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What is hunger? Meriam-Webster Dictionary calls it a strong desire or craving; an uneasy sensation occasioned by the lack of food. When it comes to food, every person knows firsthand what hunger feels like. In a way, it is like an itch that needs scratching. You know it when you feel it.
In the case of hunger for success, that is a deeper kind of need not just to survive but to thrive. And, it functions like a type of rocket fuel for human drive and determination. Hunger is the “je ne sais quoi” trait – a quality that cannot be adequately described – that propels a person to never quit… to persevere against daunting odds. Hunger allows a person to dig deeper within themselves even when tired or discouraged. It helps the person to keep going in the face of adversity and challenges. Hunger for success isn’t always driven by poverty or scarcity. It often comes from a more fundamental need to prove one’s worth and value. And that kind of hunger can make a person achieve what might otherwise seem impossible.
Case in point. In 1932, James J. Braddock was an impoverished ex-prizefighter. Like many others, he had lost everything during the stock market crash and was hurting financially during the Great Depression. After breaking his hand in a boxing match, he continued to fight injured and lost 11 fights in a row. His career appeared to be finished. He could not pay the bills to support his wife and three kids. They scrimped by. He worked on the dock as a day laborer when he could. His wife had to water down milk just to make it last for several more days. They were even forced to go on Public Assistance. No one believed in Braddock or wanted to give him a second chance. He felt defeated.
Then, on the spur of the moment, his trainer managed to get one more boxing match for Braddock against the #2 contender at that time. In a last-chance bid to help his family, Braddock returned to the ring. No one thought he had a shot, but his work on the dock had made his left hand stronger than his right. More importantly than that, Braddock was fueled by something beyond mere competition. Driven by hunger – not just for food but a bigger and more profound need to prove his worth — Braddock rose to the occasion and knocked out his opponent. Braddock then began to win all his fights against younger, stronger, and heavier boxers.
After winning a series of matches, Braddock was finally challenged to a bout against the heavyweight champion of the world, Max Baer. Baer had already killed two men in previous boxing matches. Braddock was warned by everyone not to box Baer. Baer was 25 years old, 6’4” tall, and weighed 209½ pounds. He had the physique of a Greek statue, the punching power of solid marble, and had won all his matches. Braddock, on the other hand, was 30 years old, weighed 191¾ pounds (nearly 18-pounds less than Baer) and was a bit shorter than Baer at 6’2” tall. It seemed an uneven match. Baer was a 10-to-1 favorite to win the match. But, here is what could not be seen or measured. Deep inside, Braddock was still hungry. Driven by a deep need to provide for his family and desire to prove his professional worth, Braddock agreed to a match against the “unstoppable” Max Baer.
Baer ridiculed Braddock’s chances of winning. He had handpicked Braddock as a challenger and saw him as nothing more than an easy payday. Arrogantly, Baer thought he had the bout in the bag and paid little attention to training. Braddock, on the other hand, seized his opportunity and trained diligently. During the match, Baer was surprised at Braddock’s determination as he doggedly pursued him while at the same time showing no fear. Round after round, Braddock succeeded in out-boxing his bigger, stronger and younger opponent. Pulling off what is still considered the biggest upset in boxing history, Braddock won! That is the power of hunger.
The Power of Hunger
In business, people who are ‘hungry to succeed’ have something to prove. They want to show mom and dad, or a friend or a teacher or the world that they could do it. They want to prove a naysayer — someone who said “you don’t have what it takes” — wrong. Such people are driven in a way that others are not.
People who are ‘hungry to succeed’ are also usually grateful and extremely loyal to anyone who spots potential in them. A man who is given a chance to lead a project or run a department will appreciate the manager who saw something in him that no one else saw or valued. A woman who is promoted to CEO will feel a deep sense of loyalty to the Board members and mentors who believed her. Hunger is a game changer. Hungry CEOs are able to push a team or company to the next level. Scrappy leaders with something to prove will work tirelessly and won’t give up in the face of great obstacles and daunting challenges.
Business case in point. Twenty years ago, Elon Musk had a dream to colonize Mars. When he talked about making the human race into multi-planetary beings, naysayers proclaimed him mad. Then in 2002, he founded SpaceX, a company with the mission to “enable humans to become a spacefaring civilization and a multi-planet species by building a self-sustaining city on Mars.” Many doubted in a private company’s ability to do what NASA and other government space agencies had not been able to do in 40 years of space exploration. But Musk has a deep hunger for success, and this drives him to do what everyone else deems impossible. By 2008, SpaceX’s Falcon 1 became the first privately developed liquid-fuel launch vehicle to orbit the Earth. Following that milestone, NASA awarded SpaceX with contracts to carry cargo and crew to the International Space Station (ISS). A global leader in commercial launch services, SpaceX became the first commercial provider to launch and recover a spacecraft from orbit, attach a commercial spacecraft to the ISS and successfully land an orbital-class rocket booster. By pioneering the development of fully and rapidly reusable rockets and spacecraft, SpaceX has dramatically reduced the cost of access to space, the first step in making life on Mars a reality in our lifetime. The company is now privately valued at $30 Billion and employs over 6,000 people. Colonies on Mars isn’t looking quite so insane anymore. Musk’s hunger for success is not just driving his success, it is changing the world.
The Benefits of Being Hungry for Success
Physical hunger is a powerful motivator that drives people to do whatever it takes to get food. Psychological, emotional and professional hunger works the same way. Being hungry does five key things.
1. When you’re hungry, failure is not an option.
To satisfy a deep need, a person will go “all in” and risk it all to achieve a goal. There is only Plan A. There is no fallback position or Plan B. For people like Musk, this is particularly valuable when launching a company.
2. When you’re hungry, you are compelled to improve.
There is no such thing as “good enough” for someone who is hungry. Hunger drives a desire for perfection… for making things the best possible. When a person has something to prove, it’s not okay to fall short even a bit. For people like Braddock, this hunger pushed him to keep training and focus on a strategy to win.
3. When you’re hungry, you are more creative at solving problems and overcoming obstacles.
When you’re hungry enough, you’ll either find a way or make one. When you’re not hungry, you make excuses and settle for the path of least resistance.
4. When you are hungry, you are deeply motivated.
People who are hungry don’t have to be micromanaged. They are the proverbial self-starters, pushing themselves much harder than anyone else can push.
5. When you’re hungry, you are more keen to spot and take advantage of opportunities.
Hungry people are always on the lookout for even the smallest window of opportunity. They take that and expand in into the grand canyon of holes. If they find a sales niche, they mine that for all its worth. If they identify a skill or talent in themselves, they build around that and make the most of it.
Managers would do well to try to identify people who are “hungry” when they are hiring. Ask questions like:
- Where do you see yourself in five years and why?
- Was there ever a time when someone told you that you weren’t good enough? How did you deal with that?
- Tell me about a time when you had to overcome a major obstacle that stood in the way of you accomplishing a goal or commitment. How did you approach the situation?
- What made you excited to get up and come to work at your last job?
- What motivates you?
- What has most frustrated you in a job?
- If you don’t get this job, what is your Plan B?
The next time your company is hiring, hire the candidates who are not only qualified and capable, but also the ones who have a deep personal drive to succeed. Those are the people who will bring their A Game every day and will always have a can-do, failure-not-an-option attitude at work.
Quote of the Week
“Wanting something is not enough. You must hunger for it. Your motivation must be absolutely compelling in order to overcome the obstacles that will invariably come your way.” Les Brown
© 2019, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.