What are the best ways to learn business strategy?

First a quick reading list: These are Basic Books that will cover the topic broadly: Most of these are available as audio books if you prefer.

Complete MBA for Dummies – to cover business basics. Doesn’t hurt to memorize.

The Strategy Book by Max McKeown – Accessible, simple, covers the Basics. Memorize it.

Strategy: A History by Lawrence Freedman. Lets you know what strategy is, where it has succeeded and failed. The middle third is slow, but educational history. The last third is focused on business. Helps you understand the weirdness of strategy – it’s often more or a religion or cult than a craft or science.

Japanese Art of War by Thomas Cleary – gets more sophisticated and outside the box.

Ben Polak did a nice Yale open video course of his game theory class. It’s pretty good. You don’t need to learn the math unless you want to, because game theory is limited and hard to apply directly. But Game theory is a wonderful tool to teach strategic thinking; and Ben Polak’s lecture videos are pretty enlightening if a few years old at this point. Honestly the math hasn’t changed.

Then type in the words “Business Strategy” into you tube and watch a few hundred hours of videos.

You’ll pick up on the fact that the marketing industry has adopted the word strategy, but they only really do marketing strategy, not comprehensive business strategy. Some of the smart ones can create synergy with business strategy; but don’t be fooled by the marketing geniuses. Yes they are good, yes they are smart and great communicators. But they don’t know what they don’t know. Every business needs good marketing and sales to succeed. But be careful of the market strategists getting out of their depth. They rarely will spot weakness in finance, accounting, supply chain, operations, or applied technology. They will however be good to awesome with culture, communications, market intelligence and people.

Business strategy books in general – be aware that most business strategy books are either a graduate thesis converted into a book, or written in a similar format. Business strategy books tend to be one trick ponies – they pick a simple, easy to understand central theme and then spend several chapters on case studies that show real life examples of that idea. A good example is Blue Ocean Strategy or Balanced Score Card. And while each of theses books is useful and educational, they suffer from confirmation bias and can be misleading. An interesting corollary to that is mintzberg’s Strategy Safari, which studied and compared the business theories at the time, pointing out some of the silliness.

Be aware that the strategy industry is a business that sells strategy, and like much of business is often more focused on revenue than results. They all talk a wonderful game. Many confuse luck for skill, correlation for causation, coincidence for genius.

You’ll quickly learn that strategy, even focused on a single genre like business, is an elusive and complicated subject. Even these Quora answers are different and contradictory.

To really get good at strategy and understand it – try a strategy video game – one with conflicting priorities, time limits and resource limitations – Star Craft and XCom are good examples – where you have to simultaneously manage budget, resources, operations projects and missions while trying to outthink and outmaneuver your opponents both tactically, operationally, and strategically.

While the details of business are different than a military strategy video games, the problems are the same – limited time, limited money, limited people, limited talent and abilities being stretched to accomplish different goals with changing priorities as you react to changes in your environment and your competition. And often the environment is changing faster than you can change, so you learn to adapt proactively and innovate ahead of the changes when possible. You learn that action is faster than reaction, that speed kills and hesitation can cost you significant losses. Most importantly you learn that all the pieces are connected and innocent mistakes in one place can lead to disaster somewhere else.

Those video games tend to be unforgiving with murphy’s law. Especially XCom. You can spend days training up high quality staff only to lose your best people to bad luck and have to start over rebuilding a team while competing for your existence.

All the other advice here on Quora is pieces to the puzzle. One you get through the basics, read some 10-K forms, talk to any business savvy people you can meet, read business journals, understand different business models, why they succeed or fail, study finance, accounting, project management, change management, business law, supply chain.

To really be good at business strategy you need to understand what all the parts are, how the work together, what the rules and limits are. Often your limits will be people – culture, leadership, complacency, resistance to change; desire to change to fast, laziness and resistance to taking the time and energy to do things the best way instead of just getting by.

At the end of the day, strategy is about deciding on the best changes to make and then changing what people do and how they do it as you adapt to things you can control and change your strategy to deal with changes the world throws at you. Notice I used the word “change” way to many times. Strategy is change. Changing what you can to make things less painful, more successful.

 

Hope that Helps.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What is a win-win strategy?

Oh fun.

TLDR – a win – win strategy is a scenario where all stakeholders in a situation get what they want, or “win”.

First, the text book. In game theory, A winwin game is a game which is designed in a way that all participants can profit from it in one way or the other. In conflict resolution, a winwin strategy is a collaborative strategy and conflict resolution process that aims to accommodate all participants.

In the real world, a win-win strategy is often found in diplomacy and business, often in the form of a contract or written agreement. It’s a deal where both sides win.

Literally, both sides win.

In business this is called giving your suppliers fair payment for their product or service, and providing your customers a quality product or service for a fair price. Everyone gets what they want. Everybody wins.

If you call a compromise a deal where nobody gets what they want. A win – win deal is simply I figure out what you want, I tell you what I want, and we figure out how to make both things happen. That is a win-win for both sides, so both sides are incentivized to follow the win-win strategy.

Why do I car if my opponent wins or not?

Well that is brings up the difference between a finite vs infinite game.

In a finite game, with a defined end, at the end of the game, I don’t have to face my opponents again.

Or in a viciously executed Zero Sum game, I kill or destroy my opponents, and never face them again.

In real life, pretty much everything is an infinite game. Look at the centuries of war in most places on earth. Look at the unending business competition. Even if I destroy other businesses, the people still live to compete with me another day.

If I engage in win-win strategies for my life; I decrease conflict, increase cooperation, make friends, make allies, and set both myself and my allies up for future success and cooperation.

At it’s worst, a Win-Win strategy is a compromise where neither of us lose.

At it’s best, a Win-Win strategy sets us both up for a future of cooperation and success where resources are not wasted on competition.

A win-win strategy can create a peace where the losers of war may save face and get help rebuilding.

