Think like Fergie and think like a winner

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Like me, I am sure every hospitality operator is always on the lookout for new ways to understand how to achieve highly effective performance. In my latest book, How To Think Like Sir Alex Ferguson, I share an example of how the great Manchester United coach encouraged his players to do the same. I’d like to share this with you too.

Ferguson would tell his players a story of three men who were laying bricks.

Each was asked what he was doing.

“Laying bricks,” answered the first.

“Earning £10 per hour,” replied the second.

The third was driven by a bigger vision and said: “I’m building a cathedral and, one day, I’ll bring my kids back here and tell them that their dad contributed to this magnificent building.”

Ferguson suggested to his players that they could apply these three approaches to the training session they were about to embark on.


“I’m just practising,” would be the answer from the first player training.

“I’m earning £1,000 per hour,” would be the second.

The third response would be: “I’m helping to build the best Manchester United team ever and I’ll be proud to tell my grandchildren I was part of it.”

Still pondering these words as they commenced training, David Beckham promptly scored a gem from 30 yards and ran off in celebration, shouting, “Cathedral 1, Bricklayers 0.”

At its core is the idea that there are three alternative ways of approaching a practice or a training session. Or in the case of technology, how you apply it, once you’ve made your investment.

Level 1

You show up. You do the job exactly as you’re told to do it; nothing more, nothing less. You improve a bit.

Level 2

You show up. You do the job, and you target certain tasks that’ll help you towards your goal. You push yourself and you get a lot better.

Level 3

You show up, having thought about how today’s practice fits into the larger goal. You work very hard, repeatedly pushing yourself into the discomfort zone, with full commitment. Later, you reflect/analyze/critique your performance with a cool, objective eye.


Traditionally, when we talk about effective performance, we use the idea of focus — the amount of attention a person puts into their actions.

If you’re investing in technology, for example, how far are you going to go to make it work?

One reason I like Ferguson’s concept is that it takes us beyond the basic idea of focus and into the more targeted idea of investment — sensing and measuring the total amount of time and energy put into the process of getting better.

Ask yourself this question? How do you increase investment and win the workout within the workplace?

Here is a great idea.

Make a habit of connecting every day to the long-term goal.

One way to imagine this is to think like a movie camera, zooming in and out. Zoom in on the task, then zoom out to show where it fits in the bigger picture.

Take the time to do this and you are starting to think like Sir Alex Ferguson and share his winning mentality.

PROFESSOR DAMIAN HUGHES advises the business, education and sporting elite, specialising in the creation of high performing cultures. He is the author of Liquid Thinking, Liquid Leadership and How to Change Absolutely Anything and three acclaimed sports biographies of Sugar Ray Robinson, Thomas Hearns and Marvin Hagler. Earlier this year, he hosted a Team Performance event for GS. His new book, How To Think Like Sir Alex Ferguson, not only provides a fascinating insight into the mind of the legendary football manager but reveals how all of us can think like winners.


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