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Professional Lessons Learned From Germany’s 2014 World Cup Title

Mario Gotze’s extra time goal, seven minutes away from penalties, gave Germany a 1 to 0 victory over Argentina in the final of the 2014 World Cup. It was Germany’s first major title since their triumph in Euro 1996 and their first World Cup trophy in almost 30 years.

In the recently released Das Reboot, author Raphael Honigstein chronicles the rebuilding of not only the German National Team, but of the German Football Federation. It’s an insightful look into how one of the most exciting teams in recent years was formed and developed over nearly two decades. And as soccer serves as a microscope by which we can examine our culture and our society, the book also has lessons that can be applied to both our professional and personal lives. Here are a few.

  • When a serious knee injury at 18 threatened his career, he (German midfielder Sami Khedira) read books about leaders in business and politics in order to find the secret of inner strength. “Successful people have similar strategies. Success always starts in the head.”

I’m not implying that only people who read are successful. But I am saying that I’ve never met a successful person who wasn’t a voracious reader. Reading is work. I often get odd stares in the office for propping open books in the middle of the day. But reading helps me come up with ideas and solve problems in my area. Reading is work. Read often and read well.

 

  • Swabians are “Tüftler,” they say: obsessive thinkers and puzzle freaks. “We like to try things out, and we don’t readily take no for an answer,” Ralf Rangnick says.

In startups especially, you have to always be trying things. You never know what feature or idea will stick. When we launched Waze Ads in 2012, we felt that quick service restaurant, fuel and retail would be our strongest categories. But our team had an inkling that entertainment could be important for our users and for brands. So my colleague, Mark, ran some research and his work showed that there was a huge opportunity in that space. Thanks to Mark’s insights, we were able to approach the entertainment guys and show how we can help. And it all started with tinkering and a curiosity. Now we’ve had the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Stephen Colbert and Kevin Hart and their respective entertainment projects on Waze.

  • That’s why we have to counterbalance it, by making sure they (academy and youth players) understand the value of family, friends and education. We don’t want them to concentrate solely on football.

We as Americans take great pride in our work ethic. We falsely associate desk-lunches and late nights as badges pride. But we need to have a balance, something gives us a break from our main line of work. Even better, if what you do outside of the office helps your project or work, then you’re one of the lucky ones. Ultimately, it’s up to you to define what’s important in your life. If missing time with friends and family is for the greater good of your development, then that’s fine. Just be careful not to start believing that your work is incredibly important, because most likely it’s not. Even one of the interviewed players in the book commented that “at the end of the day, it’s just a football match.”

  • “We met the Brazilians’ deep emotions with stamina, calmness, clarity and insistence,” the Bundestrainer Joachim Low later explained, “and we cooly exploited their weaknesses.”

The Germans lapped the Brazilians in the semi-final round, scoring four goals in six minutes en route to a devastating 7 to 1 victory over the hosts. Brazil was playing off of sheer passion, having lost captain Neymar to a bad tackle the previous round. But passion, as Ryan Holiday accurately notes, is the problem, not the solution. The Germans remained calmed and executed on their plan. And we need to do so as well, whatever that may be. Passion is great for getting us started, but what’s ultimately going to get us to our goal and finish line is purpose, discipline and clarity — things that are only possible with the absence of passion.

  • This team is emblematic of the kind of paradigm shift in German football that the national team stands for… young professionals, technically and tactically well-educated, aware of their own strengths but never arrogant.

Jurgen Klopp is the newest manager of fabled English club Liverpool FC. But before this appointment, Klopp, with his youthful energy and touchline fist pumps and jumps, led a young Borussia Dortmund team to back-to-back German titles in 2011 and 2012. In 2013, he and the die Schwarzgelben came within an Arjen Robben goal of winning the UEFA Champions League.

At Dortmund, he built a team that left egos at the door. He managed the prodigious Mario Gotze (now at Bayern), the calculating and lethal striker Robert Lewandowski (also at Bayern) and the immensely talented Marco Reus. In football, it’s easy to get carried away as individuals and put personal interests before the team. But not in Dortmund. And not in the World Cup-winning German team. Sometimes when building out a sales team or internal pod we think in terms of talent rather than fit. But sometimes we forget that having the best team doesn’t always mean having the best people.

The 2014 World Cup was the culmination of years of work by the German Federation, German managers and German clubs. The lessons Honigstein shares along the way can help you in your area of expertise — and you don’t even have to qualify for the Union of European Football Associations Euro 2016.

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