A win-win strategy in business can help your business partners save face and create mutually profitable deals; often sacrificing short term goals in favor of long term gains.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What is the difference between a top down and bottom up design appoach?

OK vague question, so there a a few different ways to look at it:

Top Down vs Bottom up.

Already been tried here: What is the difference between top down and bottom up approaches?

From an organizational perspective:

Top down is having the leadership develop the plan, and the push it down to those below them on the org chart. Basically the military model.

Bottom up is engaging the opinions and input to lower levels of an organization, soliciting participation from all levels of an organization, and then using all the information to make more informed decisions at the top leadership levels.

Top down can be quick, simple, easy, and usually requires significant amounts of organizations change management to execute; because the people making the strategy happen have no idea what’s going on.

Bottom Up takes longer, requires analysis and synthesis, requires compromise and strong leadership to make decisions on conflicts, but is usually easier to execute if done in good faith because all levels of the organization were part of the planning process and already know who, what, why, where, how, and most importantly already have skin in the game.

From a Design Perspective – not necessarily strategy, but engineering

Top Down is saying we need a Car, or a web site, and then figuring out all the details. Starting with the “Big Picture” and then drilling down.

Bottom up is coming up with a list of specifications or requirements, and then connecting the dots, figuring out how they fit together and what the cohesive whole looks like.

Top Down is a good way to focus systems integration and design variations – you know what the end product is supposed to be. Helpful for building physical things that are hard to iterate or modify (like ships, buildings, bridges)

Bottom up is a good way to hit minimum viable product. You may not know what the end result is supposed to be (or will be), but you start with a series of features and go from there. Is a nice option for operational processes or software startups that just need something that works, and it’s easy to modify and add to it as you go.

Strategic Example of the two different approaches when making dinner:

Top down approach could be to decide you are making chicken and rice, and then get the ingredients to make chicken and rice.

Top down approach could be to order Pizza (leaving you an option for bottom up discussion on Pizza toppings).

Bottom up approach could be to check the refrigerator, cupboards, and pantry, and cook what you find.

Bottom up approach could be to ask your roommates or family what they want for dinner and try to compromise between everyone’s ideas and what’s available.

Strategically you are best off having a plan set up long before you get hungry, so when people start asking what’s for dinner, you simply hand them a hot plate of something they typically enjoy – i.e. Taco Tuesday, Spaghetti Wednesday. A predictable routine will help manage everyone’s expectations, and make it easier to changes plans proactively (you have a plan to change).

Hope that helps.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Why are people from the future not time traveling to our period, assuming time travel technology is available in the future?

Let’s assume it’s physically possible to travel backwards in time…

Every one forgets the earth is a spaceship traveling through the heavens..

Some Astrophysics 101:

The earth is orbiting the sun at a fast speed.

The Sun is orbiting the Milky way galaxy at an even faster speed.

The Milky Way galaxy is moving relative to the center of the known universe at an even faster speed…

So relative to any point in time and space in the universe – you are currently traveling at at least thousands of miles every minute..

If you traveled back in time just a few seconds, without teleporting to where the earth was, actually traveling when you go back in time…  Going back in time one second – you’d end up miles away from where you stared.

Travel back in time a couple hours or more?  You find yourself in the exactly same place, but in the past, before the earth / sun / milky way system got there, you’d have to wait in the dark cold of space until the earth happened to run into you (if for some reason, when you travel back in time your momentum doesn’t come with you; actually the earth probably wouldn’t catch up to you because you would be moving yourself..)

So if you want to go back and see the first black president  of the USA inaugurated – you would not only have to go back in time to 2008, but also travel a millions of miles into space where the earth was in 2008.

Time travel is probably the easy part, compared to calculating exactly where you need to land and actually getting there as you travel through time.

Posted in Math, Quora Answer, Space | 1 Comment

What is the difference between business strategy and a business model?

TLDR – The business model is a part of the toolkit used in business strategy.

Is a business model the same thing as a business strategy? Yes and no.

Business models are how you make money and how the business works. Not just “I’m going to open a coffee shop that sells to such and such demographics.” A Business Model is basically developing a Cost curve financial model based on everything you want to do, and comparing those costs to – can you make enough money to cover those costs? So using the coffee shop example, you figure out your fixed costs like rent and salary labor (how many people and what do they do?), insurance, licenses, financing, semi-variable costs like coffee machines, coffee filters, utilities and hourly labor, and variable costs like cups, sugar, flavoring, coffee, etc.

First, you have to throw out the indoor waterfall idea because you can’t afford it. Then you add all the rest up, and wow, it costs like $10,000 a month to run your coffee shop before you ever sell a cup of coffee. So you figure out the fancy flavored sugar & cream filled coffee that is popular sells about $4-$8 a cup. And given your pricing curve your coffee costs roughly a $1 a cup in costs, so given variable costs – you have to sell about 4,000 cups of coffee a month, or 1,000 cups of coffee a week, or roughly 150 cups of coffee a day with a staff of you and 3 part time people working 30 hour weeks just to break even. That model also assumes you are living in your parent’s basement. To really make a profit you want to sell close to 200 – 300 cups of coffee a day. Then you gotta figure out how to sell 300 cups of Coffee a day, how to compete with other coffee shops, etc.

Now semantically speaking – The above is a financial model as much as a business model. The complete business model from a business school perspective involves how you sell coffee, why you sell coffee, target customers, business culture, how you organize your operations. All coffee shops share effectively the same basic financial model, but may have significant differences in “business model” – different culture, branding, operations, logistics, pricing, marketing, advertising, financial controls, training, HR policies, recruiting and hiring practices. Some sell merchandise, some are bookstores, some have poetry reading or live music, some serve food, some are part of a larger business, or at your library.

Many people will argue that the cost curve has little to do with the parts of the business model that they focus on. I will tell you, without a cost curve and financial business model, it’s really hard to get a business loan or investment money. You need the financial half of the business model (which is built on organization, operations, pricing to estimate cost and revenue), the other half of the business model is how you expect to sell.

