A poet and a purple cow
November 6th, 2017

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Lines from a Dylan Thomas poem quoted by WP coach John Dobson prior to both the semi-final and finals of the recent successful Currie Cup campaign. This poem had and has little to do with rugby but lots to do with the mentality of the WP team in their last few games.

As part of the management team for this campaign, I was privileged to get first-hand experience of a leadership steering a ship that sometimes threatened to drift meekly into the night rather than rage. There is so much to say about the campaign, but here I highlight just a few small acts of leadership – an area I know better than scrum technique or lineout prowess. To cite only one thing that caused the win would be a mistake, instead I merely offer a few elements that may have been an influence.

John Dobson (Dobbo as he’s known) is not your average coach. Like all coaches though he has flaws, and strengths. He also has a strong dislike of normal. Funny Youtube clips, poetry, history lessons, games, egg-fights and impromptu rap battles all formed part of the ‘extra-curricular’ activities undertaken by the team under his watch. Of course these have little do with breakdown technique or breaking a defensive line, at the same time they have everything to do with it.

Rugby is a simple game – a game where you need to execute what you have trained for consistently, and in which you need to invest both physically and emotionally. You also need a bit of luck. Thus meaning that at professional level things can be quite monotonous. You train and play in the same place for close on 11 months of the year. It could be said that players get paid handsomely and that many would kill for such an opportunity. Fair enough. But what Dobbo has realized is that the ‘treat them mean to keep them keen’ or ‘you just lucky to be here’ philosophy just doesn’t cut it – especially at the back-end of a gruelling season. Best is to keep things as enjoyable and inspirational as possible. For this reason, one of the key ideas around which this campaign was built was to make it stand out, remarkable, and ultimately inspirational.

Enter the Purple Cow. Seth Godin wrote a book called the Purple Cow, where he talks about, to achieve success, there’s a need to do things that are stand out or memorable in a cluttered world. In this Currie Cup we realized that in the plethora of campaigns that players have been part of in their rugby careers (in some cases, over 30) we needed to work on the purple cow principle. So it was that Dobbo introduced a weekly purple cow award, the term was used frequently by leadership and coaching staff and this ‘purpose’ of the group remained steadfastly intact for the duration of the competition.

There is undoubtedly power in a group of people who are collectively bound by a cause, but it’s only harnessed when the leadership of that group has a philosophy that is understood and bought into, and more importantly, lived. Clearly Dobbo’s belief in creating something different, something joyous, and letting the players collaborate on a collective cause without forcing things, was just what the doctor ordered after a long season and in a macro-environment that is not always conducive to inspiration.

There was so much to be learned from this campaign but I’ll save those for another day. For now all we can do is salute great leadership, a cohesive player group and a collective view around the need for enjoyment.

WP currie cup win