Tuesday, April 8, 2008

i-TFTD #115: Only One Move

A 10-year-old boy decided to study judo despite the fact that he had lost his left arm in a devastating car accident. The boy began lessons with an old Japanese judo master. The boy was doing well, so he couldn't understand why, after three months of training, the master had taught him only one move.

"Sensei," (teacher in Japanese) the boy finally said, "Shouldn't I be learning more moves?"

"This is the only move you know, but this is the only move you'll ever need to know," the sensei replied. Not quite understanding, but believing in his teacher, the boy kept training. Several months later, the sensei took the boy to his first tournament.

Surprising himself, the boy easily won his first two matches. The third match proved to be more difficult, but after some time, his opponent became impatient and charged; the boy deftly used his one move to win the match. Still amazed by his success, the boy was now in the finals. This time, his opponent was bigger, stronger, and more experienced. For a while, the boy appeared to be overmatched. Concerned that the boy might get hurt, the referee called a time-out.

He was about to stop the match when the sensei intervened. "No," the sensei insisted, "Let him continue." Soon after the match resumed, his opponent made a critical mistake: he dropped his guard. Instantly, the boy used his move to pin him. The boy had won the match and the tournament. He was the champion.

On the way home, the boy and sensei reviewed every move in each and every match. Then the boy summoned the courage to ask what was really on his mind. "Sensei, how did I win the tournament with only one move?"

"You won for two reasons," the sensei answered. "First, you've almost mastered one of the most difficult throws in all of judo. And second, the only known defense for that move is for your opponent to grab your left arm."

The boy's biggest weakness had become his biggest strength.

Sometimes we feel that we have certain weaknesses and we blame God, the circumstances or ourselves for it but we never know that our weaknesses can become our strengths one day. Each of us is special and important, so never think you have any weakness, never think of pride or pain, just live your life to its fullest and extract the best out of it!

I did not understand this powerful concept when I read it as a child in "The Stag and The Lion", one of Aesop's fables. Now I can immediately see it as an example of playing to your strengths. If we spent half the time we spend on trying to become who we are not, in identifying what we are, we would all be happily performing at much higher levels of effectiveness. Our company is much smaller than some giant competitors in the industry, but it is also not exactly a small smart-up. But we have been able to successfully sell this "weakness" as being "the right-sized partner" to customers.

Some additional learnings from the story above:
-The boy and the teacher were both risk-takers
-Both demonstrated two important elements: focus and faith in ability (the boy trusted the sensei's judgement and teaching ability)
-The biggest payoff for the boy is not becoming a champion but knowing the secret of winning. For that he had to be courageous to ask. Asking questions is an underestimated quality that we have discussed in the past, for example, in i-TFTD #26 You are staring at your blindspots, i-TFTD #32 and i-TFTD #110.

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