I’ve always talked about the Kabaddi style of solving a problem. In Kabaddi, when you are defending, six out of the seven players in the team form a chain in order to encircle the attacker. The seventh defender, however, strikes it alone, in a different direction, trying to draw the attacker into a position where he can be effectively surrounded.
Now there is a footballing analogy to this – the Jesus Navas style. Those of you who watched either Spain’s game with Honduras or the second half of their loss to Switzerland would’ve noticed that Spain effectively followed two lines of attack. The first was the traditional way – attack down the middle in a series of slow passes and build-up. Five of Spain’s front six players would get involved in this attack down the centre, almost rendering their game one-dimensional. And then there was Navas.
I haven’t confirmed this stat but in the game and half that he has played Navas has completed more crosses than anyone else in the tournament. He would strike it on his own down the Spanish right flank, hug the touchline, beat the full back and put in crosses. Minute in and minute out. Sometimes with a little help from full back Sergio Ramos, but mostly alone. It was fantastic to watch.
What this ended up doing was to divert the attention of the opposing defenders to cover Navas. If everyone were to have been attacking down the centre, the defending team could’ve just parked their bus in front of their centre and prevented any scoring. Spain letting free this one guy to take a different route meant that the opposition needed to cover that also leading to insufficient cover in the centre (it is another matter that Spain failed to score against Switzerland. But they did get so many more chances after Navas came on).
I’ve always been fascinated by such strategies at work, in business. You have a bunch of guys who try to attack the problem front-on, in the conventional way, working together, passing to each other frequently. And then there is this one guy who has been left out of this clique who attacks the problem “from the flank”. In his own way, without fear of failure. He knows that he is only an auxiliary solver, that he has nothing to lose (Navas lost his place in the XI after the Honduras match but I don’t think he had expected to ever play at all), and he can just go for it. The option value of letting one guy in the team loose in order to search for alternate solutions while everyone else is building up down the middle is immense, I think.
This is similar to Nassim Taleb’s “barbell investment strategy”. Acccording to that, he parks some 90% of his assets in ultra-risk government securities. They don’t give spectacular returns but his money is safe. And the rest of the 10% he uses to punt by buying stuff like out-of-the-money options. If they expire worthlessly, he hasn’t lost much of his wealth. The optionality (here, literally) of that additional 10% is, however, immense, and there is potential for spectacular returns from this strategy. with losses being capped.