“Everyone Has A Plan Until They Get Punched In The Mouth”

Posted January 30, 2012

Reporter:  “I hear your opponent has a clever plan for defensing your left hook.  How do you respond?”

(Heavyweight boxing champ) Mike Tyson:  “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Iron Mike Tyson

How great is that quote?  Tyson, of course, was known far more for his fierce punching power, intimidating stare, and occasional biting of an ear, than his gift of philosophy.  Yet the purity of his comment makes it a perfect analogy to the business world.

The premise is this: planning is done when it’s calm and quiet, but, like a boxing match, the business world is anything but calm.  It throws you unexpected curve balls that have the capacity to demolish your business.  It also tees up great opportunities, if you know how and when to seize them.

The point is, how well will your plan stand up if, and when, your business get punched in the mouth?  In his prime Tyson hit you so hard, you were lucky if you could even remember what your plan was, let alone execute it.  The worst thing you can do is assume you will have clear sailing the whole year.  Assuming that you WILL get that punch in the mouth at some point, SHOULD be part of your plan in the first place.

Let’s say, for example, you want to grow your business from five clients to eight clients in 2012.  Just build a sales plan to add three new clients, right?  Wrong.  The smart planning would assume you may lose one of your five core clients, and build a sales plan to add four new ones.  Even if your work product is great and your client relationships are awesome, things happen.  Events get cancelled, clients leave jobs, etc.

The list of random, unanticipated “punches in the mouth” that can impact your business is massive.  If I told you 20 years ago that the biggest unforeseen events to have dramatic impact on our industry would include bird flu, ash from a volcano in Iceland, the near collapse of the US financial system, and commercial airliners crashing into the World Trade Center, you’d think I was nuts.

On the micro level, what do you do if your key producer or account executive quits, or if your biggest client cuts their event spend in half?  I know several owners in our field whose businesses took a beating the years their mothers became seriously ill over a protracted period of time.  Not only could they not spend enough time on their companies, but when they could it was hard for them to focus.

So if you’re launching a new website, hiring more staff, or embarking on any other growth initiative, assume there will be some disruption to your business at some point, and plan around that.  Build in a cash cushion, allocate more time to accomplish things, etc.

It’s also important to retain some flexibility.  If business conditions don’t respond to your game plan, you may need to change tactics.  When the US financial crisis hit in 2008, the Treasury Department’s initial plan was to buy toxic assets from the banks.  When that didn’t work, they shifted to injecting capital directly into the banks, which ultimately pulled us back from the precipice.  If your business fails, you don’t get any points for having stuck with your plan.

Don’t get me wrong, planning is very important.  If you don’t make a business plan for hitting your goals this year, you won’t get there.  But to make a plan that relies on perfect business conditions is naive.  Think through scenarios that would result in a body blow to your company, and start formulating responses to them in advance.  And build as much fluidity as possible, giving you the maximum amount of flexibility to adapt.

When the punches come, let your competitors be the ones caught off guard.

44 COMMENTS

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  1. Howard
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    December 26, 2012 at 8:33 am Permalink

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    Rob
    February 17, 2014 at 3:51 am Permalink

    Nice story, but that’s not what he said. Tyson said “Everybody has plans until they get hit.” Nothing about the mouth, but you aren’t the only one who I’ve seen misquote him in that way.

  4. Howard
    gtewhtghw
    April 17, 2014 at 4:43 pm Permalink

    most businessmen should be punched in the mouth frequently. and then in the nads, since they’re expecting the one in the mouth

  5. Howard
    Ivan
    September 20, 2014 at 12:52 pm Permalink

    Yeah, the youth of today really haven’t been eexospd to reality, unless you were raised in lower income neighborhoods (in which case Reality is an everyday teacher).When I was a kid in elementary, a school yard fight was pretty common, at least once a week. Usually start with a shove, then they would go to ground with one person in a head lock. Usually broken up before anyone got hurt, mainly their pride.Junior high, fights were more serious. The Chooks (Hispanics) were usually in gangs, and getting a beat down from them was more serious if you pressed the issue. They mainly wanted respect – if you didn’t give them what you want, you got beat up, nothing serious, black eyes, cut lips and some bruises. Pretty much same in high school, a lot of times female attention related (they learn early don’t they? :^)Nowadays, picking fights is dangerous. I remember a couple of years ago, I was in store looking for a candy bar for my daughter at the cash register ‘gimme that’ rack. A guy thought I was eye balling him, and came up on me (Why you looking at me man, you can’t do that ?). He was a little lit, I could smell the beer but I kept it cool. He thought he was being affronted – I just put it off.If he’d come at me though, I was ready. I don’t know if I would have won, but I’ve been there before too. Big Boy Rules – if you aren’t willing to defend yourself, why would someone else do the same for you ?

  6. Howard
    Andrea
    September 24, 2014 at 7:35 pm Permalink

    Keeping cool is what it’s all about. I was walking down the small town strtees of Las Vegas (New Mexico), and it seemed to me that the town’s evening pastime was to drive around making racial epithets toward white people. I got it two different times. The second was a bit more menacing. I really didn’t want to have a confrontation, and they didn’t, either, but they didn’t know that.

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