I’ve been privileged to interview many of the great and good of F1 over the years. They are always generous with their time and insights. However, it’s not very often that they ask searching questions of me and so I was slightly taken aback when Martin Brundle asked which three books I’d suggest he read in order to get the best insight into the world of leadership management. I reflected on this and then Emailed him my suggested three. They were: John Kotter’s A Force for Change, How Leadership differs from Management; Henry Mintzberg’s Simply Managing: What Managers Do and can do better and Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma. Each is a classic in its own way and each changed the way we think about the study of leaders, managers and the organisations they inhabit.
But I think if we’d been having the same conversation at Spa this year I would have recommended three different books, not because of any short comings in those excellent works, but because thinking in management is always moving and as ideas change so do the kind of books that support them.
The three books I would suggest today are all connected. They are connected in that they underpin many of the insights that we have drawn from studying the high performance world of Formula 1. Insights that are encapsulated in our twelve lessons and the performance pyramid which feature in the third edition of Performance at the Limit. They are all connected as they very much reflect the times in which we now find ourselves. A world which is evermore volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous; the US military term is a ‘VUCA’ environment. In a VUCA environment activities such as forecasting and planning become increasingly problematic and potentially dangerous in that they imply a level of control and certainty that just does not exist. So these three books take a different view to many of the existing works relating to organisations, strategy, leadership and management. Fundamentally they are all about learning and change.
The first is Charles Fine’s ‘Clockspeed’ which I like as it focuses on something we often forget about in organisations – time. Every organisation has its cycles, its rhythms and if we can do things faster, we can out-perform the competition – such as Zara changing the fashion industry cycle time from six months to a few weeks. The second is Amy Edmondson’s ‘Teaming’. Discovering Amy’s work was a real eureka moment for me. I’d often struggled to connect the concept of the ‘no-blame culture’ which came out so strongly from high-performing F1 teams to other theories and concepts relating to teams and organisations. It wasn’t until I read Amy’s work on psychological safety at the team level – where the team has to create a culture of no-blame in order to learn and improve – that I realised we were talking about the same thing – building the conditions where team members feel safe enough to be brutally frank about their own performance and that of their colleagues. It is only when these conditions are achieved that learning and improvement can really take place. And finally it was Bradley Lord of Mercedes AMG F1 who suggested I have a look at the work of Matthew Syed and his book ‘Black Box Thinking’. This featured interviews and analysis from the Mercedes F1 team. Matthew’s cogent account of how the airline industry learnt from its mistakes connected with key principles from the world of F1. His basic premise is that understanding and accepting failure or even disaster and tragedy is a huge learning opportunity that we just can’t afford to miss, but sadly often do.
So if you’re wondering which books you should read next, try these three. They will change your way of looking at your job and your organisation. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.