Sir Alex Ferguson’s phenomenal success as manager of Manchester United was due to his creative intelligence. His evolutionary problem was a broken football club – and he recreated it as a “winning machine.”

He was successful because he instinctively followed Darwin’s insight:  ‘It is not the strongest that survive, nor the most intelligent but the ones most responsive to change’.   Ferguson confirms this:  “The thing I’ve done well over the years is to manage change.  You control change by accepting it.  Most people don’t look to change.  But I always felt that I couldn’t afford not to”.

To achieve ultimate success Ferguson tested both his personality and those of his team players.  His lows were low: In 1989 Manchester United fans were fed up with failure  ’3 YEARS AND IT’S ALL CRAP. TA RA FERGIE’ was the message on a banner. Ferguson called this ‘Black December’ when he reached the “lowest, most desperate point ever in all my years of management.”  

Failure continued.  In 1992 Man U failed to win the first league title; but his post-match speech shows his mettle:  “We have to recover, we have to be fast about it.  In the history of Manchester United this is another day and we will recover”.  The ethos he built up is strikingly similar to that of the most successful of all public schools, Eton (see page..) . “I would remind them (the players) that it is trust in one another, not letting mates down, that helps build their character.”  He would say to the players “Look at each other and be proud to be in this together.”

Ferguson knew what he was looking for in his players – not just the best football skills but personality traits – optimism, perspective, confidence and “control the controllables”, as Damian Hughes describes in his book How to think like Sir Alex Ferguson.  The smooshing and the pivot (Two vital elements of CQ success) were thankfully already in place, but Ferguson desperately needed to activate all the other CQ skills to achieve success.  He had, for example, well developed visualising skills: “I tried to visualise the team 3 – 4 years ahead and make decisions accordingly.”  

Prof Hughes quotes Sir Edmund Hillary who was the first to climb Mount Everest:  “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”  This attitude sums up both Sir Alex Ferguson and his Manchester United players – it is the key personality requirement of creative intelligence.