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I believe in doing a hundred things 1% better. It's more realistic.

Learn from winning and don’t let the failures crush you

Sir Clive Woodward was the Coach when England won the Rugby World Cup in 2003. But before they got there, he also led the team to a devastating quarter-final defeat in 1999.

Gavin Allen: In this edition of Transform, we're looking at the subject of resilience, not just resilience against cyber attacks, but also personal resilience:  how people cope with setbacks, and how people recover and sustain their professional careers, even in the face of real adversity. You’ve been in business, a famed rugby coach, you’re an author, and you’ve been director of Sport at the British Olympics Association. Let me first ask you, does everyone have resilience within them? Or is resilience taught through coaching?  

Sir Clive Woodward: I don't think you are born with resilience, I think it's something you may gain through experiences, through life and through childhood. But you can definitely coach it. Resilience is all about talking about things and documenting things. I have a learning process called 3D learning. What is 3D learning?

The first D is discover. Discover is try to document everything about this subject that you need to be resilient about. After it’s documented, you keep adding stuff to it, so you’re always learning about the subject. The second D is distill. What are the key points? What makes the boat go faster? Out of all the discoveries around resilience in this particular area, what are the four or five things that, if we do them really well, then we know we’re going to be fine?

Then the third D is do. Once we know our key points, how do we practice it? How do we rehearse it? How do we do it better than anybody else?

I applied 3D learning to many subjects.

Gavin Allen: It seems what you're talking about is about communication, perspective, and time. But also I was struck by something I’ve heard you talk about in the past. You said we shouldn't ignore learning from a moment of great celebration. Is learning from a win as important as learning from failure for you? 

Sir Clive Woodward: Absolutely. Before rugby, I was in business. I worked eight years at Xerox where I was in leasing and finance before becoming a full-time rugby coach.  What happens when you win a big deal?  Typically, it’s Friday night, down to the pub, have a few beers, pop open the champagne….  You know, life's great.  And then, what happens when you lose a big deal?  Well, it’s everyone in on Monday morning, 8 o'clock, for a massive analysis on why we lost the deal. 

What I learned to do is to flip that.  When you lose a big deal, go down to the pub, and don't overreact.  This stuff happens.  What happens when you win the big deal?  That's when you get everyone in Monday morning.  We need to figure out why we won. It’s the 3D.  Discover, distill, and do.  People tend to have the other way around, have a bigger reaction to losing.

Gavin Allen: Thinking about your coaching, the biggest win-lose contrast that springs to mind is your 2003 World Cup final victory, preceded by the 1999 quarter-final defeat for you and the England rugby team. Were both those things for you equally valuable experiences in terms of learning about resilience?

Sir Clive Woodward: Well I enjoyed one a lot more than the other, put it that way.

Gavin Allen: Me too.

Sir Clive Woodward: 1999, it was just awful.  You know you've not delivered.  To be fair, we've never thought we'd actually win the World Cup deep down.  We weren't ready to.  By 2003, however, we were. But in 1999, there you are, you've lost, and people were after your head.  They want you fired, booted out.  Terrible, but looking back now, that was priceless for me.  Absolutely priceless.

I learned three key things.  One, you've got to look at your actions prior to that setback. That’s the biggest thing.    You need to ask yourselves: Did we do everything humanly possible to win this thing?  

Secondly, you've got to look at your team, your players.  Your real top players will stand up and say, look… Some won’t.  So you get to see the players who stand up.  

And, thirdly, that's the time when you can really just assess what's going on.  It's okay to grieve. But there comes a stage where you go, okay let's get back on the horse now.  I kept my job and looking back, I learned so much from that.  At the time you hate it, you don't know you're learning.  

There's a great quote from Nelson Mandela: "I never lose. I either win or I learn."  That's one of the best quotes I've ever heard.  It’s on my desk.  

Gavin Allen: But that must have been incredibly painful.  I mean you've talked about it almost like a scar that's still with you.

Sir Clive Woodward: You've got to plan for losing.  It is a realistic thing to do.  So when you do lose, you can handle it.  We won the 2003 World Cup, we won by a drop goal in extra time.  If we lost that game, it would have been a bigger loss than 1999 by a mile.  Why?   Because we were favorites to win it.  But would we have handled losing it? Yes, we would have, because we prepared ourselves for losing.  

The more you talk about losing, the more you don't lose.  Losing is part of resilience.  It's not about talking of losing all the time, but you've got to plan for it.  

I personally had to plan that with my family, with my kids.  My kids were all at schools.  They too had to become resilient to deal with the fall outs.  But the more we talked about it in advance, the better they handled it.  Looking back now, the way they handled it was actually amazing.  Losing toughens you up.

Gavin Allen: I'm sure. You use a lot the words “we” and “the team”. That's clearly critical. I know you've spoken in the past about teamship, and this obviously is central to building resilience. Is teamship difficult to develop? 

