I love football. I love Arsenal, formerly led by the enigmatic, wily Frenchman Arsene Wenger, who said many years ago: “The intelligent player realises the team is the real star”. And those of you who follow football around the world know that, despite a long trophy drought, most football fans, commentators and pundits agree that Arsenal have played some of the most attractive football in the English Premier League. In fact, very much on par with Barcelona, who have bought many Arsenal players over the years.
One of the key discoveries so far of Complexity Theory is that co-operative processes in general seem far more likely to survive than isolated, rampantly selfish entities. This moves successful evolution away from the original ‘principle of natural selection’ to a more holistic, symbiotic view of adaptability, wherein survival is a group or team effort.
Scientific American recently published research, suggesting there is a surprising problem with too much talent.
“Researchers looked at three sports: basketball, soccer, and baseball. In each sport, they calculated both the percentage of top talent on each team and the teams’ success over several years. For both basketball and soccer, they found that top talent did in fact predict team success, but only up to a point. Furthermore, there was not simply a point of diminishing returns with respect to top talent, there was in fact a cost. Basketball and soccer teams with the greatest proportion of elite athletes performed worse than those with more moderate proportions of top-level players.
Why is too much talent a bad thing? Think teamwork. In many endeavours, success requires collaborative, cooperative work towards a goal that is beyond the capability of any one individual.
The most fascinating insight is how baseball is a game where too much talent doesn’t count because it’s a game where fundamentally one player takes on a whole team.
If you think about it, with hindsight our social history is almost embarrassingly about collective effort, rather than individual triumph.
If you’re an Arsenal fan you’ll know they often say that “Arsene knows”. His nickname was ‘The Professor’, even though he’s made the most inexplicable, often infuriating decisions about the team and his players. Was he way ahead of the game all this time?