Japan Helped Me As An Entrepreneur

Posted On: September 24th, 2015 By Alen Levis No Comments »


Play for the ranking you want, not for the one you are given.

This week something quite remarkable happened in the world of rugby. Japan, the undeniable underdogs they are, achieved something every expert and sports commentator deemed ‘impossible’. They beat South Africa, [currently ranked world number 3 in the top international teams, of the Rugby World Cup]!

The BBC called it a ‘Miracle’. The Rugby Worldcup website called it ‘the most significant win in test history’. No one ever could have predicted this result in their wildest dreams; you can’t write this kind of magic. I challenge even the South African team themselves to begrudge the Japanese this moment of glory. The sheer joy and exhilaration expressed by the team at the sound of the final whistle was a spectacle to behold, one that had diehard Japanese Rugby fans in tears in the grandstands.

Watching this, several things occurred to me that gave me a newfound respect for this previously overlooked team.

  • First off – this was no accident. To have won against one of the top 4 teams in the world takes careful planning, strategy and execution.
  • Secondly – to have achieved such an upset must of taken months of hard work building a team that not only believed in themselves when others didn’t, but who could back up that self-belief with the skill and ability needed to execute such a takeover.

If you’re not a rugby fan or simply not interested in sports analogies, then bear with me. If you are interested in building a successful business, there are some real lessons shown by what the Japanese pulled off, both in the lead-up to and during what will be remembered as one of the greatest upsets in Rugby World Cup history.

Japan has been dismissed as the underdog for some time. Back in 1995 world cup when Japan played against them the mighty All Black’s, the [AB’s] decimated Japan by a whopping 145 points to 17! How does Japan turn that around in the space of ten years and become the newest darling of the Rugby World Cup stage?

What lessons can we, as directors and entrepreneurs take away and apply to the business world?

Talent At Every Level


Japan Recruited Well. Bloody Well.

Japan appointed Eddie Jones as the Head Coach, one of the best coaches in the world, (excluding Henry and Hansen of course!). This quite possibly is the single best recruiting decision they’ve made. Jone’s had pedigree and experience. He used to coach Australia & coached South Africa to win the world cup in 1995.
The second good recruiting decision, Japan recruited players from outside of Japan with good rugby experience. They recognised natural ability and recruited those people. Fumiaki Tanaka from the Highlanders is a great example.

  • Finally, they have fostered an environment to attract rugby talent. The club rugby scene is alive and well in Japan, they have developed talent within their own ranks which quite possibly gave them the experience they needed in time. Creating an environment in which talent is valued and cultivated, and where hard work is celebrated as one’s own achievement gave them an edge over teams, which may have become accustomed to their levels of success. This is not to say that South Africa had become complacent, but that the collective drive to become a leader in their field may have given Japan the winning edge.

The Team Backed Themselves to Win

The Daily Mail stated ‘Every coach in the world looking to improve their team’s performance should look at how Japan went about their work at Brighton on Saturday.’
Which I think a lot of similarities can be drawn on here in the business world as well. Manage a team that back themselves and you’ve got a winning formula.
The ‘proof in the pudding’ for Japan was in the last few minutes of the game. They had a penalty with a minute to go and could have easily taken the safe option but they elected for the scrum and go for the try. Ultimately scoring a try into 4 minutes of overtime and raising eyebrows – that probably still haven’t come down!

It was a huge risk, but their self-belief as a team buoyed them on where others may have stumbled on doubt. The risk was a big one – come away empty handed or walk away with a place in history – but any business owner knows taking calculated risks is part of the pathway to success.

Know your team – Figure out your tactics, play to your strengths.

Japan developed a game to work according to their strengths, they’re obviously not naturally big guys. Coach Eddie Jones said of his team “Japan can only play one way: we’ve got a little team, so we have to move the ball around.” Matt Lawton in the London Daily Mail said South Africa were caught cold by the speed and ferocity of Japan’s running and the accuracy of their passing.”

Again, with a good business strategy, a good team and a clear understanding of how to execute that business strategy, ultimately means success. Whatever success may look like to you. The takeaway here is that rather than trying to meet the opposition on their terms, play to utilise your own strengths.

Have a Huge Ambition


Huge ambition is often called a big hairy audacious goal in the business world. After watching Japan win this week, why not have a huge ambition.

– Have a goal that scares the hell out of you.


Who knows, you just might get there – just like Japan.

I’d like to give credit to my good friend, Grant Sanders – for sharing your extensive rugby knowledge with me!





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