The Chinese sage Lao Tzu said, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
I take this to mean that we can learn from anything.
Learning is an active, not a passive process.
If we want to learn, we’ll learn.
If we don’t, we won’t.
You learn a lot from watching things and questioning things.
The value isn’t in what you question.
It’s in the questioning itself.
One of the places I learned from is football managers.
How could a manager make a weaker side beat a stronger side?
How could one manager out-think another one?
Why are some managers successful and some aren’t?
Why are some managers successful at some clubs, and not at others?
What could I learn about running a creative department from watching the way different managers run football teams?
Briefly, this is what I learned.
Matt Busby: The man who built Manchester United.
He always said you have to treat each player differently.
Some need a cuddle and some need a kick up the arse.
And they need different things at different times, to show you’re paying attention to them.
Always cuddling them is as bad as always kicking them.
It shows you’re on auto-pilot and that what they do doesn’t really matter.
If you switch off, they switch off.
Brian Clough: For me the best of the lot.
He would see what other managers were doing and do the opposite.
When everyone else was trying to win games by spending millions on strikers, Clough became the first person to spend £1 million on a goalkeeper.
Everyone thought he was mad.
But Clough won the European Cup twice, in consecutive years.
He was the proof of the Oscar Wilde quote, “Conventional wisdom is always conventional, but rarely wisdom.”
Bill Shankley: The man who built Liverpool FC.
Shankley set up a revolution that everybody in Liverpool could be part of.
He made his football club the symbol of pride for scousers.
The players weren’t just playing to win a game, they were playing for the entire city.
Liverpool winning became the business of everyone who lived there.
Shankley showed you get back much more when you know how to give it away.
Arsene Wenger: Built the most attractive team in Europe for peanuts.
Most other managers seem to think the job consists of buying the most expensive players.
Wenger doesn’t do that.
He finds young players not even on other managers’ radars.
Then he trains them, grooms them, tries them in different positions.
Then, most importantly, trusts them with huge responsibility while they’d still be considered too young at other clubs.
Alf Ramsey: Revolutionised English football.
Ramsey knew we didn’t have players who were good enough to beat the best in the world.
So he changed the system.
Under Ramsey, England played a system which the rest of the world hadn’t seen before.
Jack Charlton asked Ramsey why he picked him, as he wasn’t one of the best players in England.
Ramsey said, “I don’t want the best players. I want players who can play the system I’ve got in my mind.”
Ramsey showed you can beat people who are better than you, by out thinking them.
Under Ramsey England won the World Cup.
Alex Ferguson: The most successful manager in club history.
Ferguson gets involved in absolutely every detail of Manchester United.
For instance, he will let the groundskeeper know he wants to ask him some questions about the pitch.
So the groundskeeper will make sure he knows absolutely everything about every single blade of grass.
Now if everyone from the groundskeeper up feels like that, imagine the electricity buzzing through that club.
Producing a winning team becomes part of everyone’s job.
So, to recap:
1) Pay careful and constant attention to the individuals in your department.
2) Do the opposite of what the so-called experts agree on.
3) Start a revolution everyone can own.
4) Get great youngsters, train them and trust them.
5) Play a system that’s different to everyone else.
6) Pay attention to every single detail.
Not a bad set of guidelines for a creative director.