I am so over the 5 steps …7 ways…. 9 top tips articles. They often lose me after 3 and honestly, the best articles are rather premised on one simple thought, well crafted and fleshed out. Take guru author Simon Sinek’s Start With Why concept – simple - genius! So having spent a month in Melbourne, the sporting capital of the world, I’ve been searching hard to identify the one simple concept common to the multiple success stories that I have encountered here. Truth to tell, there is no holy grail (and I am feeling quite un-genius) – but in interest of debate, and indulging a personal infatuation, here is my best thinking.
Novak Djokovic, said to be the world’s best male tennis player, decimates every single opponent in the Australian Open 2019. I’m lucky enough to watch him take down these two live. Earlier the privilege of watching stellar cricketers, Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni, was rewarded when with the precision of surgeons under pressure, they defeated Australia at the mighty MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground). For a few weeks I stand alongside standout Wallabies, Will Genia and Quade Cooper on the training paddock, watch Serena Williams effortlessly brush aside a young upstart, and spend a day with World Cup winning coach Gary Kirsten. And with the boot on the other foot, I was also quizzed by England coach Eddie Jones as to what I was actually doing here whilst observing a rugby practice. I feel like I have been surrounded by excellence.
Aside from immersion in the sporting arena, there was also an opportunity to work closely with multinational auditing firm, PWC (Price Waterhouse Cooper), as they rolled out creative ideas for the Melbourne Rebels. By complete chance, I had a conversation with platinum selling artist George Ezra about how he manages his crazy life and finally during this fertile period, I watched a documentary on award-winning blind card mechanic (magician), Richard Turner. Mind-blowing.
I had so many questions for all these winners – but so few answers. Infuriating. But there it is, one lesson - wanting and getting are poles apart. Below are the key lessons:
Richard Turner practiced cards 16 hours a day. His wife tells how once in an intimate moment between them, she heard a noise – the noise of him shuffling cards in his other hand for practice. George Ezra revealed how he played guitar as a teenager but couldn’t sing to save his life. So he thought ‘Bugger it, I’ll just practice till I can’. Eddie Jones flew from England to Australia for four days and spent every minute meeting every single person he could that might improve his work (I’m not presumptious enough to think I numbered amongst them J). On his kicking technique Quade Cooper spoke at fascinating length on each intricate detail of his performance and thinking patterns. As for Virat Kohli, Novak Djokovic, Gary Kirsten and the rest, well it’s plain to see they are all obsessed. Obsessed with their craft.
Inspirational coach, and Melbourne colleague, Dave Wessels (himself intensely obsessed) refers to a book called, Only the Paranoid Survive by founder of Intel, Andrew Grove. It describes how top people are almost always obsessed, paranoid even, not just about losing, but with their craft. Bill Belichik, successful New England Patriots coach, upon finding out that his star quarterback was arriving at 5am to start working, decided to arrive at 4.30am so as not to be beaten. He also showed his team how to give the ball back to the ref during games so they wouldn’t lose crucial seconds should he fumble.
So the best are obsessed! They put themselves in places that feed their obsession, push their obsession outward and refuse to be ‘out-obsessed’ by opponents.
But with obsession often comes a balancing relationship with acceptance. Not accepting mediocrity, but accepting what is. Towards the end of the documentary into his life, Richard Turner, the card mechanic/magician tells how for years he stubbornly fought his blindness. He hated the term handicapped and froze at the title ‘blind magician’. He found true happiness and success he says, only later when he accepted his disability and recognised his need for help. Instead of sulking or giving up because he couldn’t sing, George Ezra, the singer, also accepted it and decided instead to practice at length rather than mope.
Many of these greats seem to be able to play the big points so well, to be able to recover quickly after a bad game. I offer that this might have something to do with the fact that they accept what is, and move forward. Gary Kirsten tells the story of how legendary cricketer Jacques Kallis believed that form and confidence were luxuries. Whatever you were feeling, he said, was what it was, but the one thing he could rely on was his technique. So he focused on his technique. The same technique he obsessed about for years!
There’s no quick route to success, you can’t buy it in a shop - but a healthy dose of obsession paired with equal measure of acceptance might be a great starting point.
I look forward to your thoughts?