I’ve just finished reading ‘Total Competition’ by Ross Brawn and Adam Parr. I’ve always been a passionate believer that all organisations can learn a great deal from the competitive world of F1. It’s a goldfish bowl where people, money and technology come together in order to achieve amazing levels of performance – isn’t this what all organisations are about?
Ross Brawn is, in my mind, one of the greatest exponents of achieving such performance. We were lucky enough to get his insights from his time at Ferrari and then Honda when we did the first and second editions of ‘Performance at the Limit: Business Lessons from Formula One Motor Racing’. This book takes things much further and looks in detail at the background and context of Brawn’s thinking that brought about great success and, most importantly, where it also failed. It is the honest reflection on why things didn’t work out that makes this such a powerful insight for anyone looking to lead and develop an organisation of any kind.
The other element in the book is Adam Parr’s perspective, both as CEO of Williams during much of Brawn’s time in competing teams and his use of the military perspective on strategy. To be honest, I wasn’t totally sure about this latter aspect. I have used the military perspective when teaching strategy and in fact there is also a chapter on it in the text book I put together with Veronique Ambrosini – ‘Advanced Strategic Management’ – a rather pretentious title I know, but the publishers were keen on it. For me the military perspective is just that, one perspective, one useful lens for looking at strategy, but certainly not the whole picture. I was concerned that this was a book that would post-rationalise Ross Brawn’s perspective into a restrictive military framework. There was a little bit of this, but in overall terms I felt we learnt a lot more about Ross because Adam Parr used this perspective to challenge and explore his experiences, it also helped that because Parr had been in an competing team at the same time, he could offer insights that others would not have been in a position to do.
A real highlight for me was the contrast between Brawn’s situation at Ferrari and Honda, where he was strongly embedded in the organisation and had all key stakeholders on his side, to Mercedes where he was effectively exposed both to the challenges of Bernie Ecclestone and the internal stakeholders of Niki Lauda and Toto Wolff. It’s a fascinating book and one I am recommending all my Cranfield students to read – thoroughly.