When on Fire, Practice Judo!


Philip Anschutz, the American businessman with an estimated net worth of $7.8 billion, started in the oil business drilling his own wells. His first efforts in the 60s were unsuccessful, turning up one dry hole after another. When he finally hit oil, everything looked great… for a day. A crisis followed which he called “the most important single event” in his business career. A well he owned caught fire!

Anschutz heard that Universal Studios was making a movie called Hellfighters about the legendary oil-field fire-fighter, Red Adair (who later put out the oil well fires in Kuwait during the Gulf War, 1991). Anschutz persuaded Universal to pay $100,000 to film Adair putting out his well fire for their movie. The studio cut the check. Adair put the fire out. Anschutz pocketed a profit and saved his business. The footage is in the movie.

Now, why do you suppose he called it “the most important single event” in his business career? Here is more from him, “There’s always a point that if you go forward, you win — sometimes you win it all — and if you go back, you lose everything, and that was that point for me… You don’t learn that in school. You have to have the initiative, be able to be pragmatic and tenacious, seeing all of the opportunity that could exist.”

Using Everything to Your Advantage
Every crisis has a powerful negative side. What is the negative right now? You are probably well acquainted with it. Evaporating retail sales, dropped meeting attendance, frozen credit markets. But, have you taken the initiative, been pragmatic and tenacious, finding all the opportunity that could exist?”

If your retail sales are evaporating, you must ask, Why? Maybe your customers are not conducting the transactions they once were, and they do not need your products anymore as a result. Then, will you help them get back in business? Can you help address the root problem?

Can you help them find new income? Have you asked them what kind they need? They may not be able to articulate it well. Perhaps you could work with experts who have dealt with this before to lay out a series of options for your clients so they can choose, or create a hybrid approach that works for them.


If your meeting attendance is dropping, do you know the real cause? Is it because your people don’t have the money to travel? Then, what options can you provide them so they can continue to get value from you without leaving their office?

Perhaps it is a different reason altogether – maybe they work for public agencies and they cannot get travel expense money for your conference. Perhaps you could go to a format which accommodates more speakers and invite all your customers to be on the program… shift your tactics to establishing value .

Or, perhaps your customers cannot travel because it would look bad to their customers who are expecting your people to be dedicating all available resources to finding a way through this mess. Then, consider communicating straight to your customers’ customers. Have you done that before? Can you truly say your meeting is the one meeting that will bring to light the solutions they need in this difficult time? Can you make your meeting the one obvious choice for anyone truly concerned with new solutions for our time?

Every move I am describing is a judo move. You take the force that is coming at you and redirect it toward your goal.

When you are going through a difficult economic period, troubling forces are coming at you fast and furious. Now is the time to practice judo! Now is the time to get really good at redirecting difficulty, using its power to your advantage.

When you succeed, write and tell me what you have done.


About the author

I help leaders with change, innovation, and growth. My latest book is "Getting Innovation Right." My first book, "Getting Change Right," was a business bestseller.