I think Iron Mike clearly nailed it when he said those eleven words. They speak volumes in life as they do in business. Even the best strategists have to be prepared for the unexpected. When tasked with a project or challenge, you spend time prepping, researching and scouring facts and figures. You analyze, speculate and coordinate your plan of attack; your masterpiece—your Magnum Opus. You step into that ring to show off your skills…
Then that left-hook comes out of nowhere and lands squarely on your jaw; leaving you punch-drunk and reeling. ‘Where did it come from? Who threw it?’ You stagger around the ring boardroom looking to regain your footing. You start swinging wildly at your foe while frantically looking doe-eyed back to your team in the corner hoping desperately that someone will throw in the towel and call the fight. Then you’re hit in the solar plexus with a flurry of jabs.
The wind rushes out of your body and stars start forming in the corner of your vision. The room is quickly growing dim and your knees take on the consistency of cooked noodles. You list dangerously to one side; hitting the ropes. Then the canvass rushes up to slap your cheek as the ref gives you the 10 count. That’s it. You’re done.
Your Manager stands over you shaking their head. “Next time you bring me a report on A,B,C you better bring your ‘A-Game’.”
Once the crowd has cleared, the blood has been washed from your face and the tape removed from your hands you start to really question what happened? ‘How did I not see that coming? I’ve fought in this very same ring a countless number of times and I’ve always won. How did my boss know about that gap in my report? How did they know that I didn’t have the most up-to-date numbers from Marketing?’
In business, much like in boxing, practice and preparation will only take you so far. You will learn to duck and weave, hook and jab with scary precision but once you step into that ring, anything could happen. Your preparation only gets you so far before instinct and timing become your guides.
So how do you prepare for future fights so you don’t end up getting ‘rope-a-doped’?
1. Get in the ring and start learning. If you’re not willing to look back over older presentations you’ve done or notes you taken to see where improvements could’ve/should’ve been made, then you might as well hang up your gloves. You’ll get knocked around every time you get back in the ring and your opponent won’t need to make much of an effort to get you back on the ropes. Make it a habit to review previous comments and edits to ensure you’re not simply rehashing old content or mistakes. Learn from your mistakes.
2. Change up your sparring partners. Sometimes you need to break from routine in order to see what you’re capable of. When you’re ready to get back into the ring pick a more difficult partner to spar with. Take a few shots to your ego to see what your limit is. Run your work past tougher critics within your organization. Ask them to be ruthless and scrutinize every phrase, word and syllable. In doing so, you’ll widen your view of what might happen when in the midst of a real bout. You’ll quickly identify which punches will be thrown to simply ‘test your mettle’ versus those punches that are meant to knock you flat on your backside. Watch and learn.
3. Expect to get hit. If you go into that ring thinking that you’re untouchable, the shock of getting nailed in the face may be much more than you were initially prepared for. Be ready to take a few shots. Use this as a learning technique to gauge the strength and strategy of your opponent. Use objection handling techniques such as rebuttals and redirection to keep your opponent on the defensive. Use well mapped out facts and data points as your left hook and right cross to keep them on the ropes.
4. Use your head as much as your fists. Learn how your opponent fights. Talk to colleagues or better yet to the fighter themselves and ask them what they expect to get out of your match. While it might seem odd to bring the fight to your opponent outside of the ring, good strategists will take every opportunity they can to learn from the best. When you get to fight night, watch your opponent. Watch their body language as it’s one of the best indicators as to when they’re going to throw a punch. Listen to their tone, their phrasing and their intonation. Subtle changes in the dialogue can be a warning sign. Remember their approach and their demeanor. Chances are they won’t change their approach drastically during the fight. If you can anticipate their ‘swing’ then you can duck, dodge and deck ‘em with information before they even know what hit them.
For those of us in the business world, I’m certain you’ve nursed more than a few black eyes and split lips in your time. But chances are you were back in the gym the next day prepping for the next match. We take our lumps from time to time with a wry smile and the knowledge that these hits will eventually make us better fighters. If not—we can always take up Golf.
Photo: Mike Tyson, AP Photo