I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times. – Bruce Lee
As some of you know I am an avid martial artist and when not practicing I love to watch combat sports. I am so grateful to all the Masters I have studied under and fellow students I have trained with for the wisdom they have shared with me and the support they have shown over the years. There are so many lessons from Martial Arts that translate to business but here is one I want to share with you that I think it is the most important of all.
Quite regularly at my Dojang – the place where we do our Taekwondo training – we spend the whole class practicing basic techniques that some of us first learned 10, 15 or even 20 years ago and have performed countless times. And although we would love to be always learning something new or something flashy, we are stuck breaking down the mechanics of the most basic of techniques.
So why do we practice them? Well, it is all about solid foundations – it is very easy over the years to develop bad habits, to improvise and even unconsciously modify the technique. Complacency, even arrogance can set in and attention to detail slowly exits stage left. If left unchecked, something strange starts to happen. The advanced techniques become harder to execute, or maybe muscle strains occur more frequently or most humbling of all, a lower-ranking belt with years less experience is executing the same techniques to a much higher standard.
There is only one antidote to this slide into mediocrity (or worse) and that is to ensure that the fundamentals are being focused on and practiced regularly. The time invested in ensuring the fundamental technique is correct, breaking it down, putting it back together again builds the foundation for the more advanced techniques. You cannot achieve the latter without perfecting the former.
So let’s turn to business and take sales as an example (but this lesson holds true for any role or discipline). When most salespeople start off in their career they are taught, for instance, some basic fundamental ways to prepare for a successful sales call. These could include setting dedicated prep time aside in their calendar and completing a call planning document.
Over time it could be that the call planner seems unnecessarily arduous and so is replaced by just a couple of quick notes. Then setting aside dedicated prep time on the calendar starts looking like overkill so a few, unscheduled minutes will do. And before long preparing for a sales call has become a little haphazard – a quick scan of barely legible scribbled notes or the electronic notes in the CRM that now appear to be written in some kind of code, then quickly sticking an intro slide into the slide deck and after that pretty much relying on experience and the ability to flex with anything that might come up on the call.
And this works, until it stops working and the wins don’t come so easily and worse, rookie competitor salespeople starting winning more and the world becomes a much tougher place.
When this happens, it is a very useful exercise to look at past success and re-examine what led to it. I will wager that one of the first things discovered is that there was attention to detail and careful execution of each step of the process. The dedicated prep time was non-negotiable, the call planner was filled out with insights, targeted questions and at least one or two back-up desired outcomes. And because of the preparation and the uncompromising focus on fundamentals, the flashy jump, spinning hook kick could even be deployed to win the day!
So the greatest lesson, whether in combat sports, (or indeed any sports) just as in business – fundamentals matter and it is the constant revisiting and reinforcing of those foundations that deliver long-term, repeatable success and not just an occasional win by a lucky punch.