Key Ingredients to success (Kyran Bracken)

Thought provoking and inspiring moments can come from the most unexpected avenues. Today I was presenting at the Future of Finance conference in London, which is not particularly relevant to this group. As you can imagine, most of it was very finance related.

Towards the end of the day there was a speaker who spoke about talent management and culture. That is getting closer to what makes us tick.

And then......

The keynote speaker came on. Kyran Bracken MBE, Former England Rugby World Cup player and dancing on ice star. Kyran spoke about the key ingredients for success:

  • Innovation

  • Culture

  • Leadership


With innovation he spoke about how you have to continually seek to improve, marginal gains if you like. If you refine and find a winning change, others will follow. The best just keep reinventing and learning from what they do.

He gave some examples of how they did that. One example was they analysed the teams who were most likely to succeed and it wasn’t the ones who were best at scoring, it was the ones who were best at defending. They hired a defence coach and 51% of their training focused on defence. They became difficult to score against. Not only that, they looked at their kit. It was the typical thick cotton rugby shirts. The ones that easily absorb water when it rains. That could add a couple of pounds of weight in a match, weight that makes it harder for the players. They noticed how some of their better players were tackled by grabbing the loose clothing or collars. So they changed their kit. They moved to light synthetic fabric that was very light and skin tight and without a collar. There is velcro to hold the shirt to the shorts. Suddenly there was nothing for the opposition to grab hold of. There was uproar to start with, but now all teams have followed suit.

At the Dover seminars we spoke about how you should surround yourself with people who have already crossed the chasm of disbelief that you are facing, and if that made you feel uncomfortable that you just need to get over it! These are the people we can learn the most from. They have been where you are and can reflect on how they approached things and identify opportunities to be better. Opportunities for us all to learn and be progressively better.


The Saracens display their core values on very visible advertising hoardings in their stadium, they are included in every communication. They use them to review match statistics, results and to perform root cause analysis. It is how they behave every day.

The have also taken on the ‘wolf mentality’. Everyone in the team has a role and the team only works when every role plays their part. In one England team meeting the coach asked who was the most important person in the room at that time. The first answer was Johnny Wilkinson. That was not the right answer, the right answer was the kit man. Without him, none of the kit required would be ready and they would not be able to play within the rules.

Talking of Johnny Wilkinson, when he was first selected to join the England squad, at the end of a particularly tough training session, he got up and started kicking goals. The established team members joked to each other that he wouldn’t keep it up. Sure enough, after every training session, no matter how hard it was, Johnny would practice goal kicking. Eventually, even the most established team members followed his suit and started practicing their speciality, therefore the whole team improved.


In this part he spoke about how great leaders enthuse people to follow them. It’s all about the team, it’s not about them. The other key characteristic was the ability to think correctly under pressure (T-CUP).

Kyran ended by saying that it felt like a different life. At the time he enjoyed parts of it (some of the best times of his life) and not all of it, but now it feels like it happened to someone else.

How can we use this?

How can we use this in our challenges? There are so many ways. Let’s remember to be continually innovative. We have already made changes in the training I lead in Dover and we’ll continue to do that. Mostly those changes are subtle and focused on continually refining based on observed results, often with a scientific background. This is something that I naturally do in all parts of my life and is part of my other job.

Let’s continue to build a winning culture in the people we choose to work with on the way to our big goals.

Let’s work on thinking correctly under pressure.

And finally, we can realise that it’s normal for people at the top of their game to enjoy parts of their training and not all of it. It’s OK to be like that and still succeed.