In terms of UK politics, the name of Alastair Campbell requires little introduction – a driving, bulldozing force from the 1990s where his role as Director of Communications and Strategy for Prime Minister Tony Blair between 1997 and 2003 propelled the Labour government into a period of dominance.
It wasn’t to last, but Campbell’s time in the spotlight certainly has. As a brazen, candid and hard-hitting analyst and consultant, he has reenergised and reinvented his proposition and now stands less as a spin doctor and more a respected authority in motivation, leadership and success, and whose record across both business and sports suggests this latest tome of psychology and strategy, ‘Winners’, is well worth a read.
And it’s an impressive body of work from the start – 476 pages that ebb and weave around names, subjects, case studies and anecdotes, embracing everything from his beloved Burnley Football Club’s desperate fight for survival (both on and off the pitch) to the thinking patterns of the likes of Mourinho, Ferguson, Wenger, Sir Clive Woodward and numerous ‘leaders’ in other sports and other industries.
Where Campbell succeeds is ultimately where any sports coach can garner success: by using far-removed case studies that, on the face of it, bear no relation to the referee’s whistle at 3pm on a Saturday, or the last 10 minutes of a training session on a cold Tuesday evening. Yet, with a paragraph, seemingly unconnected ideas and values begin to morph together, whereby you realise the link between motivation, process and inspiration is linear, no matter in what area we might specialise.
Campbell’s narrative is populated with personal experiences, but he really lets the contributions from others take hold, and in a monstrous folio of ideas and values, there exists the invitation to dip in and out as time and interest allows. Indeed, rather than one ‘Ulysses’-like flow of ideas, this is a collection of hundreds of varying notions, yet each as compelling and revealing as the last.
To sum up the impact of this collection, it may be fair to suggest that the completeness of Campbell’s book is probably best reflected in the need to have a highlighter pen at hand!
The simplest way to view strategy is to consider three letters, letters which have been on my desk and on the inside cover of my notebooks since 1994.
O for Objective
S for Strategy
T for Tactics
Objective comes first because it’s the most important initial step, and to an extent it’s also the easiest one to define: it’s where you want to get to, what you want to achieve. It’s the ‘what’ in Margaret Thatcher’s famous injunction to a senior civil servant: ‘I know the what. Don’t tell me the what. Tell me the how.’
Getting to where you want to end up doesn’t automatically entail ‘winning’ pure and simple. Winning requires definition or, at least, calibration, according to circumstances. A struggling football team might start the season with the objective not of winning every match but of avoiding relegation. If Manchester United or Barcelona fail to win their domestic title or the Champions League, as happened in 2014, they have ‘lost’ over the season. But if a team that struggled the previous season loses numerous matches but staves off relegation this time around, it has achieved its objective and ‘won’.
[Former] Crystal Palace manager Tony Pulis was one of the standout English Premier League performers of the same 2014 season, taking a club from the bottom of the league when he took over to a comfortable position. He ‘won’, and was named Premier League manager of the season by his peers. Barca and United ‘lost’, despite winning more games. Costa Rica ‘won’ their World Cup 2014 journey. Spain and England, out in the early stages, left as losers.
WINNERS… and how they succeed, Alastair Campbell. Hutchinson.