1.1.0 Position Paths

February 12, 2016
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Description: 
The six keys to understanding the continuity of strategic positions over time.
"Use an indirect route as your highway.
Use the search for advantage to guide you."

Sun Tzu's The Art of War 7:1:9
Perspective: 

"You cannot travel the path until you have become the path itself."  Gautama Siddharta

Situation: 

All competitive positions exist at a unique intersection of time and space, but they are dynamic. They also have a trajectory. They rise and fall. They spread out and narrow down. The path of strategic positions is affected both by conditions in the environment and the decisions and actions we make. Positions do not just follow paths, but they are those paths. Their past and direction are critical to understanding them. Positions can change so slowly and gradually that we cannot see those changes easily. In our everyday lives, we often think of positions as static resting places. In everyday terms, we describe a person's "position" in a static way as part of a social hierarchy or as a clearly defined role in an organization or institution. This person is a department manager. That person is a priest or a lawyer. This is not the way we think about positions when we analyze strategic environments. We always attempt to look at positions not only in terms of where they are right now, but where they have come from and where they are going.

Opportunity: 
The Chinese character that we translate as "mission" is tao. Tao literally means the "way" and the "path." Our method for using positions depends on understanding both their nature, their history, and their purpose. A strategic position is different from molecules or atomic particles because we are aware of our positions. Positions are created and directed by conscious beings not inanimate objects. We have come from somewhere in the past. Not only do we remember that past, but everyone in our environment remembers it as well. Our histories are part of our position, directing to some degree where we can go in the future. Strategic positions are always under someone's conscious control. This means that their direction is not random. It can be changed at any time by the choices and actions of those directing them. Positions have a direction because we care about our mission, that is, our goals and values. We make decisions to move toward our goals. We move into the future while making choices that shape the future.
Key Methods: 

The following eight keys describe how we think about positions as paths.

  1. Strategic positions are dynamic. The positions are temporary, a snapshot in time. What is harder to see is that positions are always changing, rising or falling, waxing or waning (1.1.1 Position Dynamics).
  2. Strategic positions have persistence based on memory. People's past impressions of a position are always factored into their current expectations. People's memory persists until new information changes it (2.1 Information Value).
  3. Strategic positions have persistence based on their ground. The ground is the part of our strategic environment that tends to remain stable over time (1.4.2 Ground Features).
  4. Strategic positions have persistence based on their defense. People always defend their existing positions because we are all anchored to our past. Our histories are part of what we are and what we defend (1.1.2 Defending Positions).
  5. Change is a key part of both the objective and subjective aspects of a position. In quantum mechanics and Sun Tzu's strategy, the concept of "at rest" doesn't even exist. All positions always have both speed and direction and our perception of that speed and direction shapes our decisions (1.2 Subobjective Positions).
  6. Our decisions must be based on our view of the motion of position paths in our environment. All the strategic decisions that we make are executed in the future. We must make these decisions based upon where positions are in that future, not where they are now (1.4 The External Environment ). 
  7. If we understand people's histories and motivations, we can approximate future position paths. This requires knowing our Sun Tzu's methods, what others have done in the past, and their specific goals (1.5.2. Group Methods .
  8. As paths, future strategic positions are impossible to predict exactly. Unlike the paths of subatomic particles or baseballs, strategic paths are constantly changing because we are constantly learning. That learning affects the future vector of our positions. Skills are acquired and certain attitudes are formed. Mark Twain once described an education as the path from "cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty." While learning our Sun Tzu's methods makes us keenly aware of what we cannot know, it also assures us that we will know more than those around us. Since these paths are under conscious control, their direction can be changed at any time (1.5.1 Command Leadership).
Illustration: 

In sports, players must not think about where the ball is but where the ball will be. This is an extremely useful analogy for understanding the nature of strategic positions.

  1. Strategic positions are dynamic. Both players and the ball move. The strategic situation is the changing configuration of the players' and the balls' positions.
  2. Strategic positions have persistence based on memory. Players know that other players have certain skills, reputations, and tendencies based upon their past experience.
  3. Strategic positions have persistence based on their ground. The playing field is defined as part of every sport.The goal posts do not move. 
  4. Strategic positions have persistence based on their defense. All sports have a defensive element where players try to protect their existing position by stopping the offense of the other team from moving forward.
  5. Change is a key part of both the objective and subjective aspects of a position. A player acts based not only upon what the other players do but upon what he or she thinks they will do. Of course, players know that the other players have certain expectations about their behavior and they adapt their behavior based on that knowledge.
  6. Our decisions must be based on our view of the motion of position paths in our environment. We do not play to where the ball and the other players are, we play according to where we think they will be. 
  7. If we understand people's histories and motivations, we can approximate future position paths. Even though we cannot know exactly what will happen when a player touches the ball, we can guess because we know the rules and goal of the game. The better we know the habits and skills of the player, the more accurate our prediction. The same is true of strategy.
  8. As paths, future strategic positions are impossible to predict exactly. In sports, the path of a ball is relatively easy to calculate until a player touches it. After it is launched and before it is touched, the ball's path is controlled solely by the predictable laws of physics. Once a player touches it, however, all predictions are off. The balls future path cannot be predicted because its future path is controlled by the intentions and skill of the player.