Playing In The Future (Issue 836)

In which we are reminded that we provide great value when we help clients and prospects anticipate what’s coming.

Several years ago, on a brilliant early October Saturday afternoon, I stood with a friend watching his daughter play soccer, a college game. She was a home team mid-fielder. Never mind the cool, early Fall air, the game was hotly contested with quite a bit of shirt-pulling and away-from-the-ball entangling in addition to aggressive physical challenges around the ball. There was a LOT of action to watch and both teams’ parents were quite freely expressing their views of fouls and the referee’s eyesight and knowledge of the game. He just seemed to be looking in the wrong places.

At one point, early in the second half, a fan supporting the visiting team shouted approval of a referee’s call. As the ref came chugging by, moving down field, he looked at the fan, smiled, and called out, “Thank you, sir, I think I’m getting the hang of it.” Everyone within earshot laughed and, at that point, parental heckling more-or-less stopped for the rest of the game.

Nice outcome, but the question about referees’ eyesight remains an interesting one. Is it the eyesight, literally, or something else?

To find out, researchers from the University of Leuven in Belgium and Brunel University in west London recruited 39 referees, 20 of whom were elite referees and 19 were experienced but had never refereed at a professional level.

They asked each referee to watch a series of soccer game video clips, filmed from a referee’s perspective. The researchers used eye-tracking technology to analyze where the referees directed their eyes and for how long, their “visual search” behavior. The results: Elite referees were, overall, more likely to make correct calls.  Why?

The Guardian newspaper quoted lead author Werner Helsen from the University of Leuven saying, “Over the years they develop so much experience that they now can anticipate, very well, future events so that they can already direct their attention to those [elements of play] where they expect something to happen.” In other words, instead of, essentially, watching the ball, reacting to what they see moment by moment, and operating one or two seconds behind the game, they’re refereeing from the future. They know where to look ahead.

We see this pattern in consultants and sales people, too. Where the less experienced are more likely to
“watch the ball” – focus on and react to events or needs they can see immediately in front of them, constantly trying to catch up with their clients, elite sellers are more likely to look to the future, anticipating unforeseen and critical client issues so that they can direct their attention there and truly “play in the future” for current and prospective clients, helping them prepare for and make better decisions.

[Research findings here.]

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