A renewed focus on individual and organizational entrepreneurship provides a “puncher’s chance” when dealing with ambiguity and adversity.
On November 5, 1994, an object lesson in responding to adversity occurred.
On that date, 45-year old boxer George Foreman–known as much at that time for being the spokesmodel for his eponymous grill as for his boxing–knocked out Michael Moorer, who was up to that point the undefeated reigning World Heavyweight Boxing Champion…and 19 years Foreman’s junior.
Moorer outboxed Foreman for nine rounds, turning Foreman’s face into a fleshy swollen mess. During those nine rounds, Foreman struggled to throw punches and certainly didn’t evade many thrown at him.
And then, in the tenth round… Boom.
Foreman, well known for his punching power, slipped in a short right hand that crushed Moorer’s chin, knocked him to the canvas, and won Foreman the championship for the second time after a 20 year hiatus.
Here’s that classic 10th round on video:
Note the comment from Foreman’s corner man at the beginning of the video:
We gotta put this guy down…we’re behind, baby!
They knew they were losing. Foreman had eaten a steady meal of Michael Moorer’s right jab. He was way behind and beaten badly.
Foreman was old, heavy, slow, and beaten up going into that 10th round. Moorer was young, fast, strong, fit, and ahead in the bout.
But, Foreman had a chance. His chance was embodied in his wrecking ball of a right hand.
That “chance” put Moorer’s lights out at 2:12 of the video.
There’s this thing in boxing. It’s called the “puncher’s chance.” It means that a boxer with a strong punch–a go-to skill that can turn a bout on a dime–always has a chance to win. The puncher’s chance applies to those who have it even when they are the lowliest underdogs facing the most superior of opponents.
It doesn’t guarantee a win, but it offers the light of hope to those who have it, even in the midst of a beating. It is literally a means of punching through adversity.
We all should aspire–individually and in the teams and organizations we lead–to have a foundational capability that helps us punch our way out of adversity. In the most dire of circumstances, having a core capability to call on can mean the difference between having a chance and having none.
We should aspire, in other words, to cultivate a puncher’s chance.
In simple terms, the puncher’s chance in a business environment is a valued capability that, regardless of environment, allows an individual or an enterprise to endure, grow, and prosper.
Be careful, though: For every true cultivated go-to capability, there’s an mountain of pablum about “competitive advantage” and “core competencies” to wade through.
There’s also that catch about “valued” capability–be careful not to claim the ability to spin and confabulate as constituting a valued capability. It isn’t. It’s a delaying tactic just waiting to be exposed.
So, what gives you a puncher’s chance?
What foundational capability gives you your best chance to overcome adversity, individually or as the leader of an entire enterprise?
Is it superior operations? Sales? Marketing? Product development and innovation? Design? Supply chain expertise? Executive talent? Cost control? Effort and work ethic?
In reality, that’s for you to answer. It might be different for you.
In my estimation, the best analogy to the puncher’s chance in business is a deep seated appreciation for and cultivation of
It’s the crushing right hand just looking for a chin to demolish. It’s the single latent capability that can save an organization time and time again, regardless of market context.
Unfortunately, it’s also the capability that gets quashed most quickly by risk-averse and resilience-starved corporate hierarchies.
Still, in the most staid corporate contexts you’ll encounter, where cost control and small thinking rules the day, it is on the shoulders of a few enterprising individuals and teams that success tends to ride. Those individuals drive activities like:
- Development of profitable new products and markets that nobody in the corporate hierarchy wanted.
- Development of new customer accounts that others viewed as too hard, too distant, or too far off strategy.
- Growth of key leaders who renew the organization in tough times
- Response to muted customer inquiries that turn into significant opportunities
- Establishment of entire new businesses that feed off the capabilities of the organization in entirely new ways.
- Constant focus on competitive activity and required responses, acting as the few sentinels for the health of the organization.
In the process, the individuals and teams who do these things create possibilities where none existed…
…and that, my friends, is what the puncher’s chance is all about–a very real something from an apparent nothing.
But, how do you cultivate it?
On some level, it’s fair to debate whether entrepreneurship as a capability is a nature or nurture proposition. I’d argue that entrepreneurial capability can not only be taught, but that it is also contagious.
The flip side is that it is also easily extinguished.
In any event, if you are looking to cultivate this particular punch, here are 5 ways to start:
- Establish clarity on boundaries – Ensure that you achieve clarity on what values apply (i.e., what you won’t do) and what boundaries exist (i.e., where you won’t do it). This applies to you and to your organization.
- Relentlessly encourage resourcefulness – The most ossified of organizations fall into the trap of top down management. People in the organization become so used to being second guessed that they never even bother with the first guess and therefore lose whatever entrepreneurial spirit they had. Encouraging resourcefulness means asking for, listening to, and developing novel perspectives on markets and solutions to pressing issues vs. telling the answer. It also means holding yourself to a standard of generating options vs. finding problems.
- Generate risk awareness – Ensure that leaders in the organization have a sense of ownership and understanding of the price of risk. This can be done through incentives, but also through mere transparency around how capital of all sorts is allocated within the enterprise. Such transparency shows smart people the types of risks a company is willing to underwrite and reward. For you individually, establish thresholds for risks you are willing to take with your career, your income, and your wealth.
- Role model resilience – In an odd and ironic point of fact, senior executives in large organizations tend not to be all that tolerant of ambiguity or error. That reality is a driver of the great divide between the mindset of an entrepreneur and the mindset of a solid corporate manager or executive. Corporate managers look at a project and see all the risks, the reasons not to do it, and how to effectively hedge the budget. Entrepreneurs tend to look at a project and wonder why it can’t be done faster and better; all the while disregarding any need for hedging because “you win some and lose some.” Execs need to role model a resilient mindset more often.
- Reward entrepreneurship asymmetrically – Though such an assertion flies in the face of the world of compensation hierarchies, benchmarks, job classes and bands, and workplace equity; find ways to recognize and compensate intelligent risk takers asymmetrically. Too often, the perceived cost of entrepreneurship exceeds the potential recognition or upside. It tends to look more like executives and shareholders providing a “heads I win, tails you lose” proposition when viewed from the lower end of the hierarchy. Share the wealth…Loudly.
No matter how beaten up your organization is in its markets, how many product launch failures you’ve endured, how much market share you’ve seen erode; the ability to constantly redefine and attack markets and problems with an entrepreneurial edge gives you and your organization a puncher’s chance.
These tips work for enterprises large and small, and certainly work for individual professionals. History is rife with examples. Apple Computer emerged from being a PC maker to being a dominant player in mobile and media markets. Texas Instruments was once an oil and gas exploration services company. GE was Thomas Edison’s hobby shop. IBM made mainframes.
But, watch out!
Perspective matters. Many of you reading this think you know your core ability…”I have it, it’s my competitive advantage and it’s X” (fill in the X with your known strength). Keep in mind that while you might be the fit, strong champ in control of the bout, the other guy just might have a stone cold right fist to throw your way.
The other guy might have a puncher’s chance. Watch out for it.
Today, executives believe that 46% of global strategies fail to deliver. So many companies are trying to develop agility top-down in order to respond to a rapidly changing environment.
We simply can’t rely on top-down thinking driven by corporate savants to save the day.
So, cultivate a tight focus on entrepreneurial mindsets alongside loose control over skilled people.
Do it to drive wins, even while choking on the modern world’s heavy dose of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.
Cultivate your own puncher’s chance.
Find a way to win.