Book Review: Will It Make The Boat Go Faster?

by Ben Hunt-Davis & Harriet Beveridge

It's not unusual to see people attempt the transition from elite sport to business coaching and motivational speaking. While their stories can be inspirational, the truth is that there's often relatively little of practical value to be learned. There just aren't enough parallels between sport, with its emphasis on intensive training up to a peak, and business, where we spend most of our time performing. Many sportspeople, tacitly acknowledging this, tend to stick to autobiography laced with a few platitudes about working hard and bouncing back from failure.

Will It Make The Boat Go Faster? Is a little different in that it makes an explicit attempt to line up Ben's autobiography with specific lessons that are applicable to everyone's life, in or outside work. Each chapter consists of a story drawn from Ben and his team's build up to the Sydney Olympics, coupled with a chapter in which Harriet pulls out key principles. It's a unique approach, and something that makes this feel much more like a business book.

Does it work? We had mixed feelings about that. Ben's sections are easy to read, interesting, and enjoyable. The coaching sections worked less well for most of us, dressing some useful points up in slightly over-elaborate ways. Worst of all are the mnemonics (like "BEHTED", which even the authors acknowledge was an example of "blatant shoehorning").

Still, the book does unquestionably contain some useful lessons. In particular I enjoyed the emphasis that Ben places on the importance of constant, honest, communication, which comes through loud and clear in every chapter.

Another takeaway was the principle of layered goals - start with a Crazy goal (win the Olympics), make it Concrete (row it in under 5:18), create Goals inside your control (weights to lift), and finally focus on Everyday goals (methods or processes to achieve the Control layer). This is a really useful way to think about relating day to day activity to long term ambitious goals.

Finally, I really like the idea of "unskewing the scales" which tend to bias us towards inaction. A proper evaluation of risk means looking at 4 categories:

  • Risks we can afford to take

  • Risks we can't afford to take

  • Risks we can afford not to take

  • Risks we can't afford not to take

It might sound a bit Donald Rumsfeld, but I think that's a great mindset for evaluating the risk of sticking with the status quo.

All in all, it's a good book with a well-told story at its heart, and it does a better job than most at drawing out the business lessons.

Here are some of our book club members' reviews:

What is the secret to success in business, sport, and life? Will It Make The Boat Go Faster? demonstrates that talent is inconsequential - it's the process, mindset, and sheer hard work that separates the best from the rest.

They won the Olympics because of fluke therefore it is not ‘Olympic-Winning Strategies’. It should be more of like, ‘Strategies that could help you win the Olympics’. The title itself is really useful – the book should have covered and focused on these strategies. There are plenty of success / motivational books out there and this one isn’t much different. I do like the title as it gives us a reminder to focus on the things that would help us ‘make the boat go faster’.

How to do stuff for dummies; a good book for someone new to a discipline that requires practice and dedication or with less experience in this (although if a hobby I would ask you to question whether success at something is more important than doing that thing for the sheer enjoyment, to begin with). Not really a business book that you would learn a huge amount of new stuff from, but worth a read as is an interesting and enjoyable account.

An interesting insight into the thought processes, determination and effort needed to win an Olympic Gold, with learnings for everyday life drawn from each stage with mixed success.

Stephen Hampshire

Client Manager
TLF Research