The cost curve is a financial summary of the business model is the necessary part that tells you the numbers that constrain the operational, cultural, business development, marketing advertising, etc. It gives you your realistic budget and resource limits.

At its base the Business Model is understanding what business you are in, and how you will make money. Doing that without a cost curve is certainly possible, but risky. The literature on Business Models gets really wonky and philosophical, with hundreds of definitions that can, will, and do include many parts of business strategy.

So what is business strategy?

That’s a larger subject, with even more definitions, hundreds of books and opinions on the subject. At the national meeting of the Association for Strategic Planning, I can ask a dozen strategy professionals for the definition of strategy, and get 30 or 40 different answers in a single lunch.

At the time of the writing (2017) Wikipedia does not have an entry for business strategy – it says see strategic management, strategic planning, etc..

Business strategy is knowing how to execute and adapt your business model and financial realities in a constantly changing world. Business strategy is how you grow and change your business. Business strategy is what do you do when your business model isn’t working? Business strategy is adding additional business models that work in parallel with your core business model.

Maybe your Coffee shop adds a catering service or starts selling used books. Maybe you have lots of people hanging out with personal electronics so you add charging stations. Maybe you have too many people hanging out so you remove the charging stations. The best trick I ever saw for coffee shops was to give away free coffee on opening day, and pay people to show up and make it look busy the first week – tricks everyone into going to the really popular coffee shop. But that only works if you are in a high traffic area where people will notice. Every tactic and strategy has its time and place.

Business strategy is a cycle of gathering information about your business and how it interacts in the bigger picture and the future; making plans to adapt your business model and survive in the future, and actually make those changes to your business model happen. And making additional changes and adaptation that you were not expecting when you made the plan. You keep going through that cycle in one way or another, formal or informal, until you retire or go out of business.

Business strategy is the changes you make today to give to a better tomorrow.

Business strategy is a fancy way of saying that your business will either evolve or die.

Your changing business model is simply a tool that is a part of your evolving business strategy.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why is it that governments (or large organizations) rarely do anything intelligent?

This is a strategic exercise in understanding how large groups of people operate.

TLDR: You try getting a large group of people to agree on anything while trying to figure out how to pay for it while keeping them all out of trouble. If you can get three strangers to agree on Pizza toppings I’ll be impressed.

Basically, the government is spending most of its time simply trying to prevent things from getting worse. Ask any parent and they can explain in detail.

One important point is trying being a tightrope walker – you have to really stay balanced in every decision or you risk going too far to the left or right and fall.

How to explain the absurd complexity of governing a country?

  • First, you have to read Plato’s Republic – 3 failing of Humans:
    • Humans are greedy
    • Humans make mistakes (are incompetent)
    • Humans abuse power

This is why most modern governments are built on a system of checks and balances. You have to spread out the power, greed, and mistakes in a balanced fashion that allows the greed of one group to balance out the abuse of power of another group that corrects the mistakes of a third group that is also limiting the greed of the first group.

You have to build the systems of government to be stable and effective in light of the fact that the majority of the people running the government are human – the will experience greed, make mistakes, and abuse their power.

Then keep in mind that the human citizens are greedy, incompetent, and abuse power. Regardless of the form of government, you still have a bunch of greedy, incompetent, power abusers trying to maintain power, maintain order, and keep the whole thing going while trying to deal with millions of greedy, incompetent, and power abusing citizens.

That’s basically why there are over a dozen civil wars going on at any given time.

If you live in a place with no civil war, no soldiers on the streets, and no obvious corruption, where you can trust the law enforcement and leave your home without fearing for your safety – you are in the minority of the human population.

Creating law and order is crazy hard, and requires basically everybody to cooperate at some level. Which is why the brute force/iron fist approach is so popular – it’s simple and crudely effective, very easy to understand.

But if you want things like freedom, liberty, independence, not having people with control issues telling you how to live your life –

  • Have you ever gotten 3 people to agree on Pizza Toppings? How about 3 million, or 3o million, or 300 million?
  • Did you understand your high school chemistry teacher? Do you understand that everything you forgot from school is actually relevant to how the world works and needs to be understood to effectively run an industrialized 21st century nation?
  • Why do intelligent people hide their intelligence?
  • Would you rather be a billionaire with vacations and privacy, or a Politician with zero privacy and spend most of your time asking people for money or apologizing for things you can’t control.
  • Politicians use the term “true facts” because they deal with statistics, lawyers, and biased presentation of information. They cannot tell the difference between scientific fact and well-argued lies. Nobody can be an expert at everything.
  • Based on GDP – the United States controls 25% of the world’s wealth, with only 4% of if population.  We are the richest nation on earth by most measurements and the US still have problems with poverty and hunger.
    • There is more demand than supply. More people than resources. Even in the magical 21st century where there is enough food for everyone, we can’t figure out how to feed the hungry, and we throw away lots of food, much after it spoils.
    • How do you deal with the simple fact that there is a scarcity of resources? More people than stuff to take care of them.
    • How do you decide who gets wealth and who doesn’t when there simply is not enough to go around?
  • Then keep in mind at any given time a portion of the population is actively engaged in criminal activity, some out of aggression, some out of desperate need – how do you deal with that? More resources you don’t have spent on people you don’t have the resources to properly help, but you have to protect the common good.

Think about how many mistakes the average person makes in a given day.

Do you get 8 hours of sleep, drink 8 glasses of water a day, eat 7 servings of fruits and vegetables, eat meat, whole grains every day? Do you never eat sugar, preservatives, or any unhealthy foods? Can you drink only one drink of alcohol per day? Do you ever speed? Are you ever late for anything? Do you procrastinate? Do you have more things to do than time to do it? Do you watch TV instead of reading a book or doing chores? Do you get exercise every day? Do you pay all your bills on time? Do you have credit card debt spent on things sitting rarely used in your home or garage? When was the last time you were tired / hungry / in pain and said something stupid that turned into an argument? When was the last time you brushed your teeth? Flossed? When was the last time you had 2 bills and only enough money to pay for one of them?

