Saturday, 8 October 2016

AFCB Directors' Dinner serves up secrets of success

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the annual AFCB Directors' Dinner last Thursday when guests were invited to listen to former Table Tennis professional and now leading sport's biographer, author and Times' sports columnist, Matthew Syed.

While I had been to one Black Label Business meeting before, a few years back, it was a pleasurable opportunity for me and some 150 others who don't regularly get up to Champions Top Floor Restaurant, to have a chance to talk about AFCB and business in Bournemouth. Moreover, we were about to find out what makes a high performance sports person tick or rather - how to be a winner! HSBC was the event sponsor  and the evening was compered by Harvey Thorneycroft, a former Northampton Saints' rugby player.
Mathew Syed prepares for his table tennis demonstration - any volunteers from the audience?
Matthew at first dazzled guests with an exhibition match against former top six UK tables tennis player Matt Ware, before going on to talk about whether you can learn to be a higher performer with disciplined practise, self evaluation and hard work or if you are simply born with natural talent to be the best.

With Matthew Syed having been the UK's number one tables tennis player and having competed at the Olympics, he had a sporting career that had already taught him much about winning, but having also written books on high performance science, and interviewed the leading names at the top of sports and business, he now has a much stronger opinion of what makes people successful. It may be hard for those who are told that they are super talented that they can actually improve further, if they could learn from their mistakes. But it is the combination of small improvements that Matthew believes will lead to higher performance levels, and when things go wrong - which adds up to defeat in the football world - this has to be a considered as an opportunity to learn.

Professionals that self justify their errors as one of those things that happen from time to time do not set the right outlook for creating a learning culture. People have to be in the right mindset to see why things go wrong - or more positively put - to see how they could have been done better. Matthew said that in a sporting context, the Team SKY cycling team was a good example of cumulative gains to achieve higher performance or 'marginal gains' from bike design, better diet, clothing, even right down to bringing in the use of anti-bacterial wipes to stop passing on germs. Sir David Brailsford, who managed the team to their success, could see when that high performance was not about what we already know but about what we don't know. Yes, they had good bikes already, but why weren't they even quicker? Would changing the helmet shape shave off a few tenths of seconds? Would better sleep aid recovery? etc. Together, the marginal gains added up to a big gain - Tour de France winners, Olympic champions etc.

Mathew gave his talk to 150 business 
leaders at AFCB's sixth annual 
Directors' Dinner at Dean Court.
In football a learning culture can also be created. Rob Mitchell, AFCB's commercial director, had earlier outlined the environment in which AFCB were now operating - a Premier League with 4.7bn viewership and an audience that watched the games now covers 190 countries. It's a league that AFCB want to stay in with Eddie Howe's leadership.

Matthew Syed spoke on this level about David Beckham and his debut for England and beautifully hit top corner free kick goal. It may have seemed to onlooking journalists that this was perfection that David was born with, but even Beckham had to admit that the journalist and fans had only seen this performance because of the hours and hours he had put in on the training pitch, in trying to perfect this technique. Referring to Cristiano Ronaldo, Matthew suggested that the Portuguese player was transformed from a good flare player into a world star by learning from Gary Neville. It was Gary who showed him that hard work and extra training was a way to get even better. We can say the same kind of 'centre of excellence' learning is employed by Eddie Howe at AFCB. Hard work and practise is effective but it's just part contributing to be a high performer.

Matthew also talked about choking and gave his own example of not playing to his potential at the Sydney Olympics. It is simple for words said at the wrong time to heap pressure on leading athletes, as they are not immune from outside influences. As far as football is concerned and the English side, Matthew pointed out how more leaders are needed with players being able to make decisions on the pitch. There is a culture in football where managers don't trust the players and it is important to move away from that. Matthew gave the GB Women's Olympic hockey team's success as an example, where the players themselves decided when it was best for them to train. To end up with a gold medal in Rio was a fabulous result.

The evening was full of such anecdotes of famous people and global companies that Matthew has worked with, but Eddie Howe may well be on his short list to be interviewed next or should that be analysed?

The AFCB business website has details of their next event.

Official Event Partners
Bournemouth Chamber of Trade and Commerce
Dorset Cancer Care Foundation
Dorset Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Hill Osborne
Strategic Solutions
Travel Counsellors

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