Culture5 min read

In Conversation: Sir Clive Woodward and Charles Mindenhall on success from setbacks

We recently brought together World Cup-winning Coach, Sir Clive Woodward, and Charles Mindenhall, Co-founder of Blenheim Chalcot, the UK’s leading digital venture builder, in a webinar where they reflected on their experiences of leading teams through turbulent times, building businesses that have thrived even in recession eras, and their insights curated from their networks of CEO peers.

We’re publishing parts of the discussion as part of a mini-series so you can access their insights in bitesize bursts of actionable learning. You can head back to Part 1 here if you’d like to start at the beginning.

Part 2: Success from setbacks — Don’t overreact to the failures

Charles Mindenhall:

Given that we’re all facing this biggest challenge at the moment with COVID, and also the world is in turmoil and facing a crisis, I wondered if you might talk about some of the crises you’ve had, some of the challenges you’ve had in your career because I’m sure it all hasn’t been a bed of roses.

Sir Clive Woodward:

Coming from business, I have this saying about success from setbacks. What I’ve found in my business career, which I apply to sports and these crises, was that I was guilty of this when I ran my own small leasing and finance company. I had two business careers. One was Xerox, and one was a small finance company. What happens with business is this: When you win the big deal, what happens? You go down the pub, you celebrate, you open up a few beers, you open the champagne, and everyone celebrates. What happens when you lose a big deal? The opposite happens. Everyone at 8:00 Monday morning, big overreaction, “why did we lose,” all this sort of stuff.

I learned to flip that through my business career and learned to flip it in rugby. In other words, when you lose the big deal, don’t overreact. Go down the pub, and just chill. When you win the big deal, everybody at 8:00 Monday morning, “Why, why, why did we win?” What are the key learnings from all this stuff?

I think this is what’s going on now. It’s the ability to learn about what’s going on and make sure that you come out the other end of this with your learnings intact. It’s not just learning from when things are going badly, which I think is quite more straightforward to me. It’s also learning when things are going well. There are companies going well at the moment, and certain businesses going well. What can you do to really turn this around?

I think that’s what helped me come out of the ’99 situation, was because of that business career about; when things are going badly, which they were, don’t overreact. Just take your time about this. That’s what we learned to do. The next four years, we hardly lost a game for four years. Between the two World Cups, we played about 50 games and won 45 or 46. We just learned all the time about winning, winning, winning, about how you can make that step change.

Charles Mindenhall:

That’s great. Thanks, Clive. That reminds me when we’re building our companies, our earlier-stage companies, in particular, we have a saying. It’s a Winston Churchill saying, “Success is the release of going from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

Sometimes you just got to keep at it and you’ll get there eventually, but don’t overreact to the failures. Don’t give up after the failures. Keep going, keep iterating.

Sir Clive Woodward:

You just got to guts it out, and every day you get through it gets better and better and better. There will be light in the tunnel. That’s all you can advise people. Just keep working hard and throwing everything at it, and you will come through it.

Key takeaway:

A key component of having a winning attitude is your ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change and to keep going in the face of adversity. When we fail at something we can walk away with firsthand experience of how to do that thing better. The experience of failing at something is truly invaluable.

If you’d like to listen to the full recording, you can do so here.

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