Adopting a proactive mindset to transform an organization into an innovative market leader is critical in today’s business environment. The global business environment is becoming increasingly turbulent. Socio-political changes, technological trends, and aggressive competitors are impacting every facet of modern business. Business leaders need to adopt a creative and proactive mindset, and incorporate new practices based on accepting ambiguity, maintaining flexibility, and keeping competitors off-balance.
Three effective methodologies leaders should study and apply to business are strategic agility, maneuver warfare, and indirect attacks. Strategic agility is based on Doz and Kosonen’s study of Nokia, and focuses on a collaborative leadership team, deep understanding of the competitive environment, and the ability to quickly move resources to areas of opportunity. The author’s noted how Nokia exited all its core businesses (e.g., lumber, electricity, rubber) to quickly enter and dominate the telecommunications market, leading to decades of market leadership.
Maneuver warfare is based on the writings of Colonel John Boyd and is currently adopted by the United States Marine Corps (USMC). The aim of maneuver is to surprise the enemy with continuous disruption and the use of combined forces to incapacitate decision-making capabilities. Examples are Napoleon’s tactics of speed and high tempo, the blitzkrieg used by the Germans in World War I and II, and the Israeli campaigns of 1956 and 1967.
The third strategy is the indirect approach based on Sun Tzu and B.H. Liddell Hart’s writings. Indirect methods focus on disrupting the competitor’s equilibrium. Indirect attacks are based on surprise, stealth, and movement. The German’s development of Blitzkrieg was based on the indirect methods. Indirect attacks focus on seeking a strategic situation to dislocate the opponent’s strategy – usually through multiple actions.
Understanding the concepts of these three theories and adopting them to the business environment is a critical step towards developing differentiation and competitive advantages. Using non-traditional methodologies to confuse competitors and surprise customers can lead to valuable market success. Business leaders need to learn from multiple sources to maintain market leadership and outmaneuver competitors.
An episode of The Joe Rogan Experience podcast with former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz outlined how these same strategies can result in championship winning mixed-martial arts (MMA) (starts at 14 minutes into the discussion). Cruz discussed his unconventional fighting style. He noted his style is based on avoiding the centerline of other fighters - focusing on constant maneuvering, high rate of tempo, and leveraging all the tools of MMA (combined arms). Cruz moves non-stop, keeps his competitors off-balance through attacking different “planes” (off the center line). Most fighting styles (e.g., Muay Thai, wrestling, judo) attack the centerline of opponents. Cruz changed the “plane” he fights on, resulting in competitors not being able to defend, and allowing Cruz to continually attack as the opponent is constantly kept off-balance.
In addition to attacking indirectly, Cruz constantly adjusts based on quickly reading the opponent. Understanding what the opponent is going to do (and is doing) allows him to quickly attack and counter-attack, faster than the opponent can perform. The same benefit is gained in war and business. If you have a deep understanding of the environment (battlefield or market) and are quickly identifying patterns to anticipate what is coming, you will be able to outmaneuver your opponent – hitting them before they have a chance to hit you.
Cruz’s style is based on avoiding direct attacks and keeping his competitor off-balance. The same principles of strategic agility, maneuver, and indirect have been adopted by military and business leaders. The goal is to surprise the competitor (enemy) so he does not know what is coming next, or where it is coming from. It is not attacking directly or obviously. The use of surprise and stealth, with high rates of tempo allow you to maintain an advantage while keeping the competitor off-balance.
If you keep doing the same thing, your competitors will know what is coming and be able to anticipate and counter-attack. If you move beyond the status quo and keep competitors guessing, you will develop a higher probability of success. In addition, utilizing all your tools (ensuring all departments work together towards a common goal – collective commitment or combined arms) to overwhelm the competitor and keep them off-balance will exhaust them and destroy their morale.
Learning from multiple sources with different perspectives (e.g., military, sports) allows the ability to connect unrelated “dots” to develop creative and innovative ways to succeed. If it has worked for some of the greatest militaries in the world, and the greatest fighters (e.g., Ali, Tyson, Cruz), why not try it? The goal is to outthink your opponent to win with the least amount of effort. If what you do is based on habits, then the enemy will know what is coming, resulting in market share loss, and profits and customers disappearing. It’s time to rethink how you think and operate.
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Fast Strategy: How strategic agility will help you stay ahead of the game by Yves Doz and Mikko Kosonen
Strategy by B.H. Liddell Hart
Warfighting: MCDP 1 by U.S. Marine Corps Staff