During our DM100 meetings in Shanghai last week, the founders kept alluding to volleyball and Lang Ping, the former star player of the Chinese women’s Olympic volleyball team (and the former coach of the US women’s team). She helped China beat the US to win the gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
During a break, we talked to a couple of the founders about the reference. They noted that Lang Ping was known as the Iron Hammer, famed for her extraordinary ability to spike the ball and quickly bring a point to her team. Everyone knew that when the ball came to her she would handle it decisively, quickly and, more often than not, victoriously.
Lang Ping was born in 1960, and this matters. Most of the founders at our Shanghai meeting were born between 1958 and 1962. (In fact, as they introduced themselves, they gave their birthdays, competing to see who would be the “eldest” at the meeting.) This means that they came of age just as Lang Ping was reaching her peak, just as she led the first Chinese team to dominate a global sport following the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution.
For all the Chinese founders, the goal was to act like the Iron Hammer. As undisputed leaders of their companies they could help their organizations act with speed by making sure each decision was dealt with quickly and clearly. But they argued that as organizations grow and become more complex, the Iron Hammer approach loses impact. The ability of one person to make decisions quickly and act with speed diminishes, and over time, the company loses its ability to respond rapidly and decisively to market changes.
The goal of these founders, then, is to retain the speed and skill of the Iron Hammer, to avoid a drift to a “balanced team” where no one can act decisively and the game-winning “spiker” loses the ability to control the tempo. One of our earliest blogs, “In praise of spikiness,” talks about the same thing. Companies with a strong Founder’s Mentality, we wrote, “stand out in certain hard-edged behaviors”—decisiveness, frontline orientation, a powerful long-term vision.”
And then we concluded: “Spikiness on a platform of strength beats homogeneity almost every time. It creates differentiation and passion in a world where the forces of entropy and institutionalization push for the opposite.” There’s nothing wrong with teamwork, of course. But the best teams have a spiky, hard-driving leader who inspires everyone else to lift their game.