What I learned from being punched in the face repeatedly

Well, that is a blog title I didn’t ever expect to write, but there it is. The truth is probably less exciting than the reality but on September 22nd I had my first ever, and potentially last ever, fight.

One drunken evening an ex-colleague of mine Brij Palicha, encouraged me to sign-up to a ‘White Collar Boxing’ match for Cancer Research UK. This gruelling 8-week training programme began in July and culminated in a full-on boxing match with another charitable sucker.

Firstly, let me get it out the way, I won! After 3 rounds of 2 mins in front of a packed theatre in East London, the judges decided I had punched my opponent in the head more often than he had responded. The following night was notable not least because I had a nap at around 1am before rejoining the party.

So what can one learn from such an intense, genuinely frightening experience? The short answer is loads. It gave me a priceless confidence and understanding of myself. It also dawned on me that the biggest personal impact was debunking a myth that I might be a ‘coward’ and someone who would crack under pressure. That spectre no longer troubles my sleep.

But it’s also my duty as a Sponge Parrot to consider the relevance of the White Collar Boxing event to working life. Here are my top three reflections:

  1. Fast learning is about having the confidence to ask: the difference I observed between myself and other combatants I trained with, was many tended to be totally silent. Conversely, I knew the only way to get better at a faster rate than my opponent, was to ask questions and try to understand my strengths and weaknesses. If an organisation has a hierarchical, command and control culture, people’s development is stunted by the fear of looking stupid by asking questions. A coaching culture, therefore, is key to creating the environment for rapid learning.
  2. Role models change behaviour: I was introduced to a lady (Sandra) at the KO Boxing Gym in Bethnal Green, who was on her seventh fight. Sandra first began training years ago, when she was undergoing chemotherapy for cervical cancer. Hearing this, my excuses for not going the extra mile in training seemed ridiculously lame. Sandra’s story reframed my mindset and gave everyone the perspective and motivation to behave differently. Tragically, a few days after the fight on the 22nd, Sandra lost her battle with cancer.
  3. Habits are a chain reaction, not isolated behaviours: I’ve been experimenting on myself this week, seeing how quickly I revert to old habits – mainly drinking. Without the impetus of a boxing match, my former ways began to creep back in. What’s interesting is that the habits could be traced back much further than the actual activity itself. In fact, it was a seemingly inconsequential decision which often caused the regression. For me, this reinforced the importance of organisational change being managed at multiple touchpoints. I know this is obvious, but how often is change a training course, or CEO communication to avoid actually having to do something complex or difficult?

Let me hear your thoughts, especially if you’ve been foolish enough to sign up to White Collar Boxing. And finally, for those who want to see me getting punched – here are the videos:

Round 1 https://vimeo.com/291774823
Round 2 https://vimeo.com/291793829 
Round 3 https://vimeo.com/291796994
Result https://vimeo.com/291797794