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Dricus, Rassie, Google Goal Setting and Activating The Dog Inside You

Updated: Feb 7



“Hulle weet nie wat ons weet nie!”

― Dricus du Plessis, UFC Mixed Martial Arts Middleweight Champion 2024

Dogs are great. They are loyal, unconditionally loving and man’s best friend. Our dog, Leia, is our third child, and very much part of our family.


But dogs, like humans, are a product of nature and nurture. And there are other kinds of dogs. Aggressive, agitated, angry, and downright dangerous animals that are best kept on a tight leash. Their behaviour can be genetic, but it is often attributed to their background. The way they have been taught (or not taught) to behave.

What most dogs have in common, though, is that when they lock their jaws on something, they are hard to dislodge from that object. Our Labrador, who wouldn’t hurt a fly, is also nigh impossible to separate from her stick/ball/whatever when she puts her mind to it.

That lack of yielding – that lack of give – is what I want to talk about here.

South Africa is a country with well-documented challenges. But adversity builds character and resilience. What we call a township special – a dog of a mixed breed who grew up on the streets of South Africa’s poorer neighbourhoods – often will outlast purebred (or inbred) dogs who enjoyed a great life.

Which is one of the core superpowers leveraged by Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus in putting together a team of players with “grunt”. Or, as he put it (and I am paraphrasing): “If I have two players with equal ability, I am biased towards the one who came from a more challenging background. Because I think he will fight harder when the going gets tough. Because of the ‘dog’ in him.”

There is a commonly held (and statistically supported) belief about South African rugby. It is that the team performs best when they have their backs against the wall. When they are seen as underdogs (yes, there is the dog again) and the only way out is by sheer will, guts and glory.

Equally, the Springboks have the ability to slip on the banana peel more often than most when they are the favoured team. A home loss against the All Blacks in 2022 after crushing them the week before. A political dog show that led to a first-ever loss against Wales in 1999. And, most damningly, the famous World Cup loss against Japan in 2015. There are many more examples, but it comes down to this:

The moment a South African gets too comfortable, he starts slipping. Entitlement sets in easily, willingness to do the work is compromised, results start to go south. And this might actually be the truth of the global human condition. Here’s how the South African leadership deals with this though.

They adopt the phrase “They don’t know what we know” from South African superstar UFC fighter Dricus du Plessis. It’s hard to imagine a more apt sport for illustrating the beautiful dance between unleashing aggression and maintaining discipline and patience than mixed martial arts. The UFC middleweight champion won his belt by outlasting his opponent, by refusing to lie down, by showing more dog than the other guy. Because he knows, in his heart, that comes from a place that has given him an edge. In the same vein, the Springbok rugby team leaned in hard to the idea that the team is playing for more than a cup. That the team is playing for an idea, for a higher purpose, for the glimmer of hope that success brings to countrymen who need to deal with daily adversity that is on a scale incomprehensible to rich first-world countries like England or France.



And, in true tribal fashion, they must vilify the other. It’s another classic tactic of leaders everywhere. And I’m not in any way justifying that kind of behaviour, making it about “us and them”. I don’t even always agree with it. But for sure we know it to be effective. After all, most religions are built on this principle. So were the Nazis. And just look at any two crowds at a given English club soccer match. The idea that we hold the truth, and that elevates us above the “other".

The most famous example of this was the Springbok quarter-final against Japan in the 2019 World Cup. The hosts were enjoying their very own fairy tale, beating the fancied Irish and the dangerous Scots on their way to making their very first knockout phase of a cup. This was a country that had come from a record drubbing against the All Blacks and never winning a game to adopting belief in the 2015 victory against the Boks, and were now unbeaten coming into the quarters.

As a nation, the Japanese had embraced the Springboks. In their hosting of the World Cup, their behaviour ensured the Springboks fell in love with the country and its people. Locals learned the South African national anthem, wore the Springbok shirt, and essentially made the experience as pleasant as possible. And, as the Springboks found themselves cast once again in the roles of likely villains who might derail the Japanese fairytale story, the team had to find the dog inside them.

Because, if they went out there and saw the decent, courteous, hospitable hosts that had shown them such a warm welcome for over a month leading up to the game, they would lose. They wouldn’t have the grunt to put down the exciting running rugby dished up by the Japanese. They wouldn’t find it in themselves to deliver the killer blow.

So Rassie came up with a strategy. And it was this: Learn to hate the Japanese. At least for this week. He framed them in the minds of his players as this country where everything is easy. Where people don’t struggle like in South Africa. Where their only real goal is to “grow the game”. While, in contrast, the South Africans were literally playing to give hope back to the hopeless.

And the juxtaposition was that the Japanese didn’t deserve the win. Not when there was so much more at stake. That the South Africans, because of where they came from, not just wanted to win. That they needed to win. And the Japanese dared to stand in their way.



They won that game. And the following ones. And, in the well-documented 2023 edition of the tournament, the knockout games were all won by a single point. First off, the French. Again gallant hosts. Again a fairy tale daring to unfold. Again the Springboks in the way. A familiar story would play out week after week: South Africa would hang on by a thread in the dying moments of the game, a mere point ahead, likely to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. But somehow they would prevail. Somehow they wouldn’t let go of the bone. Somehow they would fight with every last fibre of their being until the very end, and when the dust had settled… the richer, more well-resourced, more fancied nations of France, England and New Zealand were left as also-rans.

South Africa would DOGGEDLY pursue their goal. And in the DOGFIGHT that was the dying moments of every game, the team with the most dog in them would win out.

Because, you know. They don’t know what we know…

So let’s assume that adversity builds character. And for sure some people just had an easier ride than others, but everyone has the potential to cultivate some dog. I think there’s something to be said for pushing a little bit. Not accepting mediocrity. Not trying to save your kids or loved ones from pain or hardship. Sometimes we all need to make our own mistakes, bloody our own knees, have our hearts broken. I like the view expressed by Sarah Blakely, the billionaire founder of Spanx: “Failure was celebrated in our house growing up. Every week, when I came home with a win, my dad would say: ‘Don’t tell me how you won. Tell me where you failed. That’s what’s important. That’s where you were pushing. That’s where you were reaching further."

It's a view echoed by tech giant Google, and their famous OKR (Objectives and Key Results) approach. Google considers reaching goals BAD. Yeah, you heard it. If you meet your set objectives, it means you weren’t setting them high enough. People are expected to set their own goals, and their bonus plans depend on them hitting 70% of their stated goals. Because 70% meant that they were aggressively chasing what was just beyond reach. Because 70% was a way to activate the dog in them.


For clarity, there's not a helluva that kind of dog in my dog. She just has way too nice a life. But every now and again, I catch a glimpse of it...and she sure doesn't want to let go of that damn ball. We can learn a lot from our dogs, hey.


Or, like that wonderful mission statement I heard once: "I want to be the kind of person my dog already thinks I am."



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