The book Total Competition by Ross Brawn and Adam Parr is subtitled ‘Lessons in Strategy from Formula One’. Although one of the driving forces behind it was Parr’s study of strategy for a PhD, it could equally well be described as ‘Lessons in Leadership’. While Formula One might not be everyone’s cup of tea there is no denying that it is hugely complex – mind-bogglingly so in fact. And it is certainly dynamic. It is not unusual for the slowest car at the end of a season to be going faster than the fastest car was at the beginning of the year. Oh, and while all that development is going on all of the teams will be designing next year’s car at the same time.
The book takes the form of a series of recorded conversations between Parr and Brawn. Parr, who was Chief Executive of the Williams F1 team from 2006 to 2012 mostly asks the questions but also cleverly picks out the themes and consistencies in Brawn’s behaviours and ways of working. Parr describes Brawn as ‘the most successful competitor in Formula One to date’ and it is hard to argue with that. Including the World Sports Car Championship and the Le Mans 24 hour race won by the revolutionary Jaguar XJR-14, the last car he designed himself, Brawn has led five different teams to a total of 24 Drivers’ and Constructors’ titles in three different racing formulae over a period of four decades. Strategy maybe, but there is a world of intelligent and hugely successful leadership being described here.
I am sometimes dubious about trying to translate sporting success into business principles – the motivations are often so different. Although, since I have helped to create some sporting successes by using the team development principles we apply in business I cheerfully admit to some crossover! Nonetheless, the real value in this wonderful book (assuming you are not an F1 fan) lies in the 15 Observations with which Parr closes it. I am not going to reproduce them here. That would not be fair – and might prevent you going on your own voyage of discovery. Besides, reading Brawn’s descriptions of why he has operated in the ways he has is half the fun – and most of the learning.