Entangling Positions by Allan Elder

Entangling positions are ones where you get hung-up. They are complex and create confusing condition. You would not intentionally move to an entangling position. The only reason you would end up in one is because you were not looking where you are going, you did not think ahead. You can easily attack from entangling positions and although they are not ideal positions, they do offer good defense.

Once you are in an entangled position, you don't want to move out of it unless you are sure your next move will succeed. Returning to an entangled position is difficult, if not impossible. Once you leave, you can't return. When in an entangled position, if a competitor attempts to lure you out, ignore them unless you are certain of victory. If they lure you out and you cannot return, you are exposed. When you encounter a competitor in an entangled position, do not attack. Wait, or lure them out of the position where they cannot return and then attack them.

In business, an entangled position is one where the organization has a powerful customer base that pigeonholes them. When customers demand a product or service be built, delivered, or designed, and dictate the companies actions, it is an entangled position.

Marriage is also an example of an entangling position. Often described as being "trapped," marriage is a position that once you're in, you cannot leave and return easily. If want to move to a new position (find a new spouse) you cannot leave and return so you had best be certain the new spouse will work out and be an improved position.

In politics, if a candidate takes a position such as "going green," and later changes their position to "oil for everyone," they cannot go back to the "green" position with any credibility. Once they leave that position, there is no returning. If they do fight their way back, they certainly cannot change position again. They are now stuck, hung-up, or trapped in their current position. Therefore, once they move out of their "green" position they must be certain that new position will be better than the old one (gain more votes in this case).

Imagine you are a military commander and you put your team on a butte landform. A butte has a relatively flat top, sits up high, provides a good view, and with its surrounding cliffs provides good defense. However, like climbing a tree to escape an angry dog, you're safe but trapped. You cannot come down and get back up easily in the event your next move, or escape, doesn't work out. Climbing down from the butte (or tree) is easy but returning is hard or impossible. This position is easy to defend and hard to attack. Whoever gets there first can claim it. You are trapped because you cannot come down as long as enemies are about unless you are certain you can win. You must wait for competitors to leave or wait and build up your competitive ability until you can ensure victory. If you leave this position and the enemy takes it, you can’t have it back until they leave.

ORGANIZATIONAL WEAKNESS If your organization has good people who are committed to the mission and know what they are doing, but leaders and managers are lax, the result will be insubordination. When your organization lacks clear rewards and punishments that are followed through on, you cannot survive in an entangled position. This can happen in organizations where the people really are the backbone of the company and their knowledge or expertise drives the company more than executive management.

Naturally, when you encounter a competitor in an entangled position you will want to assess whether or not they have clear rewards and punishments with leaders disciplined enough to use them. If their leadership is lax and their people are strong, they cannot hold their position.

While holding the entangled position, if your managers are not strong you will quickly suffer from insubordination within the company. Knowing you cannot move without risking your business, you cannot grow the company, you cannot offer greater opportunities to your people, and there is no "better tomorrow." Since the people are strong, they will want to move forward, advance, grow the organization. The leader understands the organization cannot grow until they are certain a better position is available and moving to it will be successful. The leader also understands that if they move and the move fails, they cannot return. The company will fail.

In these conditions, the most important internal step you can take is to establish clear rewards and punishments and ensure the leadership has the discipline to follow through. If insubordination sets in, you position is weakened. Not only are you then unable to move, you are also unable to hold.

EXAMPLE Having lost his business in the monogrammed sock business, Winfred, the intrepid entrepreneur, began looking for a new approach to making his riches. While speaking with a colleague he discovered that DP, a Fortune 500 technology manufacturer, had a new server product and was looking for an outside vendor to conduct their training around the globe, Winfred had not only used this product, but also was somewhat of an expert. He promptly contacted DP and won the contract. Once again, Winfred was in business.

Technically, Winfred didn't have a business, he had a contract, but this didn't deter him. He quickly setup shop. He wrote a short training manual, obtained all the required hardware and software from DP (which required the lease of several panel trucks to transport) and made training schedules for DP's clients around the U.S. Business was good, for a while.

At first, the changes demanded by DP in training, the manual, the schedule, and of course the product itself, were considered an exciting challenge. However, when Winfred and his team offered suggestions on how to deal with things, DP would often turn them down. He wanted to offer his training to outside companies (non DP clients) but DP would not allow it. DP liked the way he delivered the training. They liked his original idea of putting all the hardware in the trucks, driving to the client and setting up a complete "dog and pony" show of the product. The clients liked it as well. Few of Winfred's ideas would see the light of day. His demanding customer simply would not allow it.

Winfred knew that if he went against his customer and their clients there would be hell to pay. They would most likely pull the contract and there would be no chance of getting it back, and even if he did, the trust would be broken. He couldn't use his trucks for other types of training because they had to be on call for DP and couldn't risk the probability that a truck wouldn't be able to return fast enough if DP needed it for a training program. Winfred was stuck, trapped, in a contract where he no longer ran his business. The reality was that Winfred's business was being run by his customers and there was no way out.

Winfred wondered to himself, “How did I get into this trap?” The reality is he simply didn’t think about the consequences of having a single large customer that controlled his business. He did consider how he would expand the business later.

After a few years, DP decided not to renew the contract with Winfred. He was now forced out of his entangling position with nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. He was not prepared to deal with the competition.

Competitive Arenas: