If you want to succeed in business, think like a cup-winner…

Last week I was at a friend’s house watching England’s first World Cup fixture against Tunisia.

As you know, it was a nail-biting finish with Harry Kane’s 91st-minute goal snatching a 2-1 victory for England.

A win’s a win, but it’s hard to deny there were some pretty ropey refereeing decisions during that match. Indeed, Fifa is investigating the apparent failure to award two penalties to England.

The outrage against Monday’s refereeing put me in mind of a story advertising legend Dave Trott tells about former England international and Leeds United manager Don Revie.

Like all football managers, Revie was careful to find out everything he could about an opposing team, and their weak spots in particular.

Get to know the referee

He also went one further, building up a file of information about every single referee in the league.

Then, when he knew which referee was in charge of Leeds’ next game, he made every player study the dossier he had created.

That meant each player went into the match knowing personal details about the referee, such as his wife’s name, how many children he had, where he went on holiday and what his interests where.

In other words, they could drop these things into conversation with the ref while they were waiting for the game to begin. The other team wouldn’t know a thing about the referee, so he would naturally assume the Leeds United players were much nicer guys.

As Dave Trott points out, the usual ratio of refereeing decisions is 50:50 – half are in your favour and half against.

The season Revie made his players study each referee, Leeds got 70% of decisions in their favour and 30% against.

In other words, Revie had out-thought the opposition.

He knew it would be impossible and illegal to influence refereeing decisions by direct means. So he rethought the problem and took a clever, psychological approach to get what he wanted.

During his time as manager, Leeds topped the upper league twice, took the FA cup and won many other trophies and distinctions.

Dave Trott calls Revie’s approach ‘predatory thinking’ and it can be a major asset for your business.

This is particularly true for businesses that fail to stand out from their competition.

The ones whose branding is like their competitors’. With products that look like their competitors’. And adverts that are almost interchangeable with their competitors’.

Trott’s point is that, to stand out and succeed you need to think differently.

In one of his books, he tells the story of a showbiz agency that was pitching for a British Rail account.

On the day, the top brass from British Rail arrived at the agency. The reception was scruffy and deserted. A woman appeared and ignored the visitors while rummaging in a drawer. When the visitors tried to talk to her, she was rude and dismissive.

After 15 minutes or so, the British Rail people started to walk out. At that moment, the agency’s creative director appeared and said:

“Gentlemen. You’ve just experienced what the public’s impression of British Rail is. Now, if you come this way, we’ll show you exactly how we’re going to turn that around.”

They won the contract. By being different, and by looking at the problem from a new perspective.

So, next time your business faces a challenge, try thinking like a wily football manager – forget out-spending the competition, out-think it instead.

Dave Trott’s book Predatory Thinking is available at Amazon.co.uk

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