The part of Africa I grew up in was a tough place to be a boy, and surviving the schoolyard daily required cunning and courage and the willingness to fight. Much like retail nowadays. One of my more memorable schoolyard fights lasted both breaks (i.e. the whole day) with neither of us being able to land the knock-out blow. My claim to fame is I went to school the next day (one-eyed, but I went) my opponent didn’t.
Street fight rule #1
Never grab hold of the person/ their clothing etc. When you do that you only have one hand left to fight.
Lesson for business: In business the natural tendency is reach out and grab a-hold of your competitor. In business parlance we talk about ‘competitor analysis’ – and it is the biggest waste of time. I realise that vast majority of readers will dismiss this observation as a crackpot statement and dismiss it as the ravings of someone who has lost touch with reality.
‘Competitor Analysis’ is part of consulting methodologies that sounds good, looks good and produces nice little pie charts.
The only thing that matters is what YOU do. You can’t control what they do, and if you try, you are fighting with one hand only. When you are implementing strategies ‘relative’ to what your competitor is doing, you are NOT focussed on the customer and your capabilities.
Like any good football coach, focus your game plan on your play – not their play. Unlike the football analogy you are NOT playing against your competitors – you are playing FOR your customers.
If you focus on the competition, you ultimately end up copying each other. The only strategic and competitive difference between Coles and Woolworths is the colour schemes and some legacy feelings. Instead, follow the lead of say Apple who did not try to out-Microsoft, Microsoft.
Street fight rule #2
If there is a crowd, get your back to the wall. That way they can’t surround you and you can fight what is in front of you.
Lesson for business: It sounds counter-intuitive because ‘back to the wall’ is a phrase the self-help gurus employ to indicate that you have no options left. The other way to look at that is that back to the wall means your options are clear and in front of you.
Having a ‘wall’ means there is one part of your business that you don’t have to worry about - that aspect of your business that you can trust is and will remain a core capability that is attractive to your customers.
If you don’t have a ‘wall’ at your back, build one.
Street fight rule #3
Never go down – under any circumstances. You will get kicked in the head and you will never be able to get up again.
Lesson for business: This is one of the toughest decisions a business person/ entrepreneur must make? When, if ever, is it better to throw in the proverbial towel? Seth Godin tried to answer this with his book – The Dip – and this is his response in summary during an interview:
Question: Other than hindsight, how does someone know when it’s time to quit?
Answer: It’s time to quit when you secretly realize you’ve been settling for mediocrity all along. It’s time to quit when the things you’re measuring aren’t improving, and you can’t find anything better to measure.
Seth is one of the smartest current thinkers about entrepreneurship and marketing, but in this case I still don’t get his response. And I don’t have the answer, so my response to a challenge is different.
In essence, my response is to show up every day and to put in. You may not succeed, but you haven’t failed until you have quit – so I just keep going. If a better opportunity comes along, I am happy to ‘pivot’ (a principle of in LEAN start-up culture) and jump to something else. But failing a better idea or a new opportunity – I don’t quit.
I learned that on the school ground.
One bonus dirty trick
In addition to the rules, here is my number #1 trick that my oldest brother taught me as I learned to fight on the playground:
Grab a small rock (size of a golf ball) and clench that in your fist. It turns a soft, squishy hand into a weapon that hurt a lot more than a normal fist.
Lesson for business: Harden up. Innovate. Turn a weakness into a weapon. Getting hooked on subsidies, government protection and the like is the easy and is comfortable option – but in the long run it makes you weak.