Alastair Campbell has assembled a fine bunch of achievers for his new book about winning and success. Vladimir Putin is there, as is Bono, Gerry Adams, Richard Branson, Anna Wintour and José Mourinho. If only he had added Alan Sugar and Donald Trump to the mix, we would have the ultimate nightmare guest-list for an imaginary dinner-party.
These people have what Campbell, using the acronymic style that is obligatory in self-help books, calls OST, which stands for Objective, Strategy and Tactics. In our own little lives, we can apparently learn from them and their OST. “Strategy is God”, he writes.
The book will probably make money. Manuals about success written by the successful are a well-tried genre, pandering to readers’ fantasies and offering a kind of power porn. Everyone, so the thinking goes, wants to be a winner, yet few of us are. If we acquire a bit of Mourinho magic, Branson smoothness and Bono – well, whatever he has to offer – then all will be fine.
To judge by interviews with the author and reviews of his book, his message has a curiously 1980s feel to it. It encourages us to be more scheming and ambitious than most of us are, to behave like a particularly hopeless contestant on The Apprentice.
A more helpful and more timely book might have been called Anti-Winning: Why Success Isn’t Everything. Most people these days do not think like winners, and the world is a better place for it. We anti-winners have learnt that the drive to win, to see life as a race in which everyone is competing with us for some great prize, is not only intrinsically silly, but comes at a high cost.
The people I know who are achieving most in their lives are doing so in a personal and unshowy way. They do not believe that strategy is God and are not working towards long-term goals. Instead, they have a sense of who they are, how they can work best and what they want from life. Their leadership lies in what they do, quietly, day by day.
There is a lot to be said for this anti-winning approach. It is inclusive and kinder. It does not involve channelling an inner Putin or a domestic Mandela. It may not grab the headlines, but often achieves, both in results and in the sum of human happiness, more than the gongs and triumphs of Campbell’s winners.
That may sound rather wet to a man who, over the past 20 years, has exemplified an aggressive, alpha-male model of behaviour in politics and communication, deploying spin, cunning, bluster and considerable assertiveness to achieve his aims, but there are signs that the world is growing weary of all that.
The pathetic point-scoring of Prime Minister’s Questions has begun to seem peculiarly absurd. The gladiatorial, Paxman/Humphrys style of interviewing has been seen to yield far less information and truth than the less confrontational approach of, say, Martha Kearney or Kirsty Young. “He just wants to win,” Campbell writes admiringly of José Mourinho, as if managing a Premier League football team is in any way comparable to the lives and jobs of the rest of us. Real winners “make their own weather” – but then so do anti-winners, without the need to defeat other human beings in the process.
That feels like a better recipe for a happy world, one in which the crazed competitiveness of often rather psychologically odd people is not assumed to be one to which the less driven, and probably saner, should aspire.
Anti-winning is now the way forward. The traditional belief in coming first at all costs has had its day. It has lost, in other words.
Why did anyone ever think this was funny?
Can we now bid farewell to the grope? Is it time to view it as a historical curiosity, an unattractive feature of 20th-century male behaviour? Just possibly, we can. It has certainly had a good run. Different versions of groping – the older male’s wandering hands, the boss chasing his secretary around the desk – were a staple of British comedy for years.
Now, in Jean Seaton’s new book about the BBC in the 1970s and 1980s, Pinkoes and Traitors, we read that senior executives “abused their position” with younger female staff while two revered figures, Huw Weldon and Malcolm Muggeridge, “both groped incontinently”.
Muggeridge, an entertaining if slightly bogus journalist, has since emerged as a relentless sex pest in his later years, at a time when he would regularly rail against promiscuity. “The orgasm has replaced the Cross as the focus of longing and the image of fulfilment,” he once wrote. The grope, like rape, is about male power and bullying. How odd it is that for so long it was seen as harmless fun, the stuff of saloon-bar jokes.Reuse content