Always think Attack – what does self-defense have to do with management

Always think Attack – what does self-defense have to do with management

Some years ago, I assisted Ignace Van Doorselaere with the creation of his book “Always Think Attack, street fighting techniques for managers“. This project allowed me to combine my professional knowledge with my activities as a self-defense instructor.

The purpose of the book was to help create better managers that keep the focus on their customers, employees and shareholders. We were not advocating dirty tricks for managers, but on the contrary, using the principles of self-defense to protect companies against disruptive forces.

Purpose of a fight: survive

Self-defense is all about self-preservation. This means avoiding to fight if possible, but but be extremely effective if you cannot avoid the fight. Projecting this on your company, the goal is self-preservation in the long term, which usually means thinking of what is best to both your customers and shareholders. But at the same time be prepared to take immediate action to ensure the survival of your company.

Avoiding the fight – be aware of your environment

In self-defense we call this the pre-fight situation, where you can still get away without having to resort to violence or being attacked. This is broken down into avoidance (don’t get into the fight) and control (stop a situation from escalating, or defuse it). Because once you do get into a fight, you may not escape unharmed either. So the key here is to be alert, and scan for threats around you. This crosses over well into the corporate world, where you need to be on the lookout for potential threats to your company. Those threats can be competitors but also market forces at work that may in the long run totally disrupt your business. Look out for the small signals that can lead to big changes!

Winning = execution

“Winning” in the case of self-defense means that your attacker is not willing or able to continue. This can be through being “broken” either physically or mentally. To be able to win, you will need focus and impact. A near miss is still a miss. Winning means reaching the goals you set, and not letting your ego or emotions get the better of you. In practice, this may mean running like hell if you are attached by a huge group of attackers, because it is in line with your long term goal of survival without being injured.

In the business world, you will need an actual growth state of mind, and the real implementation of the strategy and ideas, because if something isn’t implemented, it’s all wasted effort. A strategy can be for example deciding to not enter a certain market because it is a red ocean for you. But once you do commit your company, don’t do it halfheartedly.

You cannot fool human intuition

Listening to your intuition is important both on the street and in the office. It’s usually your brain or subsconcious mind trying to tell you something that you have not yet consciously realised. So if you have a nagging feeling about a competitor or new product, take a good hard look at them, because there are subtle signs of an imminent danger that you may have missed.

Stay flexible

“If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail” is a trap that people can fall into. In self-defense, if your strategy or tactics don’t work, change them rapidly before you get in more trouble than you already are. The same goes for corporate life. Don’t hang on to your strategic long range plan if the ground starts to shift beneath you but be ready to shift into a totally new direction.

You can order the book in Dutch on the site of 4F (link here).

Reading: The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

When you think of Netscape, those of us old enough to remember the browser, thinks of Marc Andreessen. But at Netscape (and Opsware), he was joined by Ben Horowitz. Together they founded venture capital company Andreessen Horowitz. This book is a compilation of the lessons that Ben Horowitz learned at those companies, and that he is sharing with us.

The book is a must read for startups and growth ceo’s.  It’s not a book written by a management guru, but by someone who has been in the trenches and doubtless had a lot of sleepless nights figuring out how to make his company survive. There’s a lot of advise for CEO’s in there, ranging from how to direct your company through rough times, to minimising politics in your company.

Some of the highlights that I found worthwhile:

Crediting Grove – It was interesting that in the book Ben Horowitz makes a number of references to the works of Andy Grove, name “High output management” and “Only the paranoid survive“. Andy turned Intel around from a memory company to the biggest chip company in the world, so pay attention, and read his work too.

Lead bullets – “Ben, those silver bullets that you and Mike are looking for are fine and good, but our web server is five times slower. There is no silver bullet that’s going to fix that. No, we are going to have to use a lot of lead bullets.” “There’s not always a magical way out of your problems. Sometimes you just have to knuckle down and keep on going with all that you have.” The other interesting quote in this section was:

“There comes a time in every company’s life when it must fight for its life. If you find yourself running when you should be fighting, you need to ask yourself: “If our company isn’t good enough to win, then do we need to exist at all?” if you have the better product, why not knuckle up and go to war?”

