Sometimes you need to hang on long enough for things to turn in your favour. Wait until you can play to your strengths.

Photo by Mikhail Nilov on


The phrase Rope-a-dope comes from the Muhammed Ali-George Foreman heavyweight title fight in Kinshasa, Zaire, in 1974, known as ‘The Rumble in the Jungle‘. A 32 year-old Muhammed Ali was the underdog against the young and powerful title holder George Foreman. While Ali was know for his speed and reflexes, but after the first round rather than engage the fearsome Foreman, Ali set to wear him down. Ali ducked and weaved but mostly just covered up on the ropes allowing Foreman to hit him repeatedly but also to tire himself out. As Foreman tired, Ali was able to regain the offensive and the fight was stopped in the 8th round with Ali the surprise winner.

If a boxing analogy is not to your taste, recognise that the same strategy has been applied in many other contexts. Sailors sheet their sails or even take shelter in port during a fierce storm to preserve their vessels. Animals hibernate to escape the harshest of the winter. Surviving is a strategy because those who are destroyed by a fierce foe don’t win.

Some times success demands that we change our tactics. More importantly, success can depend on our ability to wait for the timing to swing to our advantage. We may even have to take a lot of punishment while we wait for the right time.

The Right Time

Our always-on fast charging world has led us to believe that the right time is always now. That we must relentless seek to chase success and lead from the front. First-mover advantages are constantly touted, even if they are rarely real. Many people become dejected when success takes time, feeling that it has taken too long or they have missed their chance.

It is a common experience that most ‘overnight successes’ have taken seven to ten years of waiting for the capabilities, the opportunity and timing to be in place. Much luck is carefully constructed and more about time than anything else. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a whole book, Outliers, on the importance of timing in success.

Overlay the frustrations of a global pandemic and all its public safety measures and many people are dejected that ‘their time’ is being lost. If you can succeed in this environment, then congratulations and no doubt it is because of the work and capability you have put together to meet the needs of this time.

It is important to note though that faced with as virulent and strong a foe as a global pandemic, a rope-a-dope strategy is perfectly viable. Hunker down. Sheet the sails. Adapt. Stay present. Go step-by-step. Plan to come back stronger at a better time.

Recognise that this is a perfectly valid plan. Forgive yourself the feeling that you should be doing more. Plan to support yourself as you get buffeted on the rope. If you choose to wait out the storm of blows, you need to be able to survive to the end. Focus on that survival and you will be ready for the opportunities that come to win later. Remember that a time that you can show your strengths is the right time to succeed. If the timing is wrong, that’s not about you or your strengths.

Rope-a-dope is OK. It might even be the perfect strategy for now.

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