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The Alchemy of Leadership Blog

But who’s Basil?


I’ve been reading Will It Make The Boat Go Faster by Ben Hunt-Davis and Harriet Beveridge.  Hunt-Davis was in the British Olympic rowing 8 at Sydney 2000.  Beveridge is a business coach.  To set the scene, Hunt-Davis explains that the 8 is the top event in rowing.  Most countries put their best people in the 8, but not the UK.  We put our best into smaller boats.  As he puts it: “We were the guys who weren’t good enough to win.  Apparently.”  The book explains how this group of supposed also-rans won Gold against the best of the rest of the world.

The race itself is thrilling.  The Brits throw caution to the wind and sprint from the start, getting the jump on the fancied Australians and holding on for our first victory in the event since 1912.

So, how did they do it?  The book takes us through the crew’s long, intensive preparation for the Olympics.  Each chapter has two sections.  There’s a narrative piece, where Hunt-Davis talks us through a key event in the development of the crew.  And there’s an analytical section, where Beveridge breaks down what they did and why it worked.  Each narrative piece is compelling, a page-turner.  The analytical section demands more concentration.  The lessons are sometimes blindingly obvious, sometimes very insightful.  Feelings, not much discussed in business, get much-needed attention.

The book is peppered throughout with the crew’s own language and in-jokes.  Sometimes it’s hard to remember what they’re about.  We’re urged to “choose the iguana”, “put Shreddies before Rice Krispies” and not to “talk bollocks to Basil”, for example.  No, me neither – and I’ve read the thing!

Overall, there’s a lot in this book.  Reading it is intensive work in a few places but, just like Hunt-Davis’ quest for Gold, it turns out to be worth the effort.

© Patrick Macdonald 2015

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