The UK–Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) that came into force this year is expected to provide a major stimulus to bilateral trade and investment. Notwithstanding the current pandemic-induced hiatus, flows of goods, services, capital and information are expected to be complemented by a fifth flow, that of people.
The sheer scale of Japan’s market potential serves as a powerful force of attraction for people seeking business opportunities. Even the most successful, though, are likely to experience difficult conditions at times and unexpected challenges in the form of fierce competition, as well as unfamiliar language and business practices.
So, what to do when abrasive reality scuffs the most polished of business plans, as will inevitably happen at some point to a firm carving out a niche in this market? How can managers, entrepreneurs and leaders deal with the pressures, while maintaining a steady course in pursuit of their business and personal goals?
Much has been written about coping with pressure and the personal qualities that can help us to endure and hopefully excel. For me, however, an inspirational summer of sport has thrown one quality into sharp relief, revealed through the extraordinary performances of two exceptional athletes. An indispensable weapon in everyone’s arsenal of resilience, this quality is belief.
Speaking to the BBC after claiming a gold medal at the Olympic 4x100m mixed medley relay, Adam Peaty was asked what made Team GB’s swimmers special. His reply: “One word has changed the whole British team—belief. We believe we can win, we believe we can get world records. If you have belief you can build everything around that”.
Fast forward a few weeks to New York, and many in the UK stayed up late to watch Emma Raducanu turn orthodoxy on its head by winning the US Open tennis championship. Her remarkably measured response to those eager to hear the secret to her success: “The confidence comes from just inner belief. It’s not necessarily about telling everyone how good you are, but it’s about believing it within yourself”.
Beguilingly simple, but how to nurture such belief? It turns out that, whilst the raw talent to be a champion is something with which very few are blessed, the anvil of belief on which it is hammered and honed to perfection is in large part forged from the crucible of preparation. Discounting luck, humans rarely rise to the occasion. Rather, when under pressure, we buckle back to our highest level of preparation.
Peaty swims 200 lengths (10km) six mornings per week. Raducanu has been competing in tennis tournaments for two thirds of her life, since she was six years old. Their success is no accident of good fortune.
So what might businesses learn from this when it comes to operating successfully in Japan? That they need to be at their best, having done everything in their power to justify the deep reservoir of belief that they will need to draw on along their road to success. Unfortunately, there are no short cuts to putting in the hard yards of preparation and dedicated commitment.
However, when things get tough, as they inevitably will, I invite you to remember the credo of Austrian Paralympian, Andreas Onea. He inspired members of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan, and allied chambers, on the eve of the 2020 Paralympic Games, with his approach to adversity and personal challenge. “If I give up, I am the only one who loses”, he reflected, connecting the dots between persistence and preparation. This in turn is the bedrock for belief, and everything that can lead to.