At it most basic form – a government is a delegation of responsibility to a small portion of a larger group of people trusted to maintain stability and the common good. If you consider that everyone is making a few hundred mistakes per day, and add that up for any number of people in a group; honestly I’m surprised that we do as well as we do.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Who would win between Grand Admiral Thrawn with 6 Imperial Star Destroyers vs Grand Moff Tarkin with the first Death Star?

This is a guilty pleasure.  Yes, I have read far too many books, and a star wars fan, and spend too much time on Quora.

Honestly, this is just an illustrative exercise in assessment and investigation scenarios and options.  At first Glance, it would seem that anything vs the Death Star is no contest.

But a little bit of Sun Tzu, run the numbers, look at lines of sight, assess the leadership and how they do what they do.

It’s mostly Sun Tzu Chapter 1.

Enjoy.  The first draft was on Quora a while back:

Who would win between Grand Admiral Thrawn with 6 Imperial Star Destroyers vs Grand Moff Tarkin with the first Death Star?

First, this is Spot on – Matthew Jiang’s answer to Who would win between Grand Admiral Thrawn with 6 Imperial Star Destroyers vs Grand Moff Tarkin with the first Death Star?

TLDR: The Empire’s best military strategist (Thrawn) can beat the Empire’s best military Governor (Tarkin). But he will have to use every dirty trick and unconventional tactic and tool at his disposal, because a stand-up fight against the Death Star is suicide.

You could go into a pretty rigorous debate between legends and the Disney canon.

But the net assessment is pretty simple:

Grand Moff Tarkin:

The Emperor’s Governor of Governor’s. The highest ranking Political leader under the Emperor.

Reasonable tactician and strategist as shown in the movies and clone war TV series.

But Tarkin was put into his position of power because he was ruthlessly loyal to Palpatine, believed in the Empire, and was able to control Anakin / Vader. Tarkin is reliable, loyal, has no love for the Jedi, and gets results.

But Even in the Clone Wars series, it was established that Tarkin was not as good at tactics or strategy as Anakin. Tarkin was however very good at politics, deceit, and manipulation – which is why he was a senior leader in Palpatine’s Empire

Grand Admiral Thrawn:

In Star Wars Legends is remarkably smart, resourceful, and creative – takes on and beats Jedi. But is older and more experienced than he is in Disney Rebels.

In Disney Rebels show (recent Disney Canon), Thrawn is younger and less experienced, but still is characterized as a military genius, superior soldier, and hand to hand combatant, and is called in as a “ringer” helping Tarkin, to accomplish feats that Tarkin and his admirals are unable to do themselves. The Emperor sent Thrawn to end the rebellion that Tarkin couldn’t handle without help.

While Tarkin was the Emperor’s Grand Moff, The Emperor Made Thrawn his Grand Admiral – the Admiral of Admirals.

Thrawn is like a Hermann Balck – he doesn’t lose battles, and easily defeats larger forces than his own.

Death Star:

Planet Smashing Super Laser

15,000 Turbolasers, 768 Tractor Beams, 2500 Laser Cannons, 2500 Ion Cannons…

Plus hundreds of Fighters, hundreds of small support ships, and 1–2 million people at any given time. But only 26,000 Storm Troopers.

Death Star can only fire like one full power shot a day, maybe a few lower power shots.

For the sake of argument, let’s say the Death Star can fire 6 shots in a matter of minutes capable of destroying all 6 of Thrawn’s Star Destroyers. Makes it more interesting.

Star Destroyers:

You could argue ISD 1 vs ISD 2’s; Disney Cannon vs Legends.

But Basically, the Star Destroyers have a hundred plus weapons, 72 fighters each, just shy of 50,000 people including 9,000 plus Stormtroopers.

Technically 6 X 9,000 = 54,000 – Thrawn has twice the number of Storm Troopers with his 6 Star Destroyers.

By Comparison, the Star Destroyers are small, fast, and nimble.

The Battle –

The Top Political Leader in the Death Star against the Top Admiral with 6-star Destroyers?

1 – If the Death Star only gets one shot and then has to recharge, and Thrawn can find Erso’s weakness – Matthew Jiang’s answer to Who would win between Grand Admiral Thrawn with 6 Imperial Star Destroyers vs Grand Moff Tarkin with the first Death Star?

2 – Let’s go hard for Thrawn:

Assume:

  • Death Star is able to fire 6 shots quickly to destroy Star Destroyers in range, and will not miss (Honestly the Star Destroyers should get a dodge).
  • Thrawn does not find Erso’s weakness.

What is a Grand Admiral to do to stop the Mad Moff with a Death Star?

Don’t get in Range (Duh). The Star Destroyers have faster Hyperdrives, so you simply may avoid the Death Star indefinitely.

  • Sneak some nuclear warheads on to the Death Star and cripple it’s power supplies. Then it’s an easy fight if the Death Star can’t power its shields or weapons.
  • Have human spies sabotage the power supply, then take it by force.
  • Have droid spies sabotage the power supply, then take it by force.
  • Have Slicers (Hackers) sabotage the power supply, life support, weapons, etc, and take it by force.
  • Have Saboteurs hyperspace jump the Death Star into a planet, moon, or star.
  • Have Assassins kill Grand Moff Tarkin.

But that’s boring… What? HOW? The Death Star has over a MILLION people on it at any given time. A million people consume plenty of food, clothing, etc. There has to be constant cargo traffic to sustain a city of a million people living in the Death Star, and that gives Thrawn an opening to use asymmetrical warfare.

Conventional Assault –

The Death Star is HUGE. Given its size and shape, it’s pretty reasonable to assume that only 1/2 of its weapons could be brought to bear at any given angle. And the closer you get, the curve of the sphere works against the defenders.

