Action Decisions

Unhappiness From the News and Getting a Perspective

I went for a haircut today and had an interesting discussion with the person cutting my hair. She was unhappy and frightened. Why? It came down to the fact that she watched CNN. She had a perfectly good life, a good husband, a job, no financial real worries, but she was certain she was worse off than any previous generation of human with global warming, the economy, the war in Iraq, and a million other things that were not a part of her life, but on television. I explained to her that the news media makes their money by scaring people and that she had to factor that in.

Cooperation, Competition, and Conflict

A reader writes (condensed from a much longer message):
"I don't consider Sun Tzu to be a particularly useful model for modern business practice...In business we have a choice of looking in two directions: either towards our competitors...or towards our customers. My first thought would be to establish a co-operative relationship with my customers rather than concentrate on competition..."

Knowing Where the Battleground Is: Hillary and Obama

People commonly make strategic mistakes by fighting on the wrong battleground. For example, assuming neither Democratic candidate blows it completely, neither can win enough votes in the primaries to secure the nomination. This means that the real battleground is now in the political back-rooms. The Democratic super-delegates have a problem and Hillary is trying to solve it for them by clever positioning. Though Obama will likely be the leader in the delegates count, he has shown weakness in all the battleground states.

Practical Examples of Strategy

One of my projects for the next year is to collect as many examples, primarily business examples, of good and bad strategy. Stories that illustrate the lessons of positioning, unity, focus, innovation, and so on. The problem with most "news" reports is that they are little more than press releases for large corporations: focusing on products, deals, and the moment rather than anything meaningful about strategy. Off of the top of my head, I only know of one television that portrays the application of good strategy as it should be.

Do-or-Die Responses: Clinton in Texas

Most people don't realize that when they are in the final, most desperate stage of a showdown, what Sun Tzu called "deadly" or what we call "do-or-die" situations, they have choices that are not normally available. In this situation, you can take positions that would be foolish in less challenging situations. Since the alternative is failure (or death), you get more freedom in terms of being creative. What would normally be risky isn't that risky any more.

To Succeed, Survive Defeat

No one succeeds without first surviving defeat. Before making a move, you have to consider what happens next, both if the move succeeds and if it fails. The Aim step of the Progress cycle selects the best opportunity. That opportunity is the most rewarding if you succeed AND the least costly if you fail. Last year, the New York Giants were eight and eight, losing a key game at the end of the season to miss the playoffs. Google "fire Tom Coughlin" to get a sense of how everyone felt about him at the time. To his credit, the team's owners, John Mara and Steve Tisch, kept Coughlin.

More Freedom Means More Uncertainty

Planning and control are good things, but their opposites, strategy and freedom, are also good things. The complementary opposites of Sun Tzu's strategy balance each other. It is wrong to think of them as good against evil. We need areas of control in order to design and build things. Large areas of control, such as corporations, a necessary to build large, complicated things. This planning and control only becomes oppressive when its opposite, freedom and strategy, are suppressed. That suppression leads to stagnation and increasing frustration.

Pushing and Pushing Back

Strategy teaches us to avoid conflict because when you push others, they naturally push back. This sets up a cycle of conflict that naturally escalates if both parties have excess resources. Once started, the process doesn't get anyone closer to their goals. For a good example, we can look at Google and Microsoft. One makes its money in selling advertising via on-line searches. The other makes it money in selling desktop software.

Quitting Too Early

One of the most common strategic mistakes is giving up simply because the contest does not go as planned. The contest never goes as planned. Those that succeed take the long view that expects new opportunities to arise. For example, recently John Edwards, Rudy Guilliani, and Fred Thompson dropped out of the presidential race because of their various third place finishes.


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