Steve Peters: Making money by managing the ‘inner chimp’ - Business Comment - Business - The Independent

Steve Peters: Making money by managing the ‘inner chimp’

The self-styled ‘mind mechanic’ Steve Peters is best known for his motivational work with England footballers. But, he tells Russell Lynch, it’s his advice to businesses that pays the bills

When England’s football squad begin their unlikely quest for World Cup glory in Brazil next week, at least they will have one proven winner on their side helping their bid to reverse nearly 50 years of failure.

Expectations are close to rock bottom, but the Football Association made what could be its cutest appointment for years in March by signing up the self-styled “mind mechanic” Steve Peters to work with the players.

He is the psychiatrist who shot to prominence working with sports stars including the Olympic gold medallists Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton, the five-times world snooker champion Ronnie O’Sullivan and, of course, the England football captain Steven Gerrard and his Liverpool team, who have just enjoyed a hugely successful season despite missing out on the Premier League to Manchester City.

As Peters puts it, sport is the “shop window” for the bread-and-butter work he and his consultants do with hundreds of businesses, based on the theories behind his best-selling “mind manual” The Chimp Paradox, which has sold 200,000 copies. Clients include the FTSE 100 consumer goods giant Unilever and the construction firm Willmott Dixon. Martin Gilbert, the chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management, says it’s his favourite book.

So what is it all about? Basically, Peters is trying to teach us how to manage our inner “chimp”: that’s his name for the bit of the brain which runs on emotions and gut instincts, makes snap judgements and thinks in black and white. It contrasts with the more rational, evidence-based part of the brain which sees shades of grey. The paradox is that we need our chimp – for basic survival instincts, for example – but if we don’t have a plan to manage it, and let it run our lives, it can be catastrophic.

Peters, who was born in Middlesbrough, now lives at Chapel-en-le-Frith in the Derbyshire Peak District but spends much of his time on the train to London. Since re-training in medicine – he was originally a maths teacher – he has spent 30 years studying the mind. Now a lecturer at Sheffield University, his earlier career included time working at Rampton high-security hospital, dealing with patients with serious personality disorders.

Although a keen and talented sprinter who holds senior world records, he doesn’t know any more about business than he knows about cycling. His work with companies was triggered by an old friend, the former Asda chief executive Andy Bond, who was impressed with his work with British Cycling.

“I actually know Andy personally from a long time ago,” says Peters. “It was 35 years ago. We first met on a running track when we were both competing in sprints. He got in touch and wanted to know whether it could be applied to business, and I said it came from hospital medicine, it didn’t come from sport. So I started working with some of his team.”

Roy Hodgson talks with Sir Trevor Brooking and Dr Steve Peters (L) during an England training session at The Sunlife Stadium Roy Hodgson talks with Sir Trevor Brooking and Dr Steve Peters (L) during an England training session at The Sunlife Stadium

Word spread. One senior businessman who has used Peters for workshops says: “We were basically trying to look at ourselves from a psychological point of view and improve. You can’t kill the chimp but you can manage it. If you don’t have a plan, the chimp comes up with one for you. It’s about how do you deal with pressure situations and clear thinking. It is about understanding emotion: how the mind works and not rushing in with knee-jerk stuff, from dealing with people to taking a deep breath and not sending the email.”

Most of his work with firms focuses on four basic areas: individuals and their emotions, managing other people, communications and the culture of the organisation. He admits it is difficult to measure change but the most emphatic evidence comes from those close to the senior people he has worked with. “I’ve had the wives of people come up to me and say, “This isn’t the man I married – and it’s a change for the better’,” he says.

But is his emotional management approach suited to all businesses? What about the brutal cut and thrust of the big City trading floors, where the law of the jungle rules and the chimps hold sway? “I have worked across the spectrum. It isn’t up to me to tell people what to do. If someone says I’m going to shout and scream at my team or my athlete and I’ll just be a chimp, what is the chance that they’ll succeed? The answer is that the probability starts to diminish. I’m not saying they can’t succeed, it depends on the person, but it is not generally the way to get the best out of people. Most people thrive with encouragement and faith in them.

“If a company has a culture which is very much a ‘stick’ culture and punitive, I’m not saying you can’t succeed, I’m saying you’ll get a lot of stress and a lot of casualties. They may say to me, ‘Well that’s good, we want to weed out anyone who’s stressed as a casualty’. What I would ask, though, is that an ethical way to work?”

And Peters will not help businesses to brow-beat each other. “If it is immoral or unethical or illegal I won’t engage with it,” he adds. “I wouldn’t help someone to intimidate the person in front of them.”

Most of the battle is setting achievable outcomes. “If you were to say, ‘I never want to be anxious again’, it’s dumb because the brain is geared to be anxious, so you are going to fail before you set off. I need to give you insight to recognise what anxiety is and show you how to manage it, then to get back on track.”

What the country wants to know is whether he will help England win a penalty shootout, having lost seven out of eight in major tournaments since 1990. Intriguingly, Peters has been at Wembley the day we meet but cannot talk about the football. OK: so say you’re dealing with a “business” that has a specific long-term problem you’re trying to improve? How do you tackle it?

“It isn’t simple. Say you’re the mana...” – he stops himself – “the chief executive of the company and I would ask what is it you’re trying to achieve, and make sure that and the method you’re using is suitable. If you are trying to achieve the impossible you will fail, and if you are trying to do the possible but the method isn’t possible, you will fail. It’s not about getting perfection, it’s about recognising when we haven’t got it, and what to do to get the best chance of getting it.”

It’s difficult to argue with that in the corporate world or on the pitch in Brazil.

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £280 - £320 p/d - 6 months

£280 - £320 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Senior BA - Insurance **URGENT**

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Training Coordinator / Resource Planner - City, London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Training Coordinator / Pl...

Data Governance Manager (Solvency II) – Contract – Up to £450 daily rate, 6 month (may go Permanent)

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently looking...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week