“There is no greater danger than in underestimating your opponent.”

Lao Tzu

“You can start by acting like a man,” Don Corleone yells at a dejected Johnny Fontane.

A famous actor-singer, Johnny’s career is in free fall. Jack Woltz, the studio head, is throwing him out of a movie despite the lead character being just like Johnny. Why? Because he seduced Woltz’s girlfriend! And, his personal life is in tatters by his very own making.

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Jack Woltz is a man like Don Corleone. One of the three heavyweight Hollywood producers, he advises the President on war movie propaganda and is a personal friend of the FBI Director. In Johnny’s words, “you can’t even raise your voice on him.”

At the two meetings with Woltz, Tom Hagen, the chief advisor of the Corleone Family, goes as far as offering to finance the five million dollar movie if Johnny gets the role. Besides, Woltz would get the Don’s friendship – a simple phone call would erase many problems. Problems his official connections wouldn’t even listen to.

Johnny is the Don’s godson. The Don is removing all stops, making Woltz an offer he can’t refuse.

Yet, Woltz refuses. He has taken Johnny’s indiscretion personally. Not just that, he threatens and insults Tom. In fact, Tom wonders how such a mercurial, loose tongued guy ended up as a Hollywood top gun!

What follows is the inevitable. The Don’s hatchet men behead Woltz’s prized stallion, a champion racehorse worth six hundred thousand dollars! That’s not all. They place the severed head on Woltz’s bed at night right under the noses of his security guys. The gruesome scene sends Woltz into a fit of pure terror. So much for his bravado.

Woltz gets the message. Johnny gets the role.

The Perils of Overconfidence

You might know of this. You underrate a situation – interview, examination, meeting, conference etc. – think it’s a cakewalk and swagger in unprepared. That’s the surest way to fail.

History is replete with examples of overconfident guys losing wars, empires, and much more.

Take the case of Muhammad Shah, the ruler of early thirteenth century Khwarezmia (in Central Asia). Robert Greene outlines the tragedy in the 1998 bestseller The 48 Laws of Power. Drunk with power and arrogance, the Shah beheads the emissaries of a Mongolian chieftain who requests cooperation for operating the Silk Route, a lucrative trade route of the time.

These aren’t the first of Mongolian messengers the Shah or his governors have murdered. But they are the last!

For the Mongolian ruler we are talking of is, hold your breath, Genghis Khan, “the scourge of God.” The Shah’s reckless response sparked off a war that ended with Genghis Khan completely devastating the Khwarzemian empire.

Downplaying the Viet Minh revolutionaries was the major cause for the French debacle at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The decisive battle marked the French defeat in the First Indochina War [1], ending a century of French rule in Vietnam.

Britain similarly underestimated the colonial Americans [2]. The result: the United States won its independence. The U.S. returned the compliment, but not to the British – to the Vietnamese. United States failed to read the popular support that their enemy, the North Vietnamese, enjoyed in South Vietnam, their ally [3].

In 1990, reigning world heavyweight champion “Iron” Mike Tyson miscalculated the relatively unknown Buster Douglas and lost making it arguably the greatest upset in heavyweight boxing history [4]. Comparable to “Cinderella Man” James Braddock’s shock victory over the cocky Max Baer.


If you downplay the situation or the enemy, you don’t prepare yourselves. Remember Benjamin Franklin’s quote: “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Take stock of your opponent or the situation before barging in.

You may never get a second chance!

Indrajeetsinh Yadav @ Falcon Words has put together this content after a detailed analysis of The Godfather. Call us today at +91-9822052945 or write to us at info@falconwords.com for great content on 10+ subject areas.

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  3. Lessons from The Godfather: Angry Decisions Invite Disasters
  4. Lessons from The Godfather: Winning Battles is Useless if they Cost You the War


  1. https://www.warhistoryonline.com/vietnam-war/8-reasons-french-military-disaster-dien-bien_phu-mmm.html
  2. https://www-tc.pbs.org/ktca/liberty/pdf/tguide_4.pdf
  3. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/22/opinion/vietnam-was-unwinnable.html
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2010/feb/12/mike-tyson-buster-douglas-tokyo

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