Given the height of towers, the curvature of the surface, once you are on the surface, assuming the weapons are essentially evenly distributed across the Death Star… When you are on the surface at any given time probably only a few hundred of those towers can actually see and engage you.

(Math – with 80 km Radius – the Surface area is about 80,000 square km – 20,000 weapons, roughly one weapon per 4 sq km, or roughly a weapon every kilometer. Depending on what you guess for tower height, for something the size of a Star Destroyer VERY close to the surface, roughly every tower for 25 km will have a line of sight to engage. A 25 km circle on the surface of the death star will have around 400 towers in it, firepower roughly comparable to 2 star destroyers.

So on the surface, at “point blank range” a force of Star Destroyers is roughly equal in firepower and has advantages in mobility and shields in that position.

Granted that’s still a problem. But if I jump a couple Star Destroyers to within a mile of the surface, and quickly land – now I have an exploitable advantage, and I’m below the main shields and can easily engage the towers while using Star Destroyers like big tanks hovering across the surface of the Death Star.

Thrawn is known for highly precise hyperspace jumps and micro-jumps.

So Thrawn would basically use scouts and spies to aim a Hyperspace jump behind the death star where the big gun is worthless, land his ships on the Surface of the Death Star, and essentially start an invasion deploying ground troops and mechanized units targeting power systems and life support where a minimum of Death Star Weapons may be brought to bear, and Thrawn can take advantage of having twice the infantry, and much more mobile heavy cannons.

Unconventional / Mixed Strategies – After Reading too many Star Wars Legends books

Given the size and maneuverability of the Death Star, I’d wait for it to be in a predictable spot, and use mile-long Star Destroyers to pull in the largest asteroids or bombs I could come up with – delivering them with precise close-range hyperspace jumps that the Death Star cannot dodge. How do you miss a target 160 kilometers wide?

Honestly given the resources of 6 Star Destroyers, I would seriously raid some systems and gather additional resources for a few weeks to set up a battle I can win. One Star Destroyer can control a planet. With 6? I can hold multiple Star Systems at Gunpoint and take whatever I want.

Get ahold of as many explosives, ships, loaded fuel tankers, asteroids, and nuclear weapons that I can find.

And hire as many pirates and mercenaries as I can find. Maybe even make a deal with the Rebel Alliance if it suits my needs. Or simply empty the nearest imperial prisons and arm the criminals as irregulars against the Death Star.

While gathering planet killing asteroids, have spies, saboteurs, hackers, droids, and assassins independently infiltrate the Death Star to use software hacks and physical sabotage to disable, disrupt, and / or destroy the Death Star’s command and control systems, life support, power supply, engines, propulsion, food supply, water supply. They can use poison, biological weapons, chemical weapons, anything they can sneak on board. Spread any available plague.

Imagine those little mouse sounding black car droids spreading plague in all the cafeterias….

And see if some assassins get lucky and manage to kill Tarkin.

Based on schedule, signals, scouts, recon – we can determine when the Death Star is having problems from sabotage and is a sitting duck:

  • Only Jump to the Backside where the Super Weapon can’t get you.
  • Ram it with as many fuel tankers and cargo ships filled with explosives that you can find – hopefully hitting the Death Star basically while still in hyperspace.
  • Ram it with as many Asteroids and Comets that you can tow through hyperspace. Or improvise hyperspace engines onto asteroids and hyperspace jump them into the Death Star.
  • Basically bombard the back side of the Death Star as hard as you can with as much as you can find – the point being to soften up its defenses.

Then when you run out of things to Ram the death star with –

  • Give immediate special forces support to sabotage efforts to bring down the remaining power for shields and weapons. (Just like Ezra and Sabine did to Thrawn’s Interdictor in SW Rebels)..
    • Also, have teams deploying additional biological and chemical weapons into the air and water systems of the Death Star.
  • As soon as you get enough of an opening of confusion, surface damage, diminished weapons and shielding-
    • Precise jump super close to the Death Star with half your Star Destroyers (3), keeping 3 in reserve. Also, bring in any other additional ships available, and have them directly support the assault.
      • Have the irregular force of Pirates, Mercs, and Rebels assault / invade the Death Star under cover of Star Destroyers.
      • Also in Thrawn style see if there are any number of dangerous predators that you can find, quickly enhanced with some cybernetics, and release on a few hundred thousand unsuspecting and unarmed Death Star workers away from the main fighting. Even a few packs of hungry wolves dropped by droid shuttles roaming the halls could do well to add to the chaos.
    • Land Assault force in best available position in the Death Star, where the surface defenses are the weakest after the bombardment.
    • Set up Fighter cover for the invasion force
  • Have one Star Destroyer modified as a massive Space Tug, or a Ship or giant bundle of Engines modified to essentially bolt onto the Death Star, and push it using the hyperspace engines into the nearest planet/moon.
  • If you can get tractor beams large enough that you can mount them on a nearby planet or moon or comet or large asteroid, and use the tractor beam to pull the Death Star and the big Rock into each other.

The goal here being to basically make the Death Star a no man’s land that everyone on board wants to leave. Use a Golden Bridge Strategy – Attack one side with punishing force, sabotage every life sustaining system, and make the rats desert the sinking ship by giving them a safe place to escape. Let them use all those shuttles, support craft, and escape pods to leave. More confusion and rational choice disrupting chain of command.

If your buddy got Ebola yesterday, you are under emergency lighting because the power is out, you felt a bunch of earthquakes, all the Stormtroopers are being shuttled to the far side of the DS station, and there are reports of predatory animals and droids attacking people. Would you just hang tight and follow orders? Or would you grab your friends, find the nearest shuttle, and get out of there?