Sir Clive Woodward: I managed a Xerox leasing company before being a rugby coach.  I think running a small firm was the best preparation for me. It was my company and we built it up to ten people. About ten people in the room. Looking back, that was key.

You probably heard the term psychological safety. I was massive on this. Basically, you are in the team room, and when the doors are shut, I want everyone to say whatever they're thinking, whatever they're believing. That's what high-performance teams do. If you've got an idea about the team’s performance, I expect you to stand up and say it, even if it's criticizing me, or this person or this person.

In rugby, we were aiming to be the best in the world. We weren't messing around. To achieve this, it's about creating an environment where people feel psychologically safe to actually put forward ideas and thoughts about. Not just about playing a rugby, but the way we operate the team, our behaviors, our standards.

Gavin Allen: It's interesting. Huawei as a company sort of has talked a lot about resilience actually, and talked about it as a way of overcoming some of the challenges it has faced.  This is described as a sort of culture of resilience running through the organization. Do you think that's critical?  

Sir Clive Woodward: Yes, it's the whole team. In my team, my rugby team, for example…I can give you an example of team culture. Time. I'm absolutely radical on time. I think time says more about an individual or a person than anything you can think of.  So I wanted this to be a team culture. 

At the very beginning, I told them my views about punctuality and I left the room. When I came back, they had come up with “10 minutes early.” That was their new definition of being on time. It’s actually called Lombardi time, after a famous American football coach, Vince Lombardi.   It’s become a culture.  If you speak to any England player, anyone who played for me in those 8 years, they just go Lombardi time, 10 minutes early. And I can promise you, no one was ever late.

Progressively, you create a teamship rule book.  It used to be an actual book.  Today, it's on our mobiles. Wherever it is, that creates the culture. This creates great resilience to people who understand. And when new people join the team, the first thing is to read this. You can't join the team unless you've agreed to every teamship rule. At the first team meeting, you're asked to stand up and explain what could be done better. So you actually involve everybody. You start to create an environment. It’s not a one-way, top-down set of instructions. It goes both ways.

Gavin Allen: It's also interesting that you see resilience as being about lots of different things. That file isn't small. Timing is a sort of small marginal gain, but an important gain about respect. I know when you took over as England coach, I think you talked about 40 different things that needed to be done over the course of perhaps 2 years. In other words, quite a long time and a lot of myriad things that could all be marginal gained and therefore improved overall. Does it sort of surprise you that there are still leaders who come in with a one Big Bang idea and want it done now. Does that just simply not work for you?    

Sir Clive Woodward: There's no right or wrong. If I could think of one Big Bang idea, that would be great. But I've never been able to do that. I believe in doing a hundred things 1% better. It’s more realistic.  We break down what we do, and ask ourselves how to do each thing 1% better. It adds up.

Sir Dave Brailsford, the cycling coach, talked about marginal gains. I first met Dave when I got the Olympic job in 2008. He rang me and I had heard of him but never met him before. He asked me to present my ideas. So I made a presentation about a hundred things 1% better. About a week later, he rang me again. He said I was brilliant.  A hundred things, 1% better. He wanted to use it, but saying it differently.  He said, I am going to use the term “marginal gains.”  I told him, it will never catch on. But it's now in everyone's language. I promise you, he got it from me. And everyone loves it.

Gavin Allen:  I'll give you the credit. Don’t worry, the credit is yours.  What part do you think technology can play in building resilience? We saw, obviously, through COVID how technology helped a bit there. But in terms of business, for sports, what is the role of technology? And is it a growing role?

Sir Clive Woodward: Technology is huge! If you can't measure it, you can't coach it. So technology allows you to measure things. It’s as simple as that.  

I'm also involved in a ski academy down in the south of France called APEC 2100. We've created a program called Perform Better. This Perform Better is about eight areas.  It's not to do only with skiing.

This is a ski academy for some of the best skiers in the world. We coach them to perform better at skiing, but it's involving things like nutrition, sleep, health, brain fitness, digital wellness, life skills, et cetera. This is all about creating mental and physical wellness, basically.

Every single one of those is measurable.  It’s been done with various tools over the years but now it’s largely done with wearables. And I absolutely believe that if you can't measure, you can't coach. That's always one of my favorite lines. We are going to measure, measure, measure, measure. And once you measure, can we get that 1% better?

But the key is trying to get every member of your team involved as well. So they use the technology. They study the data. They come back with thoughts and ideas. The measurements shouldn't be any secrets. What is it showing us? What is it telling us? Not just me, the leader of the team, but what are you learning from this? Involving the coach, the athletes, and other experts is key. There's no point getting measurements unless you actually get the right learnings from it.

Gavin Allen: Great, thanks very much. And I'll make sure you get the full credit for 1%, not marginal gains.

Sir Clive Woodward: Marginal gains, I now wish I thought about it myself. It’s a much better saying than hundred things 1% better

Gavin Allen: Very good. Thank you very much for joining us. Really appreciate it.

Sir Clive Woodward: Pleasure.

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