Facing and Thriving in Adversity: Lessons from Judo

In her latest Business Times’ article, Grace Park illustrated how she has transposed the lessons learnt from her stint practising Judo into a guiding philosophy that equipped her with the capability to overcome challenges (alike the current pandemic) in the business setting.

In Park’s own words: “The best way forward is to stay prepared for more hits to come, learn how to fall safely and roll with the punches.”

This line sums up her threefold philosophy, which serves as her guide to remain undaunted in the face of challenges that seem insurmountable or greater than us, which aligns with the concept of Judo- to be gentle yet resilient in the face of bigger, stronger opponents.

1. Tsukuri- Getting into Position

In Judo, the judoka must have an anticipatory and flexible mindset to counteract the attacks from the opponent. Getting hit can radically alter the judoka’s equilibrium, but with sufficient preparation or making suitable adjustments in positioning, the hit can be transformed into a valuable opportunity for change.

Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic was an unforeseen blow to humanity, changing the status quo as we know it. As the world went into lockdown, companies had to adjust to the new normal- characterised by the reliance on digital solutions- or risk suspending operations indefinitely. Nonetheless, this also presents an opportunity for many businesses to kickstart their own digital transformation. Take a look at Inditex (owner of fashion brands Zara, Bershka and Pull & Bear), which managed to capitalise on the accelerated emergence of e-commerce through their online sales, to accrue a 5% growth in sales between May 1st and June 6th 2021 from the same period in pre-pandemic 2019, and up 102% versus the same period in 2020.

2. Jita-kyoei- The Principle of Mutual Benefit

The principle of mutual benefit refers to the relationship founded on trust between partners, in judo this refers to practicing sets that require another person’s help.

Looking at this from the organisational perspective, the current digital drive has created an environment where collaboration has been made easier than ever before. The freedom to communicate across boundaries have been made possible by telecommunication tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, which have seen an exponential surge in uptake, accompanied by the shift towards flexible working arrangements. Also, the reduced fixation on a physical worksite for most sectors opened up even more opportunities for collaboration.

3. Ukemi- Learning to Fall Safely
“The ability to fall, and fall well, is an extremely valuable skill in judo and in life.”

Judokas are required to learn Ukemi, the technique of failing safely, before they are even allowed to participate in sparring. This technique ties back to the principle of Tsukuri, to prepare beforehand and be change-ready to turn adversity into opportunity. Here, learning to fall provides the judokas an opportunity to learn how to protect themselves when receiving blows from their opponents in actual spars and formulate a plan to better deal with potential falls.

Once again, to bring it back to the organisational perspective, learning to fall can be liken to risk assessments and developing the appropriate counter-measures. However, the question is: moving forward, is this enough?

Most organisations conduct some iteration of risk mitigation while ideating and before implementing their company policies, but were still ill-prepared for the overnight need to go digital and operate remotely. Hence, one key question to ponder is this:

“Is your organisation agile and nimble enough to implement counter-measures in the event of surprising challenges?”

To thrive in turbulent times, organisations must be change-ready to counter any and every surprising “attack”. Park suggests the usage of predictive analytics- for example, healthcare and insurance companies can pool their healthcare data together to help governments plan for future public health threats. Unfortunately many organisations may not have access to predictive analytics tools to assess what might happen in the the future.  However, they could adopt Organisational Developmental practices that subsume environment-scanning techniques to assess possible oncoming threats and opportunities.

To find out more on our organisational development services, contact us at: connect@pace-od.com or take a look at our other blog posts related to Leadership.

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