How to Get Off of Your Back Foot

I like chess. More specifically, I like to play the position of White in chess. If you are unfamiliar with the game, White always gets to move first. Black always moves second. Even though not much happens in the opening moves, there is an advantage in getting to move your pieces first. You are one half-step ahead of your competitor, and this provides an advantage, as your competitor is always responding to you.

Even though I know how to play the giuoco piano (quiet game) opening as Black, it being one of the more popular ways to defend from being behind, it is always tricky to take back the initiative. The skill of the game is looking three moves ahead, but it can be difficult to discern your opponent’s intentions. That’s what makes chess such a great game.

I am writing this today because I recognize how many people and organizations are on their back foot. They are on defense, not offense. Their competitors are taking the initiative and taking the fight to them. As their losses mount, they become even more entrenched in a defensive posture, believing they are at a disadvantage, and looking outside of the things that are inside their control for reasons that justify their continued losses.

Whenever you are challenged, don’t look outside for reasons without spending double the time and energy looking inside at what you need to change.


The way to get off of your back foot is to change your posture. It’s to take the role of White in the game of chess. It is to move first and cause your competition to respond to you instead of the other way around. This decision is about your mindset and the actions you take—but it begins with your mindset, your attitude, your beliefs.

I just finished writing my third book, titled Eat Their Lunch. It’s a book about competitive displacements, or more directly, stealing clients away from your competitors. This book is two things. First, it’s my response to the idea of a Blue Ocean Strategy, the idea that you should have an offering so unique as to have no competitors. As much as I love the idea, it is not the ocean most of us occupy. We swim in the red ocean. If you want to grow by 12 percent  in a market that’s growing by 3 percent, then you’re going to need to take market share from someone else. Second, Eat Their Lunch is a book about taking the initiative. It’s about proactively creating new opportunities and taking clients who belong to your competitors.

Let there be no doubt that your competitors are trying to take your clients from you. When this is true, you can feel that you must always  defend, shifting your focus from proactively creating and winning new opportunities, to securing the ground you’ve already taken. Success and growth require that you do both, the last chapter of ETL is a recipe for retaining your accounts while you shift to your front foot and take the fight to your competitors rather than allowing them the first move.

Whatever you do, get off your back foot and take the initiative.

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