Total Competition – Book Review

What’s a book about F1 have to do with Business Central? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Total Competition, written by Adam Parr and Ross Brawn, does contain a masterclass on leadership, at a Very Rare Level. I was fascinated by the lessons in it and how those apply to any company, in any industry. If you are in any leadership role, I would highly recommend this book and try to listen to what the authors are telling you.

What’s it about?

This book is written by two Formula One leaders. Adam Parr is a name that is known mostly in F1 circles, but Ross Brawn is an absolute Legend and is well known outside of motorsport for his accomplishments. For those that don’t know, he has like two dozen world championships under his belt, in various capacities, and he is responsible for some of the greatest successes in the history of Formula One.

Brawn gets top billing on the authorship, but the actual writing is done by Parr. He pulls together the topics and introduces them by drawing comparisons in ‘strategy’ between F1 and the concept of strategy in the military. He uses the mother of all books on strategy, ‘The Art of War’ by Sun Tsu. He starts various chapters off with a few paragraphs from the book and uses it as the basis of a series of interviews. These interviews are in the book in their ‘raw dialogue’ form, although I believe that they have been edited for the book. In the audiobook, Adam Parr narrates his own part and Brawn’s part is done by a voice actor. Unfortunate because I think Brawn has such a commanding presence, it would have been awesome to hear him do his own part.

The content of the book is a case study of Brawn’s history, a deep dive into the how and why Brawn did what he did when he did them. Since Parr was also a team principal at some point, he is able to add his experiences as well and juxtapose those to Brawn’s experiences. Interesting to say the least in cases where they had opposite interests.

There is, of course, a TON of F1 content that racing fans will want to read about. What struck me though was that what interested me most were the parts where they talked about leadership and how different types of leadership affects the performance of the team. As I was listening to these two go on about how ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’ affect the direction of the team, I was just fascinated by how their thinking was just at a completely different level than I am used to.

The Art of Leadership

My biggest takeaway was that leadership is not a latent talent. It is not something intangible that someone does or doesn’t have. Leadership is a skill that is developed over time. It takes trial and error, keen observations, and a sense of purpose. You need to be able to change course when the thing that you are doing is not giving you the results that you are looking for. It’s a matter of being honest about what you are observing and take the steps that are necessary to correct the situation.

Then there is the concept of ‘Total Competition’. Everything…. Every… Thing… can have an effect on your performance. Even the smallest little detail can change the outcome. In F1 you can talk about polishing the bugs off the paint of the car to reduce drag, or a difference in where the measuring points are of the plank underneath the car and introducing a clever mechanism to affect that millimeter of surface area to meet the scrutineers’ requirements. In business this would be to have people polish their shoes and shave every day when attending an event, or enforcing time limits and having a meeting agenda in conference calls, holding developers to guidelines and naming conventions. We could go on and on about little things that we all take for granted in one way or another.

Brawn talks about how he hates micromanagement, how he hires experts for a reason. He gets the best people for the job, and then he facilitates their success to make sure they get the best out of their situation. Not because that’s how he inherently thinks that is the way things should be done, but because he himself was in a situation where he was micromanaged and found that to be the opposite of helpful. Let the experts do what they do best. Do not think that just because you are the boss, that you need to dictate what everybody does and how they do it. Of course he holds everybody accountable, and in meetings he will be very demanding of his people, but he does not get into the weeds of THEIR jobs. The most effective leaders are those that stay out of the way of their people.

Finally, the concept of being willing to do what it takes. These guys operate at the pinnacle of motorsports. You cannot fathom the type of pressure is on these guys to perform, and what is needed to be able to perform at that level. Brawn is one of a very small group of people that seemed to have figured out how to identify what is needed and how to build a team of people that are willing to do what it takes to get to that level. He didn’t just move an entire team, he built new teams everywhere he went.

Must Read

If you are a Formula One fan, this is a must read. The inside view of one of the most successful people in the history of motorsport is just fascinating from purely a racing point of view. If you are in a leadership position though, you owe it to yourself to read this case study in success at the highest level imaginable.