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Heads-up rugby

Early in the recent 6 Nations rugby tournament, the former player and commentator Jeremy Guscott saw signs of promise in the way England were playing. He described it as “playing intuitively”, “playing what’s in front of you”, “heads-up rugby”.

As a player for Bath, England and the British Lions, Guscott was a master of seeing spaces to play into and gracefully cutting through defences. His style of rugby was about artistry rather than power play. It was based on an intuitive reading of the game and an ability to see opportunities in front of him. It was instinctive and a joy to watch. So, in commentating on England playing intuitively, Guscott was calling for England to play like that more often; to “play more intuitively”.

The unspoken contrast with intuitive play is analytical play. The coaching staff sit amongst banks of track-suited analysts in the stands who read the game via their laptops. Players wear tracking devices that provide real-time data on how far they have run, their workload, how many sprints they have made and so on. The team’s performance is quantified by possession, territory, turnovers, tackles, and a myriad of key performance indicators that enable TV viewers as well as coaching teams to analyse the component parts of their team’s play. There is an explosion of data available for coaches, players, commentators and spectators. And it’s in this context of data and analysis that Guscott calls for more intuitive play.

We see this tension in business. On the one hand, there’s the call for data and analysis – to be evidence-driven, to avoid assumption and bias, and to harness the power of information. On the other hand, there’s the call for intuition – to draw on our experience and ability to read the play and to trust our instincts.

From our research, people tend to be believers in either analysis or intuition. But the real opportunity is making the most of analysis and intuition as complementary types of intelligence. That’s when we see the whole picture and can make the best plays. In our information age, this is a vital challenge for leaders: to realise the full potential of analysis and intuition in order to see the whole picture and make the best plays. That’s why we have developed Thinkfully.

If we can harness the power of analysis and draw out the best of our people’s intuition, that’s the equivalent of truly “heads-up rugby”.