internet permits enthusiasts to stay current on many, many sports that conventional media miss, and we now even watch some games on our frisky computer.  In time these up and comers will threaten the hegemony of baseball, football, and basketball. 

Global Sports.  We were first lured to Portugal because it turns out to have the biggest concentration of romantic places in Europe.  Royal hunting lodges and more.  Or at least it did on our visit back in 1982, when it was still suffering from the time warp imposed by a half-century dictatorship in which Salazar had been the key figure.  Of course, this was just a few short years after the Carnation Revolution of 1974, when the masses overwhelmed tyranny with flowers. 

After a trip through the North around port-making country, we made our way back to cosmopolitan Lisbon.  We sat in a lovely seafood restaurant resting on one of the city’s hills with an excellent view of things, but were suddenly startled by the shouts of crowds running back and forth in the streets.  Were we seeing yet another round in the turbulence the country experienced with the overthrow of its autocrats?  No, as it turned out, we were simply looking at excited fans rushing back and forth in a frenzy as they heard the blow-by-blow results of a soccer championship.  The excitement was high in the national league even though it was not a stellar year, on the whole, for Portuguese soccer. Much greater success would come with Euro 2000. 

Soccer, unlike baseball or American football or basketball, is truly a world sport with a purchase on the imagination of citizens in every part of the globe.  It transports men—and women—from the grind of small places to the playing fields of the planet.  As amusing evidence of this, one need only view Phorpa, a beautiful movie, a mix of much fact with permissible fiction, about exiled Tibetan monks in India who risk disobedience to sate their lust for this magic sport.  We are taken as well with the literate SoccerBlog, which shows this sport to be woven into the national character of many nations.  In the sports that dominate the united nations, America has a rather low profile. 

CLR James.  We had never heard of CLR James until Cedric the Englishman brought him up in connection with cricket.  James was a Marxist theorist from the West Indies whose fame outside revolutionary circles arises from Beyond a Boundary, his book on cricket, a game perhaps even more fascinating internationally than soccer.  He traces its impact on the development of a united West Indian liberation consciousness, as these islands sought to separate themselves from the British.  In time Frank Worrell became the first black cricketer to captain the islands, an honor that had been denied to previous great black players, the whites always having headed up the Windies team.  James gave us the famous expression: “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?” 

Surely that’s the best and briefest commentary on specialists anywhere.  To know one thing, no matter how well, is not to know very much.  The educated individual capable of playing on global playing fields does not just master a bunch of skills, or accumulate 1,000,000 bits of information.  Of course, he needs all that, but he must be more than the sum of his parts.  He needs a consciousness that is much broader than the playing field, region, nation, or ideology in which he finds himself, so that he does not become its slave. 

Movable Feast Cricket is a hugely popular game, not just in England, but in so many of England’s former colonies, such as India, Pakistan, and Australia.  It’s amusing that the game somehow abetted the West Indians as they struggled to find their own way in the world.  It’s downright hilarious that India and the others are turning out the real cricket champions now, standing the English on their heads.  It is deliciously ironic that England’s ex-colonies so take to this imperial game, one of many ways in which they conspicuously imitate that country from which they worked so hard to free themselves.  

Cricket and other international sports are metaphors for the re-arrangement that is going on in the political economy of the world.  Cricket has long since broken out of the British Commonwealth (1965), allowing even  a Sri Lanka to join the top tier of cricket playing nations.  Lock, stock, and barrel, the seat of cricketdom has even moved out of Europe: 

In 2001, the ICC established an office in Monaco to ensure that its commercial income would remain free of tax.  After 96 years of being based at Lord’s Cricket Ground, the ICC moved its main administrative offices to Dubai, United Arab Emirates in August 2005.  This move enabled the ICC to bring together its staff from London and Monaco into the same new Dubai office, whilst continuing to allow their commercial activities to be in a tax-free environment (as they had been in Monaco). 

Amazing Dubai, which we first discussed in “Just a Crapshoot,” and later in “Resurrections,” keeps engineering maneuvers that ensure that it is the crossroads between East and West.  It now has cricket’s sticky wickets.  Whatever its beginnings, cricket, relentlessly, has broken free of its moorings in the West. 

Managers with New Wiring.  We submit that James grasped the most important point about cricket’s evolution.  For the Windies, it became a tool for thinking about the world differently.  The relocation of its governance to Dubai is startling, but more important is that many of cricket’s participants now have taken on global weeds.  They are thinking global, even if they have to act local. 

The smartest companies are now looking for this very quality in their top managers.  Increasingly the question is not how deeply a candidate understands one subject but whether he can look at that subject and others in a global context.  In “Big Beliefs Make Big Men,” we learned that the great American bridgebuilder John Roebling was tutored at the knee of the titanic German philosopher Hegel, an underpinning which allowed him to see his work in the broadest terms.  Similarly, we are now looking at managerial candidates to see if their brains have operating systems that can put things in the broadest context or whether they are simply bright people imprisoned by their intellect.  As the Dallas lawyer made clear, we no longer have much use for such buffalo hunters.  Fortunately, as we discuss in our Brain Stem section, the brain demonstrates great plasticity:  when challenged, it can move on.  But, as well, it can dig in its heels and try to make time stand still. 

Evolution’s Bottom Line.  Holden Thorp, chairman of UNC-Chapel Hill’s chemistry department, essayed about “Evolution’s Bottom Line” recently in the New York Times,  May 16, 2006.  He notes that the creationists have made great headway in Kansas where “intelligent design” has become part of the science curriculum in the schools, watering down evolution, Darwin, and the like.  We don’t know whether his implicit fears are justified, but he thinks this will put Kansas out of the biology mainstream and dilute, in several ways, its economic position in biotechnology.  He avows: “creationism has no commercial application.  Evolution does.”  Even if overstated, he certainly makes a point.  It is interesting to speculate as to whether certain regions have been held back because of rigid ideas whose time has come and gone. 

Creationism, of course, is only one of many defensive reactions erected by citizens roiled by modern science and technology, both of which are creating such waves in our lives.  There’s an unspoken war going on between the habits of the past and the claims of the future.  In business, at least, we have no choice but to get off the Kansas Pacific Railroad and to take flight to Dubai. 

Long ago, in “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” Nathaniel Hawthorne established that scientists can go amok, and endanger us all.  Aspects of modern science do threaten our lives at every turn, nuclear weapons only being the most obvious.  But ‘intelligent design’ will not make those threats go away: it merely helps us pretend they don’t exist.  We cannot deal with a world that we won’t even acknowledge is out there. 

P.S.  Robin Williams says, “Cricket is basically baseball on valium.”  It’s a very slow affair with a tea break which you can watch on the tube in your English hotel room, while reading the papers and making phone calls, all the while assured that you are not missing very much.  Like the winning tortoise and the giant glaciers, part of its power lies in its deliberate pace.  It’s a stately sport. 

P.P.S.  Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Blink, has come to understand that we cannot put much of our most important knowledge into words.  That, of course, means facts are just the undigested ingredients or catalysts of real knowledge, but not knowledge in themselves.  We are learning that companies with Knowledge Management programs tend to mistake information for knowledge: basically they need to go back to the drawing boards and devise a better understanding of the essence of knowledge. 

P.P.P.S.  Clearly at issue here is that it’s all too easy to think about the wrong things, and shrink in the process.  In business this frequently comes up on quality control issues.  All too often, employees are directed to seek perfection in matters that don’t count, neglecting entirely the product or service characteristics, which, if done right, would stamp a company with the mark of excellence.  Knowledge, to be knowledge, must have a largeness about it.

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