Internal Planning

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.

Feeding Momentum

Many times a contest reaches a tipping point when one party clearly has momentum on their side. During this period, this momentum feeds itself, like a runner getting a burst of adrenalin from taking the lead. Does this mean that their success is certain? Only if their opponents accept their eventual defeat. Sudden changes can undo momentum in a moment. Balancing competitive forces tend to burn out momentum over time. All it takes is one big surprise going the other way to change everything.

Difficult Choices

A member of the Strategy School writes:
I can not help thinking that whatever direction I choose to take, it has to lead to some larger long term reward. I feel absolutely surrounded and overwhelmed by opportunity. But I feel that I’m searching for “the” route to the land of megabucks...Maybe I should focus on making lots of small decisions and like you say the big ones will fall into place.

Rediscovering Strategy

As we noted in the last post, momentum comes only from surprise. As those unfamiliar with strategy observe this effect, it always surprises them. For example, in a recent article about the presidential primaries, the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder observes:
Momentum seems to skip the next state up and seems to benefit the person who exceeded expectations, rather than the winner.

The Power of the Big Picture

Planning is about breaking a larger process into small detailed steps. Sun Tzu's strategy is about seeing the big picture in every small situation. Sun Tzu starts his book with the five key elements because people tend to focus on one or two of these elements and lose sight of the others. All contests always combine philosophy, climate, ground, leadership, and methods. Most contests require time to resolve the contest among these factors. Narrow, short-term, myopic views provide little useful strategic information.

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