Strategy Institute

The Illusion of Control: The Dying Book Industry

Competitive survival begins with the recognition that you cannot control the competitive environment no matter how much of that environment you control. The illusion of control is the most deadly for the biggest companies who lack active competitors. As a book publisher, I have been trying to tell people in this retail book channel how their slow cycle times and costly outdated practices were deadly.

Unity and Strength and Losing November's Election Today

Sun Tzu defined a shared mission as the source of all competitive strength. While conventional wisdom tells us that size is power, Sun Tzu's strategy teaches the competitive strength is based on unity never size. Strategic positions are not points on the political spectrum. They are path with direction and momentum that is difficult to change. This means that winning internal battles that divide an organization are often Pyhrric victories because the organization itself then dies in external competition. For example, the Democrats are currently much more popular than Republicans.

Leadership and Character

Sun Tzu defines good leadership as mostly a matter of strong character. I blame my own weaknesses of character on the fact that, for the most part, I have lived a highly-protected, comfortable life. My father, however, lived through the Bataan Death march, seeing ten thousand of his fellow American servicemen die in seven days, and then surviving four more years while starving in Japanese prisoner of war camps. Most of our political "leaders," like I, have lived shallow, comfortable lives, but Senator McCain offers us something different.

Unforced Errors: Typical White People

Sun Tzu's strategy teaches that we cannot create opportunity, only use what the environment gives us. The secret is in seeing and seizing the opening. As usual, the Presidential race gives us a great example. In our discussion of Obama's minister problem in the context of Sun Tzu's fire attacks (notice how everyone now describes it as a "firestorm"?), we said that Hillary needed to stay away until Obama panicked and left her an opening. Obama has now left that opening. Let us see if Hillary notices.

Response and Defense

People often confuse responding appropriately to challenges, which is always good, with the idea of defending an existing position, which is often bad. When we focus on shoring up defenses--lots of examples during the course of political and sports contests--we often lose sight of the key elements of the situation. Often the situation is that we are in a position that we shouldn't have gotten into in the first place and the best response is getting out of it.

Spread-Out Positions: the Weakness of Obama's Speech

In Sun Tzu's strategy, a spread-out position tries to defend too much territory. It loses its focus and leaves many openings for attack, which is why it is defined as weak. Obama's speech addressing race illustrates how easily this mistake can be made. Obama's strong positioning came from being a candidate that transcended race and party, something that all America can applaud. Unequaled as an orator, he should have embraced the opportunity to solidify this position when the firestorm about his pastor gave him the opportunity.

Competitive Unpredictability - The Fall of Bear Stearns

Since all competitive contests are on-going and past winners continue winning at least for awhile, we have the illusion of control and predictability where they cannot exist. Over time, past winners must fall and new winners arise in unexpected ways. Bear Stearns, the once dominant investment bank, is a great illustration. I am sure the company was on every leftist list of "evil bankers" who control the world. Today, of course, Bear Stearns is no more, bought out for pennies on the dollar.

Fire Attacks on Obama

In the penultimate chapter of his book, Sun Tzu discussed fire attacks. In Sun Tzu's terms, a normal attack means moving your forces into your opponent's territory. Fire attacks are different. They leverage the forces in the environment against an opponent. Instead of using your own forces, you inflame the environment against an opponent. In our modern era, fire attacks leverage the government, the media, or the legal forces against an opponent. However, all the rules that Sun Tzu developed still apply.

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