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What we can learn from England’s World Cup success | Jonathan Cameron

Jul 6, 2018

The 2018 FIFA World Cup is certainly a break with tradition so far as the England squad is concerned. In previous tournaments, England fans – encouraged by the media – dared to dream that their boys could replicate the success of 1966, when Bobby Moore’s team defeated West Germany 4-2 in the final after Geoff Hurst scored two goals in extra time. With remorseless predictability, such dreams proved elusive.

This year, however, the nation’s collective attitude going into the World Cup was different. Manager Gareth Southgate had assembled a youthful team – the second youngest in the tournament in fact – and while few argued against jettisoning some of the old guard, the squad was assumed to be too inexperienced to stand a chance. Expectations were lowered; tabloid hyperbole kept to a bare minimum.

Then something interesting happened. In the first round, England actually performed rather well, not least in the team’s stunning 6-1 defeat over Panama, which guaranteed progression from the group stage. And then, in the Round of 16 against Columbia, England went all the way to win its first ever penalty shoot-out at any World Cup match and progressing to the tournament’s semi-finals – a feat the team hadn’t managed to achieve in almost 30 years. All of a sudden, the nation collectively sat up and started to pay attention: maybe we shouldn’t have been so dismissive of the squad’s chances after all?

While England’s World Cup dreams were eventually dashed in the semi-final against Croatia, Southgate’s decision to pick such a youthful team has already been justified and holds interesting lessons for all walks of life, not least business.

All too often in business, we treat graduates and other young recruits as jellies that have to be moulded to fit an existing corporate structure and way of working. How often have you heard the complaint that members of staff fresh out of school or university are actually a burden on business because of the intensive training needed when they first start out in their career.

This, however, is a mistake. Of course, it has always been important to listen to younger, fresher voices that arrive in a working environment unhindered by the processes of the past and can approach the opportunity with a fresh perspective.

But understanding the perspective of the current generation – the millennials – is arguably even more important than ever. Think about it this way: never mind senior management, even a business’ late-30s workforces will only have got their first email address when they left school. Engagement with the digital, connected world we now inhabit is something they had to learn. It’s simply second nature to millennials. This is especially the case in the built environment, where graduates are often closer to the latest thinking in terms of workplace design, flexibility in the ways of working, technology or sustainability, to take just four examples.

It is therefore business critical that industry leaders take the time to understand how the next generation interacts with the world and how they see it developing. Digital innovation, not least in the form of machine learning and artificial intelligence, is what drives innovation and productivity in almost all sectors of the economy and will continue to do so. It is also true that the built environment – and construction in particular – currently lags significantly behind almost every other industry on the digital front.

So, while England didn’t manage to secure a place in the final against France, the point has already been demonstrated that fresh pairs of eyes – or in the case of England squad, legs – can prove hugely valuable. It is time that Britain woke up to benefits that talented young people can bring to an organisation, be it in sports, the built environment or any other field of human endeavour.

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