Well, you’d probably hang tight until you find out the Death Star lost engine power and is now on a collision course with the Planet it was orbiting for resupply, and the bulkheads are on lockdown because primary life support is out, and you have been ordered to use an oxygen mask. And oh yeah, the functioning air systems are filling up with smoke and nerve gas. Then you may be willing to risk disobeying orders and abandoning ship.

And while all that confusion and battle is taking place, either overload the main reactor to make the damn thing explode, crash it into the nearest rock bigger than it, or hit it with enough asteroids and comets that it breaks apart, or set off enough nukes inside it to make it a radioactive slag.

All while keeping 3 Star Destroyers in reserve, as a quick reaction force, because odds are Tarkin can pull some tricks and call in some favors, and he’ll have help within hours.

Hopefully, by the time Tarkin’s reinforcements arrive, they will see a powerless, burning, disease-filled hulk swarming with ships; crashing into the nearest planet while Rebel, Pirate, and Tarkin loyalist infantry try to figure out how to get off the cursed thing before it kills them.

Thrawn may have to sacrifice a few Star Destroyers to get the job done and push the Death Star to its death (Moving slowly unless they have some Star Trek or Star Gate Engineers to rig the hyperdrives to do something Sci-Fi to speed it up). Worth the price.

Do it right, Thrawn could have the Death Star and the Rebel Alliance destroy each other while he makes the killing blow to each.

“No, you see the exhaust port is too difficult for fighters to hit. We’ll soften up the Death Star with some sabotage and kamikaze attacks, then you need to land an army on the surface, fight your way to Erso’s reactor weakness, and plant demolition charges manually.  Send your best troops, I’ll provide you with maps and schematics, and 50,000 Storm Troopers. We’ll cover you with the fleet.”

To quote Patton – “Fixed fortifications are a testament to the stupidity of man”

Hope you had as much fun as I did.

-T

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Can you be strategist and tactician at the same time?

TLDR : YES

Strategy – Longer Term – Bigger picture

Tactics – Shorter Term, immediate, smaller picture

But it’s a yin-yang sort of thing.

Can you win today while considering how that impacts tomorrow?

Can you consider pig picture, long-term consequences and positioning while getting through immediate problems and challenges?

That is really called operation art in military circles. Good combat officers have to do that. Balance the urgent with the important.

Good Example – Invasion of Iraq in 2002.

That Strategic Objective was taking Baghdad in 72 hours. Why? Because that’s how long you can fight without sleep. That was the time limit before they had to take a break.

The Army showed strategic brilliance. Every time an Army unit was attacked, they called in air support to handle it and kept moving to Bagdad.

Many Marine units showed Tactical brilliance – Every time they were attacked, they destroyed the enemy. But they got bogged down and many were late to Bagdad.

So one can mess up the other. It’s a matter of priorities.

Balancing strategic priorities vs tactical urgency is always difficult. But it’s just a skill like any other.

Hope that Helps

Posted in Quora Answer, Strategy Breadcrumbs | Leave a comment

Why Mars? Elon Musk’s Strategy

Why Mars?  What is Elon Musk’s Strategy?

observatory

Hey guys.  I actually went over this a few times with colleagues over the  summer, and started writing this right before Elon Musk started his Mars PR campaign in September.  Just missed the chance to appear prophetic.

As it is this is still a fun topic.

So Ted,  Why Mars?

A Problem 

First we need to go back about 20 years.  Hang with me a sec – I’ll keep it to the point.  In the 20th century – there was basically 2 ways to get anything over a few hundred pounds into space.  Very big rockets or the space shuttle.  Rockets were a little less expensive than the space shuttle, and didn’t need astronauts, but didn’t carry as much weight.  

To get an idea of what rockets were like before Mr. Musk got into the business, there were only really 3 heavy lift options by 2000. The Atlas rocket was first built in 1957 by Martin (to carry nuclear bombs), The Delta rocket first as the Thor ICBM in 1957 by Douglas (also to carry nuclear bombs), and the Space Shuttle in 1981 by Rockwell.  It was all government money, cost didn’t matter.  The rockets were big, expensive, single use disposable products.  By the late 1990’s Martin Marietta was owned by Lockheed Martin, and Boeing owned McDonnell Douglas and Rockwell.  Notice all the
names – what was 7 aerospace companies became 2.  Rockets imgreswere not the best business to be in.  By 2006 Boeing and Lockheed combined the Atlas and Delta Programs into a single company called United Launch Alliance.  

And the whole time it cost you a few hundred million dollars for what amounted to a souped up 1950’s rocket sometimes using Russian made engines, to put something into space in the United States.  There are some other rockets out there, but we are keeping this simple, and focusing on what NASA uses.

An Opportunity

So in 2001, Elon Musk, Tech entrepreneur with degrees and physics and economics was getting a payday from the companies he had built in the 90’s, namely PayPal, and was pretty well connected.

If you are a well respected entrepreneur with access to investors, over a hundred million dollars of your own money, and happen to be educated as a physicist, you get to chase your dreams and dream big.

Elon Musk speaks in terms of existential risk.  That is, what is threatening the existence of the human race, and what can you do about it?  Also keep in mind this was not long after all those disaster movies where asteroids hits the earth.

So the big dream – colonize other planets, get people living somewhere other than earth so we have options.  In 2001 all Musk was talking about was putting a robot greenhouse on Mars to see if we could grow stuff in Martian soil and also generate interest in space exploration.  He talked around, looked at options, got laughed out of Russia, twice.

Elon Musk ran into the problem we started with – the big rockets were all based on 1950’s cold war technology, were very expensive (a few hundred million $ per rocket), single use, disposable, hard to get access to even if you had the money, and required an army of people to build and launch.

Frustrated, he did what any physicist, economist, technology entrepreneur does.  He ran the numbers, did some calcs, and the more he looked at it, the more he figured he could drop the price by a factor of ten, and make good money launching rockets for $60 million a launch. 