War and Peace – what CEO are you? – A peacetime CEO will focus on expanding the market  and company’s strength. A wartime CEO is fending off immediate and existential threats (read Only the paranoid survive to catch up on strategic inflection points) . Can one CEO be both? You can read more on wartime versus peacetime CEO’s here.

People Product Profit – In that order. Take care of your people first, they are the ones that will make your product win, and in turn realise your profit.

A Market of ONE – The most important rule of raising money privately, look for a market of one. You only need one investor to believe in you and invest

2 kinds of friends – You need 2 kinds of friends in your life: one with real excitement, and a second kind of friend to call when things go horribly wrong. When your life is on the line and you only have 1 phone call to make, who’s it going to be?

If you’re going to eat shit, don’t nibble – Pretty straightforward!

Don’t believe in statistics – Startup ceo’s should not play the odds. Don’t believe in statistics, believe in calculus. Secret of a successful CEO? There is one skill: focus and make the best move when there are no good moves.

Ask for problems – Build a culture that rewards, not punishes people to bring problems in the open where they can be solved. The “old management standards” say “don’t bring me a problem without bringing a solution”. Well, if the employee had the solution, he wouldn’t need to bring it to the manager now, would he?

Time – spend zero time on what you could have done and spend all of your time on what you can do. Because in the end, nobody cares

Product Managers – good product managers think in terms of delivering superior value to the market place during product planning and  achieving market share and revenues goals during the go to market phase.

Hiring senior people in your company – When do you need to start hiring senior people, what types, advantages and disadvantages? Also an Andy Grove quote that hits home: the peter principle is unavoidable (full quote: “the Peter Principle is unavoidable, because there is no way to know a priori at what level in the hierarchy a manager will be incompetent“). The author gives some good advice on how to check if they are doing a good job, and when and why you need senior people. He addresses the questions like “won’t they ruin the culture with their costumes, political ambitions and the need to go home to see their family?” Maybe yes, but bringing in the right kind of experience at the right time can mean the difference between bankruptcy and glory. You’ll need a new executive to be more than a goal achiever, he/she needs to be part of the team. The CEO needs to evaluate people on current role, and nobody comes out of the womb knowing how to manage a 100 people. Managing at scale is a learned skill rather than a natural ability, and it’s nearly impossible to make judgement in advance.

The shit sandwich – from “the one minute manager” – go look it up. 🙂

Be honest but courteous with feedback – if you think a presentation sucks, just say it and give the reasons why. Watered down feedback is worse than no feedback at all. But… don’t go and show off your superiority.

What’s your story – a company without a story is usually a company without a strategy (see the amazon example – it’s amazing, Jeff Bezos wrote this in 1997!)


the hard thing about hard things

Personal brand and personal brain

Personal brand and personal brain

You are what you tweet. How to work on your personal brand online, throught Fast Company. Using social networking to build your professional brand. I’m not sure if I’d follow the advice to “find five new people to follow or connect with every day”. That’s 1825 people a year, or 18250 over 10 years… that’s a lot of people to interact with…


“Personal Brain” from The Brain company. Read good things about it. Trying it out, not seeing the benefits of it (yet).

Steve Jobs on marketing & identifying your core values

Steve Jobs on marketing & identifying your core values

Next to the products, Steve Jobs also drove the marketing of Apple relentlessly forward.

Click here to read the article and see the presentation on how he talks about getting the company back on message, after he took the helm of the company again.

Once you’re done with that, check out Guy Kawasaki’s post on things he learned from Steve Jobs. It’s an interesting and thought provoking read. I especially like the first two: expert are clueless, and customers cannot tell you what they need.


One more argument against multitasking

One more argument against multitasking

We may think we multitask, but in reality we switch-task, and it’s not doing us any good, according to an article at HBR.


  • The author of the article stopped multitasking, and discovered six things:
  • First, it was delightful.
  • Second, he made significant progress on challenging projects.
  • Third, his stress dropped dramatically.
  • Fourth, he lost all patience for things he felt were not a good use of his time.
  • Fifth, he had tremendous patience for things he felt were useful and enjoyable.
  • Sixth, there was no downside.


Frustrated office work at his desk — Image by © Blue Jean Images/Corbis