Strategy Institute

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.

The Illusion of Control

Occasionally I get email from those who express the firm belief that the world is controlled by some menacing force, but Sun Tzu’s work was suppressed in China to maintain the illusion that life is or can be controlled in this sense. The Chinese emperors and many governments today don’t want their people to realize that, no matter what our position, we can rise or fall in the world by our own actions. Sun Tzu's strategy teaches that we have no control over the larger environment but that we can adapt to it and use it to reach our personal goals.

Bad Information on Sun Tzu

One of the most important things is understanding Sun Tzu's precise use of language, which is why we talk about bad translations and how they misrepresent of his work. For example, a reader writes:
I was trying to recall a certain phrase I had read... something along the lines of : there are three ways to defeat an opponent. the first, and most obvious is to beat him in physical combat. the second is to beat him in a mental battle and the third and most difficult is to push him onto the path of self destruction...

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.

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