So now we are going to steal from project management theory – run a backwards pass (start at the end and work your way to the beginning) of the basic logic that created the strategy that Elon Musk has been running with for 15 years now:

Backwards pass – Mars Strategy:

  • Problem – Colonize Space
  • Solution – Try Mars first, it’s cooler than going to the moon (been there, done that, not to mention the pop culture fascination with Mars).
  • Problem – Getting to Mars just once is way too expensive – just the required heavy lift rocket is a few hundred million dollars. And you’ll need lots of rockets.
  • Solution (2016) – Innovate heavy lift rockets that cost ten times less.  This is A005_C008_1221PL
    accomplished through cutting edge software, automation, modular design, new technology, new materials and manufacturing techniques and reusing as much of the rockets as possible. (
    Watch first ever rocket landing video 2:05 mark ).  SpaceX will put a payload into space for $57 million.  ULA’s price point is $200 Million after a cost savings campaign.
  • Problem – You need to be good at the rocket business before you can compete with United Launch Alliance, NASA, and anybody else.
  • Solution (2010)- Build a competitive rocket business first.
  • Problem – You need to learn to crawl before you walk, let alone run.
  • Solution (2006) – Start small with an prototype entry level rocket (Falcon 1), using $100M of your own money.  Prove the basics before you scale up.  And innovate as much as you can knowing what you need for that heavy lift rocket down the road.
  • Problem – It takes allot of money to get into the rocket business.
  • Solution (2002) – Find a wealthy and convincing tech entrepreneur to sell a dream.  

Elon Musk’s schwerpunkt always has been to get to Mars.  The rest of the strategy was about making that happen.  While SpaceX has been breaking records and doing things for the first time ever; NASA who is basically controlled by congress retired the old Shuttle Program, and had no rockets to call their own; and United Launch Alliance motivated by profit is downsizing, restructuring, and trying to figure out how to keep up.

Because SpaceX started in 2002, was fully funded in 2006, only launched 5 basic Falcon 1 home_block_careersrockets from 2006 to 2009, and spent the last 7 years simply building and innovating a low cost reusable rocket business with commercial and government contracts, including NASA and Air Force contracts….  Everyone seems to forget the 15 years ago Elon musk went into the rocket business because he wanted to colonize Mars.

That is until he reminded us in a big way last month – probably because he’s to the point where he needs to start generating interest and fundraising to take it to the next logical progression of his multi decade campaign to put people on Mars.  If you take a look at his speaking tour the last couple of weeks, that looks to be exactly what he is doing.

Now anybody familiar with multibillion dollar engineering projects already knows it will take longer, be harder, and more expensive than what Elon Musk is advertising.  As is evidenced by the explosion they had recently.

Every Astrophysicist will tell you that nobody has figured out good solutions to Mars colony challenges… Problems like deadly radiation, electrostatic dust sticking to everything, long duration equipment, long term health effects of half earth gravity…  There’s lots of science and engineering yet to be done.

But the Wall Street Analysts will tell you that SpaceX is making a healthy profit, beating its competitors (United Launch Alliance, NASA, the Russians, really everyone), and it’s only a matter of time until SpaceX solves the technical problems, makes it affordable, and raises the money to do it.

And if you want the strategic science lesson – it’s that a startup trying to put people on Mars is better at building and launching rockets than government run NASA and profit driven ULA. It’s why business schools teach that mission and vision statement stuff – because chasing dreams tends to yield better results, better structure, better culture than chasing votes or money.

falcon_9_launch_and_landing_streak

An images thanks to SpaceX and ULA Websites
Posted in Business Strategy, Space, Strategy, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Is the US uninvadable?

So kids, this is something I killed a morning  with on Quora back in April – an excuse to write about a scenario I’ve obviously been thinking about for a long time.  After a few months it’s at 161,500 views, so I figure it’s worth sharing on my blog that gets a handful of hits everyday.  Enjoy!

Is the US uninvadable?

Ted Galpin, Astrophysicist cheerleader turned professional strategist

No.  If you think like a ruthless military strategist, and don’t mind civilian casualties it’s VERY doable.  Read the history of Sun Tzu and how he made his name.  Here’s how I would do it.  You have to go unconventional.

From a conventional standpoint – the basics have been covered by other answers well enough. Even without a military, The United states has a pretty well armed civilian population, and a HUGE amount of territory, hundreds of millions of people.  We can raise a militia of 50 million well armed men very easily.

Invade, occupy, conquer the US?  Unlikely in the conventional sense.

But you could raid, sack, and burn down the US and take allot if you had the resources of a major nation (Russia, China, India, Pakistan, England, France, maybe Israel or Iran).

Step 1 – Q Ships, Light ballistic Missiles, Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse.

Q-ship technically is a WWI thing – really just an innocent looking freighter or civilian ship with enough concealed weapons to surprise and destroy pirates and submarine attacks on a transport convoy.

So first you get some really innocent looking freighters – there are thousands of them today.  You put some old school SCUDs, or other relatively simple Ballistic missile systems in the hold pointed up.

You arm them with the best atomic warheads you can get a hold of.

You get as close to the US shores as you like – and you fire those missle up into high altitude above the US – probably multiple times from multiple ships, ideally east coast, west coast, gulf of mexico, and great lakes.

Nuclear electromagnetic pulse

The idea is to make lots of those red circles over as many cities as you can.  And a couple of orange and yellow ones for good measure – say 10 or 20 missile shot up into high altitude of 20 miles above major population centers.  Plus a few higher and wider if not as strong, just for good measure.

You could do the same from Disguised satellites as well, but it would be much harder.

Result of Step 1:Nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP)

Without entering US territory, with a handful of freighters launching nuclear warheads, detonated high in the atmosphere, you can saturate the US with electromagnetic pluses.

