Book Review: “Will it make the boat go faster?” Hunt-Davis & Beveridge (Troubadour 2011)

Uh-oh: another book written by a sportsperson  about defeating the odds after a career of almost winning.  In this case, Ben Hunt-Davis, a British Olympic champion in rowing’s coxed 8’s in the Sydney Olympics of 2000.  Surely this can add nothing to the saturated world of the published ‘bon-mots’ and tired homilies that follow major sporting events?  Well, actually this is a really good read!

Not just because Hunt-Davis has a story that deserves to be heard, especially since most people probably do not remember him in the shadow of a number of well known British rowers; but also because Harriet Beveridge (management consultant, coach and stand-up comic) adds real value by interpreting and summarising the lessons learned from the rower’s story.  Laid out chronologically in the run up to the Sydney games, the first chapter looks at the importance of setting goals. What I like about this is the idea of ‘layered goals’ – from the ideal to the bite sized everyday goals.  It talks to the concept of being purposeful: everything comes back to purpose.

The next topic covered is that of motivation, and the book gives eight approaches to getting motivated.  All are pretty self evident and it is helpful to be reminded of them.  I love the quote from T.E. Lawrence on page 41:

“All men dream, but not equally…they may act on their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.”

This links to the next subject – belief.  The authors acknowledge the importance of understanding what is possible to control and what is not. In determining the focus of our belief Beveridge offers a useful acronym – DICE – which helps us to channel our deep-seated belief in ourselves and our ambition in four ways: what is Deserved, Important, Can-do and Exciting.

The following section is important in all walks of life. It relates to the capacity to separate out the good advice from the other potentially misleading information that masquerades as fact. The antidote to all the ‘noise’ that goes on in most working environments is provided and includes challenging negative interpretations, re-framing (finding a better interpretation) and using any dubious advice as an emotional driver.

The writers move into the ‘business side’ of the book in chapter 5, as they consider the need to make things happen: all the planning and good intention in the world does not mean that results are a foregone conclusion. Something needs to take place to turn preparation into performance. Again the authors find an acronym to provide a memorable link to the message: in this case it’s WRITE, and I’ll leave you to find out what that stands for! Suffice to say, this is the bit that calls all of us to stand up and be counted on our terms. There follows a chapter on teams, which contains the fundamentals of effective teams: I like the acknowledgement that effective teams both have a common purpose and recognition that individuals have their own success criteria: it’s ensuring an appropriate balance between the two which reinforces team cohesion.

There is something reassuringly down to earth about a book on ultimate personal achievement which dedicates a chapter on process.  In doing so the authors signal the need for success to be built upon boring attention to detail and the framework that comes with agreeing the appropriate processes that govern the activities of the team.  And, when one watches a high performing rowing eight, one can see the need for an incredible balancing of approach; the smooth operating rhythm that comes with timing, appreciation, attention to detail and common style.

“Performance results from momentum, continuous improvement and minute attention to detail.”

As Hunt-Davis and his team mates approached the Olympics, these three factors particularly move into focus. With them came the absolute awareness of the need to change if circumstances shifted.  Recognising the need to change, instigating it whilst convincing others that it was necessary and making it as easy as possible were important factors as the crew navigated the early rounds leading up to the Olympic final.  Linked to the challenges of change comes the concept of resilience – being able to bounce back from adversity and be the stronger for it – and calculated risk taking.  The authors highlight the importance of self and team reflection: this is something that often gets overlooked in today’s commercial world and often provides the most insightful lessons.

Despite being rather overladen with acronyms and easy quotes, this is a great read and provides busy managers with some useful team management guidelines. Written in an easy style with helpful summary boxes and a pleasing blend of anecdote and theoretical input, most busy people will be able to absorb the contents and identify its relevance so that it can be deployed in their workplace.

My rating: 4 out of 5

Review by David Evans, Head of Consulting at Primeast – coach and organisational change practitioner.  Get in touch with David here.

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