4 Business Lessons Gleaned From a Couple Dozen Youthful Street Fights
"Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." ~ Mike Tyson, former heavyweight boxing champion
As a result of my immaturity, stubbornness, various neighborhoods, youth and temper, I was in about a dozen fights during high school, college and my early 20's. I had no formal training as a fighter back then, and I ended up bloody on the ground after most of those scuffles. In my late 20's I started martial arts training which I did for several years until my wife and I started having children.
Even though I had earned a purple belt, which was two belts away from a black belt within that specific isshinryu karate dojo, I decided to stop training to dedicate the time, attention and finances necessary to raising our first of three kiddos.
Last week I saw a meme of the Mike Tyson quote that got me thinking about some of the surprising parallels I've seen between my business career of the past 20 years and my unsuccessful street fighting days. Here are four street fighting tips that are applicable to business, which I learned firsthand from the fists of others.
1. Whoever throws the first punch usually wins.
While not always true, I can tell you from personal experience that this occurs the majority of the time in a street fight. Up until a punch is thrown it's all posturing and jawing -- this is where Tyson's quote applies. That first punch usually takes the opponent by surprise, stuns them for a moment and gives you an edge.
It also applies to the first-mover advantage in business. A strong, novel product or service offering can knock your competitor back, forcing them to re-calibrate the situation. While they're thinking about what to do next, you can hit again and again with follow-up offers or deals. You can control the pace and intensity of that exchange until they fight back or end up on their back.
Related: 7 Lessons From the Boxing Ring
2. Soft tissue strikes are best.
I have found that the quickest way to end a fight is usually hitting vulnerable areas such as the nose or solar plexus -- also called "soft tissue" targets since there's very little bone protecting those areas. It's been my experience that, without fail, a punch to the nose waters the eyes and a quick fist to the bundle of nerves just below the sternum causes immediate gasping for air.
There's not much fight left in someone after they get a head butt from you on the bridge of their nose.That's a fact. The same holds true in business. Identify any vulnerability, weakness or "soft tissue" area of a competitor and hit it as hard as you can.
3. Have someone watching your back.
Every altercation I've ever been in occurred in front of other people. In a few fights, while my attention was focused on the primary opponent, I was jumped by a friend of his who took me to the ground where they both would proceed to hit and kick me. That's not a good place to be.
If you're looking to start, or end, a fight in business, it's good to have a partner or strategic alliance. You want to align with people you trust to watch your back if the fight turns against you. Oftentimes, merely the presence of a back-up or partner keeps others from blind siding you in a scrum.
4. Don't stop fighting until the fight is over.
This can be tricky because it first requires the ability to recognize and understand, while you're still in the heat of it, when the skirmish is finished. A street fight is over and it's time to walk away once a person is on the ground, huddled up protecting their head and neck, unable to defend themselves or not putting up any kind of attack.
In business the signs can be just as obvious via observed market share losses, supply-chain disruptions, stock outs, employee morale declines, hiring and retention issues or legal rulings against your competitor. Once the competitive threat is diminished or neutralized you can direct your attention elsewhere.
As a 40-something dad who hasn't been in a dust-up for years, I've learned that the best fighting tactic is to avoid fighting whenever you can. That's not possible if you feel compelled to defend yourself, those you love, your home or your business. If you do have to fight in the street or in business, make sure you give yourself every chance to win.