So What?  Well, given the state of the US infrastructure, as I understand it from my career engineering it:

  • All consumer electronics will be dead.  All transistors get fried by an EMP.
    • Your car won’t start – electronic ignitions have been standard for decades.
    • No Cell phones
    • No Internet
    • No TV
    • No Refrigeration – food will start to spoil in days
    • No Microwaves or electric stoves. Really hard to cook food, unless you have a grill on your porch.
  • All US infrastructure will be damaged and/or inoperable.
    • Limited Commerce / Money.  Most of us use credit and debit cards.  With out internet, you are stuck with the cash in your pocket.
    • No Electricity – the power plant control, transmission, and distribution systems are not shielded, and it would take weeks or months to get the electricity back on; after undamaged parts are imported from outside the EMP area.
    • No / Limited Water – because the water supply is pumped.  If the pumps have no power, your faucet won’t work.
    • No / Limited Natural Gas – Same pump issue as the water.
    • Limited Fuel – all the electric pumps are dead, so you have to know what you are doing to simply get gas from a gas station, if they let you use tools on their pumps.  Even if you have the cash, and a 40 year old car, would they let you siphon from the main tank?
    • Food supply
      • No cold storage – fresh food goes bad in days
      • No vehicles – can’t transport food supplies
      • Industrial farms and agriculture need  electricity and water.  What happens to the feed lots, industrial dairy, chicken factories, irrigated fields?

So imagine waking up one morning, and everything is silent.  No Cars.  No Heat.  No Air Conditioning.  No Phone.  Your Cell phone is dead.  No radio or TV.  Nothing turns on.  Even your watch stopped, and your LED Flashlight won’t work.  The food in your freezer is starting to warm up, you can’t take a shower.

And you have no idea why because all communications are out.

And the only vehicles that work are kick start motorcycles and some cars and trucks, the older the better.  All test that have been done  in the last ten years show that some vehicles die, some don’t, some malfunction.  The less electronics in the car, the better the odds it will survive.

Now multiply those problems by 300 million people across the United states.

At best, you have a humanitarian nightmare, because nobody knows what is going on, and our technology and tools have been reduced to mostly the dark ages.  The only things that still works reliably are guns and fire.  And I will bet that looting and crime will be a huge problem.  You can’t call for help.

Consider that after a few days, 300 million people will be confused, desperate, dehydrated, starving and cold in the dark on foot with no way to know what is going on or if help is coming.

And the military will have the same problems.  The Navy ships will be ok – but a few hundred ships need to get here first, and can only do so much, near the coasts.  The cold war era weapons were pretty well shielded from EMP – so most military trucks, Humvees, some of the helicopters, some of the jets, will still work.

But the electricity and water problem is true for the military – as most bases use city electricity and water (They have published studies).  Most of the military battle networks, digital communications, GPS, lasers, smart weapons, Night vision, digital cameras, won’t work.  The Army will basically be stuck with 1980’s technology.  They say some of the digital stuff is shielded enough, so the Army may still have some laptops and digital radios.  But the infrastructure to support 21st century battle space awareness and communications – will be limited.   They will still have some magic, but very limited compared to what they are used to.  Don’t expect to see many drones.

So basically – after Step 1 – which is find a deniable method of EMP attack on the continental US.  Basically you have a massive humanitarian disaster with the US plunged into the dark ages, and the military will have their hands full simply trying to take care of it’s own, and provide as much humanitarian support as they can, while crime, looting, or scavenging becomes necessary for most of us to simply eat.  Not to mention the healthcare, disease, and sanitation problems.

So the entire US population is facing a humanitarian nightmare, and the military has additional logistics, supply, and communications problems on top of that.

Step 2 –  If you are organized and prepared, step 2 is is literally Sun Tzu 101.

You can play hard or soft.  But the recommended course of action would be to take advantage of the chaos and take whatever you want.  You can sack and burn down cities, steal whatever you like, and simply avoid confrontation and staged battles with an otherwise distracted military.

If I was running the invasion, I’d basically send out commando raids to start burning down every major city, as quietly as possible (make it look like criminals), so the Army isn’t looking for me.  You want to burn every soft civilian target available, live off american supplies, and quietly just make things as hard as possible on the civilians and military without letting them know you are there.

And then you are talking dark ages warfare.  Spread disease, use chemical weapons, burn down the cities, burn the crops, destroy or poison the food and water supply (simple as E.coli in some cases).  Steal everything you can.  Even a few thousand troops operating off of Q Ships with follow up support from Military ships, maybe air drop troops just to cause problems.

In a month you could have every major US city in flames, with a the civilian population starving to death, thirsty, and cold in the dark; and a military overwhelmed by too many problems, and probably not enough food even for the military.

Step 3 – Wait.

If you really do it right, you don’t let them know who did it.  Even better, populate your commando teams with third world mercenaries and terrorists…  You have decent odds at starting the dark ages, and covering the hillsides with third world terrorist arsonists and saboteurs…  Spread bio weapons and disease.

And never ever have a single citizen of you country ever set foot on US soil.  Total deniability – make it look like super terrorists instead of a state action.

Step 4 – Do what works best for you.

  • If the US collapses under it’s own weight – you could probably pull of a credible conventional invasion on “humanitarian peacekeeping” grounds, with UN support; at least after a few months and tens of millions have starved to death.
  • If the US survives, the economy, industry, and military will be in shambles, and you can basically step up as a world power to fill the vacuum left by a crumbling US dependent on humanitarian aid.

Now odds are you’d eventually get caught, and suffer reprisal from the US Navy, which has the ability to bomb most nations into the stone age even without homeland support.

But any target is vulnerable, if you know where to look, and understand science.

Nothing is uninvadable.  You just develop a strategy that exploits the weaknesses of your opponent while avoiding or redirecting it’s strengths.

So the way you conquer a nation with an unbeatable military is to attack it’s civilians, soft targets, and infrastructure using weapons that the military cannot counter, then wait for them to starve to death behind their super weapons.  You can do it with 1960’s technology, never use a gun, robot, or any science fiction.

If anybody sees any flaws or mistakes in my assessment, please let me know.

Thanks, this was a fun exercise.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments