Those in the world of business are always in the market for a guru offering the solution to all of their problems. In the past, these tended to be retired captains of industry but more recently leaders from the world of sport have moved into vogue.
At first sight, readers might wonder why a book by former England cricket captain and latterly psychoanalyst Mike Brearley should be relevant to accountants.
Anyone reading the exceptionally well written and Brearley’s deeply researched On Form will soon discover that many of the ideas which have made the author a success in his two seemingly diverse fields over the last half-century can be useful in our own day-to-day business. It helps that Mike Brearley has delved into the works of many other writers in creating a book that is very readable and of wide application.
His illustrations of what it means to be “in the zone”, that almost unconscious or subconscious state in which a cricketer, a writer, a psychoanalyst or for that matter an accountant can achieve wonders without really understanding what they’re doing is a good starting point.
Long ago, when this columnist really was an accountant rather than a tax consultant, it was necessary to ensure that balance sheets balanced. In the days before computers, this was a manual task and required a good head for numbers.
The odd thing was that when you were in the mood, it was often possible to see exactly where a confounding problem lay and correct it. At the other extreme, many of us must have dreadful recollections of nights spent burning the midnight oil in desperation as that elusive error continually eluded our efforts to identify it.
The same principles apply to perfecting a letter to HMRC or fee proposal as well as a project to ensure that the client receives the best tax advice on the planet.
In recognising and elaborating on this topic Brearley also cautions readers warning them that such a state can be dangerous, making people overconfident or sending them in wrong directions.
Perhaps predictably, the man who turned a defeated England cricket team into world beaters overnight also has much to say about teamwork and the ways in which some of those awkward but valuable egotists (think Sir Ian Botham or Kevin Pietersen) can be blended in with colleagues with the greatest positive impact.
In addition to cricketing and psychoanalytical anecdotes this book also contains what might be regarded as a crash course in philosophy. Going a step further, the author considers what it means to be on form from every angle and also looks at how individuals can be encouraged and helped to perform at their very best all of the time.
All in all, there is something for everybody in On Form, whether you are a cricket lover, have a fascination for the human psyche or merely wish to optimise your own performance and that of your business.