Evolution, in any medium, is key to success

For my sins, I am a life long Manchester United fan. I follow my father and my grandfather in this. With the recent news of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement as manager of the club, after 1,500 games in charge and winning countless trophies, there was an outpouring of support and praise from both his professional peers and fans and a media frenzy to acknowledge his achievements and impact on the sport. It began to get me thinking about what we can learn from his time at the top of the sport and why the values he has instilled in Manchester United are actually values that we can learn and apply to our own industry.

Watching other managers talk about Sir Alex, there are a couple of significant things that came up. First, and foremost they talk with such admiration for his ability to evolve over time, reacting to the changes in football and constantly building and evolving his squad to cope. It is undeniable that without this ability Manchester United would not have been able to continue to win consistently for the best part of 25 years. Where other managers have come and gone, unable to keep pace with the changing style of play, Sir Alex has kept abreast and ahead of this and molded squad after squad to not only be competitive but to dominate European football.

This isn’t something that is unique to football. In Digital there are countless examples of companies and people who have failed to evolve with the times. Be it a developer who can’t be bothered to learn the latest language, or an agency who doesn’t acknowledge newer technologies and ways of thinking.

Another area of Sir Alex Ferguson’s work that came up a lot in the praise for him was the time he gave to other manager’s, particularly those who were less experienced than him. Many other managers have spoken of their gratitude for the advice and support he gave them early in their careers, or through the League Managers Association.

So how does this compare to our digital world? Our industry is quite good at sharing new ideas, be it through blogs, publications such as .NET and e-consultancy or through events and seminars. But often these discuss new ideas but don’t actually share learnings and ideas about practical applications. It would be nice to think that agency’s would feel confident enough to share advice and teaching with each other, even if it is through experienced professionals being given more time to get involved in lectures. The problem unfortunately for our industry is that doing this removes some of an agency’s talent and unique sales ability and so is unlikely to happen any time soon.

But one thing we are good at in this industry is individuals sharing ideas and if we can learn one thing from Sir Alex it is that encouraging others and offering advice is a good thing. For me, taking this approach in our work is important because it establishes our competence. Our work needs to speak for itself, as Alex’s does in football. We have to be confident in our own abilities, so much so that we can offer advice and guidance to others trying to achieve the same things. We also need to evolve in order to stay fresh and continue to compete with the best.

The third of Sir Alex Ferguson’s traits that I want to focus on, is in my opinion the most important. Above all other things, what he managed to do at Manchester United for nearly 30 years is to maintain a drive, ambition and determination to be the best. This is at the heart of what he achieved and should also be at the heart of what we do in Digital. Whether we are marketeers commissioning a new website, designers or developers creating new assets or owners guiding our companies own strategy, the one thing we should always be doing is aiming to be the best we can be. We should be driving forward and striving to improve and we should be evolving to make sure our websites, apps and user experiences are not only current, but forward thinking. In my role it is about making sure this agency is looking to the future. We are currently developing a new CMS and the model we are designing is one that we hope will be a game changer. My vision for the business is to work with new, interesting and creative clients and our staff our enjoying working with cutting edge coding approaches that deliver exciting things.

When we lose the ambition and the excitement for our work, we are stagnant. What I take from the life of Sir Alex Ferguson is that if you want to succeed then you have to continue to drive yourself forward, rather than slipping into the doldrums and becoming directionless. The 3 points I have pulled out here; evolve, share and drive forward are the key points by which we should all strive to live and work:

  • Evolution – keeps us fresh, keeps our work current and helps our business stay at the leading edge of its sector.
  • Sharing and Learning – builds our own skills and creates competition that drives us to better ourselves. It also instills confidence about your abilities and makes your business a natural “go to” when someone needs services.
  • Drive – pushes us to continually achieve. When the drive is gone then that is the time to ask yourself if you should still be doing what you do.

Of course there are many lessons we can learn from people like Sir Alex Ferguson, but for me it is these transferable skills that are the key to anyone who wants to be successful. More so, these are what we should all be applying if we are serious about our work and want to strive to be the best.


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