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Hard work Beats Talent; a lesson from James Douglas

On the night of February 11 1990, under the bright Tokyo lights, little known James “Buster” Douglas delivered a vicious exhibition reducing to rubble possibly the most gifted heavy weight boxer of all times – “Iron” Mike Tyson. This crushing defeat of the Iron man would be the onset of a series of setbacks to the career of the Brownville kid whose debut to the world stage was legendary.

The fight in Tokyo was supposed to be uneventful, a low key moment, another run of the mill facade that the Iron man was expected to triumph without much effort. So lowly was Buster rated that nobody was willing to host the fight in the USA, the bookies didn’t even assign odds to him save for Mirage who put it at 42 to 1. It was in the tenth round, the history making round when it all came back together, when Buster sent the iron man to the canvas and letting him be an incoherent piece in total liquid darkness. In that moment it was over; a great fantastic moment, the greatest upset in the history of boxing.

The night would shock everyone except Buster himself who would later with teary eyes reminisce the moment “it didn’t quite surprise me, everything went as I thought it would” Buster had planned the upstage of the shogun approaching the days ahead of the fight with intelligent forward thinking, grit, resilience, a calcified stubbornness and hunger for a win; established fine qualities of an athlete. “I had great work outs, great spurring partners, staying busy and letting my hands go.” What lessons does this fight hold for business leaders? We explore the relationship between talent and hard work.

There is a body of social scientists who have dedicated their lives in finding the patterns between talent, work and results and perhaps none stands out more than Angela Duckworth. In her award winning work on the role of grit and resilience, she argues that passion and resilience are the portions to success. Consider that skill is the ability to get a job done, skill is a factor of talent and effort. Consider also that achievement comes by doing that which you have a skill for, thus: Talent x Effort = Skill and Skill x Effort = Achievement, therefore: When it comes to success and achievement, effort counts twice. To quote Joe Frazier, a retired boxer “You can map out a fight plan or a life plan, but when the action starts, it may not go the way you planned, and you’re down to your reflexes – that means your preparation. That’s where your roadwork shows. If you cheated on that in the dark of the morning, well, you’re going to get found out now, under the bright lights.”

What does this hold for business leaders? It is that you don’t get fooled by talent alone. Naturally, everyone has a level of talent, skill is only developed by hours upon hours of beating your craft. Without effort, skill doesn’t amount to anything. Effort makes skill productive! and productive skill is achievement. Hire individuals who are willing to beat their craft; if they have talent you have a bonus but if they only have talent and no grit, what you have is a pony show.

On the tenth round, Mike’s face was visibly swollen, he had been slowed down by an athlete with far less talent but far more grit. Buster’s hard work won, Mike’s reliance on talent alone had failed him. Are you getting slowed down in your business? Start the hard work up.

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