Lesson IV – Discipline and Focus Drive Value
This final installment focuses on the fact that every business, as every wrestler, has a core competency that needs to be nurtured. It is a lesson demonstrated by some of the best wrestlers ever.
John Smith was one of the best wrestlers ever to grace the mat. He was a two-time Olympic champion, four-time world champion, two-time Pan American Games champion, three-time NCAA champion, and four-time high school state champion. While he was a generally exceptional wrestler, he was most known for his trademark move, a single leg takedown. All opponents knew that eventually he would execute the move, but when it came none could stop it. He’d honed this move, as well as the strategy for setting it up and scoring even more points after executing the move, over years.
He’d likely practiced the move well over 10,000 times, extending his mastery even beyond muscle memory. As a result, he became virtually unstoppable and will forever be included at the very top of a list of venerable wrestling legends. While he’s lauded for this move, what was always more curious to me is the discipline he evidenced in his ability to focus nearly 100 percent on perfecting and being the best ever at executing this single tactic. He was the personification of “narrow and deep.” Smith’s discipline and focus landed him as the first American to be chosen Master of Technique and Wrestler of the Year by the International Wrestling Federation (FILA) and the moved he mastered now bears his name – the John Smith Single.
John Smith reminds me of the companies highlighted in Jim Collin’s 2001 thesis “Good to Great.” Collins and his team identified 11 companies that generated cumulative stock returns exceeding the general stock market by at least three times over a 15-year period and isolated the determinants of their success. Chief among them was the ability to identify and focus ONLY on what the company could do better than any other company in the world. Collins explains:
“They know how to simplify a complex world into a single, organizing idea – the kind of basic principle that unifies, organizes, and guides all decisions. That’s not to say [they] are simplistic. Like great thinkers, who take complexities and boil them down into simple, yet profound, ideas (Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution), leaders of good-to-great companies develop a [strategy] that is simple but that reflects penetrating insight and deep understanding.”
Collins further notes that this accomplishment takes, among other things, intense discipline and an unwavering focus to achieve.
One should note that if the same theory can apply for the individual wrestler and the large corporation, it certainly can apply to a function or business unit within a corporation. In our firm, we focus solely on finance executives, helping them execute strategic projects and fill resource gaps on an interim basis, and we regularly encounter clients who attempt to implement too many business strategies. Perhaps they would be better served to identify that with which they do better than anyone else and focus singularly on driving value in their area.
Identifying that which your organization or function does best, distilling this into your core competency, and focusing like a laser on this core competency will position you and your function/organization for long-term success.