Culture SMEs and “Pelada”

Pelada: (Portuguese) 1. poor, 2. bald, 3. skinned 3. naked 4. second rate soccer game.

I love the rich meaning used in Brazil to describe pickup soccer games. Sure these games are not world cup matches, but the style in which the games are played (with a freedom like being naked) makes players world cup caliber precisely because it promotes free experimentation and risk taking (in short independent thinking) they would never try out in a formal game. Yet, without that skill they would never make it to the biggest games.  If you are a musician it is the essence of jam sessions and at the heart of creating new music. It is the soul of Jazz.   For more on this Read:

The speed of the game of soccer requires players to incorporate what they learn in “pelada” to adapt to the fluid nature of the game.  But they play “pelada” (yeah we do it here in the US too) for one reason. It is really fun and the joy they get from it makes them the great players they are.  Is there room for “pelada’ in your business?

An overly hierarchical or command and control style of leadership (like you see in American football and in many businesses) does not work in Soccer.  The game is simply too fast for a regimented approach that includes sideline instruction and narrow understandings of position.  It stunts creativity and adaptability which are both necessary for the game to be fun and successful.  Watch a high level soccer match and see how little instruction is being shouted from the sidelines. There is no time for plays to be sent in.

Just as I bet your love of baseball did not start with discussion of the infield fly rule or the virtues of the designated hitter.  (I confess, I stole part of this analogy from a priest  Nobody is going to love working for you because they get to spend time learning your system or the structure you have in place so they can dutifully  execute it. (Do I smell cult?)  It better be compelling, worth doing  and flexible; something they can ‘belong to’ rather than ‘fit in to’ and capable of adapting to the dynamic nature of business (you know… like culture). Only that will lead them to want to know about your systems, structure and leadership style.

Hierarchical command and control environments promote and perpetuate the SME culture. (This LinkedIn interchange highlights the risks, and fits nicely with the soccer analogy about ‘speed of the game’)

Brett Gibson We don’t hire SME’s. We hire those who can think for themselves and provide value to our clients. #SoftwareCulture

Dan Clark I think you hire both really. It’s a Venn diagram no? 

Brett Gibson Not really. SME never makes up for toxic behavior. Hire for DNA – not skills alone. Ability to learn trumps the arrogance and lack of collaboration skills often accompanied by a supposed industry SME. That’s where SME turns to SMA. The ‘A’ is anatomical and should be vetted for during the hiring process. Our industry moves so quickly that hiring for skills outdates itself within a year. The ability to learn is the hallmark of the knowledge economy. The ability to look out for the best-interests of the client cannot be found in the skills of the SME. They are more interested in scolding others who don’t follow the exact practices of their latest religion.

It s true for business, soccer and apparently American football too.  In the words of recently deceased and former head coach of the Houston Oilers Bum Phillips: “Two kinds of players ain’t worth a damn: One never does what he’s told, and one does nothin’ but what he’s told.” (Thanks To  @micjohnson for retweeting @JPosnanski).  Ironically SMEs can be both and are ill-suited for football, business and they sure ain’t “pelada”. If you are continuing to hire SMEs what does that say about your culture? Is it making the game too fast for you?

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Dan Clark

Dan Clark

Principal of Bowline Consulting, process designer/fixer, wireless telecom veteran, addicted pick up soccer player, fly fisher, backpacker, beer brewer, guitar player, choir singer, recovering bag piper

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