Strategy Institute

Using Positioning Dynamics to Pick Better Political Candidates

Strategic positions exist both in space and time. Positions are not a point on the map but a path that evolves or degrades over time. The single most common strategic mistake is making judgments based on "snap shot" that doesn't show the relative changes and the speed of those changes. This brings me to a topic I lasted visited in this post, the problem that the Democratic Party has picking successful presidential candidates.

Problems into Opportunities: Obama's Opportunity

Sun Tzu's strategy teaches that all problems are secretly opportunities in disguise. Converting a problem to an opportunity requires the process of "reversal," which means turning a situation upside down and backwards, looking for the opportunity. This is a confusing idea for most people, but we have a good example. Let us look at Obama's problem with Rev. Wright. Since the problem is about Obama's past beliefs and associations, Obama needs to reverse it and make it about his future actions and associations.

Listening to the Ground: Obama as a Republican Weapon

Each step in the listen-aim-move-claim cycle connects the four external factors of a position. Listening, specifically, connects conditions on the ground to leadership. We have to rely upon the ground to tell us whether or not reality is what we think it should be or not. This makes the most interesting message from the ground are those that don't fit our preconceptions.

Synchronizing Internal and External Rewards: The Democratic Primaries

Every organization should reward the internal behavior the generates external competitive results, but many organizations create internal reward systems that are at add with winning external rewards. Sun Tzu's strategy teaches that every competitive arena (ground) has its own rules. The rules of making a profit in business are different from the rules from winning a baseball game and both are different from the rules that winning an election.

Avoiding Dangerous Position

We all know the old adage, "Look before you leap." When looking at new potential strategic positions, Sun Tzu's strategy evaluates three dimensions called distances, obstacles, and dangers. The "dangers" dimension consists of positions that get you stuck. This means that getting out of them is difficult or dangerous. The only time to avoid a dangerous position is before you get into it, but danger is often difficult to foresee.

Mission and Ground: Obama Mispoke?

Mission is the core of a strategic position and defines the other four elements: climate, ground, leadership, and methods. The connection between mission and ground is especially important. Recently, we discussed how unity from a shared mission creates strength and how spread-out ground positions are inherently weak. There is a strong connection between these two issues. This is illustrated by the Obama statements about small-town PA people to contributors in San Francisco.

Dynamic Positioning versus Sticking to the Plan: The Iraq Army

The mist common strategic mistake is confusing dynamic positioning with planning. Sun Tzu's strategy is the fluid response to the immediate situation, not the execution of predetermined steps. The unpredictability of the environment is the real enemy. Military leaders have to be the first to understand this. For example, the Iraqi military is becoming effective today primarily for one reason: they are learning to respond to the situation instead of fearfully following orders.

Positions that Attract Support Rather than Attacks

The concept of "winning without conflict" is based on creating positions that attract supporters while being difficult to attack. One problem with large organizations is that, though their growth is always fueled by attracting supporters, as they get larger, they start to think that they don't need these supporters. Again, Apple offers us a good example in their relationship with Adobe as explained in this article.

Finding Open Territory: Reversing the Rules

In our training programs, we show people how to develop a simple competitive map of their industry using a tool that we call the Strategy Analysis Matrix. This matrix condenses the five competitive dimensions of Sun Tzu's Warrior's Rules into a two-dimensional representation. The purpose of this tool is to identify the market openings that represent opportunity. One of the companies we use to illustrate the use of this map is Apple. Apple is particularly good at finding the open spaces in the market that others are missing.

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