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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Attack and Defense

"My centre is giving way, my right is in retreat, situation excellent, I will attack"

Nice quote from the French General Ferdinand Foch, which, even though from a French General, illustrates a core martial arts principle of attack and defense.

When attacking, think about defense. When things are going well, when we are on a roll, when our energies are focused on a situation that is moving in our favor, a piece of mental energy should be devoted to defending. From a martial arts point of view, the mind should be reviewing the possibilities for protection even as the body is moving forward; anticipating the counter-attack, being prepared to defend when we miss, guarding our vulnerabilities. This principle applies universally. Periods when we are having the best of times professionally and personally are those when anticipating problems and having contingencies in place are most important. This doesn't mean being pessimistic and worrying, or ploughing money into gold, stockpiling guns, water and toilet roll. Spending time focused on such negative possibilities is much more damaging than not considering them at all. As always, balance is the key to impact. Anticipation and early detection to treat problems while they are still small, building networks, sharing our good fortune with others, investing in fixing known issues are all worth our attention during the good times. That's how we avoid misfortune to the extent possible and prepare for the inevitable rougher waters, allowing us to keep stable and prevail when the tide turns. This principle is becoming increasingly important in business, as traditional models of innovation are being overturned by so-called "big band disruptions", rapid and devastating changes in markets epitomized by the success of Twitter, Kindle and mobile navigation smartphone apps. Industry leaders now need more than ever  to be vigilant in detecting such radical changes, ready defend their position. Instability and change is becoming the norm in our lives, and recognizing this, preparing while we are in the calm eye of the storm, is the means to retaining our impact when the hoodoo eventually comes.

The converse is equally, if not more, important. When we are being attacked (literally or figuratively) and are forced into a defensive mode, the best way out is to attack. Defense is loss-prevention at best; at worse it is retreat or surrender. Attacking deals with the root cause and creates opportunity. At the lowest ebbs of my professional and personal life I have always made it a point to attack, to lob something out in the hope that it will explode. This tactic has lead me out of the darkest of situations into hope, created opportunity and new possibilities where none seemed possible. There is credible psychological support for this concept. Martin Seligman, founder of the positive psychology movement, notes in his book "Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life":
"If depression is a disorder of thinking, pessimism and rumination stoke it. The tendency to analyze feeds right into it; the tendency to act breaks it up"

In other words, when you're at your lowest and feeling hopeless - act! Actively attacking the problem will dispel negativity, generate energy and lead to new horizons. It's always best to maintain control, creating and adapting an offensive strategy to meet the challenge, even when pressed on all fronts like General Foch.

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