Strategic Science on the Competitive Intelligence Podcast!

First thing – sorry for the months without posts. The site got hacked while I was out of town, followed immediately by a nice contract that’s using 50 hours a week (paying jobs come first), and did I mention that toddlers benefit from time and attention.  I had to create the opportunities to actually plug a bunch of holes with the website and reinstall the database (and all the work) from scratch, get past the learning curve with the new company, and start writing and formatting posts again.

That being said, some good things happened since the last post;

1 – New look and improved site
2- Read “Ghosts of Cannae” great book, Book review to follow soon.
3 – The interview I did with August Jackson and the Competitive Intelligence Podcast has long since been posted.  The interview is available at the CI Podcast as well as on iTunes.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, August Jackson has been hosting the CI Podcast out east for many years now, and has become a bit of a pundit in SCIP as well as the greater CI community. It’s a very informative and helpful podcast I’ve been listening to for years, and was very flattered by August’s invitation.

August wanted to discuss an early post “The Problem with Competitive Intelligence.” The interview was very fun, covered allot, and was a great use of a Friday afternoon (and Skype).

So if you want to hear the voice of strategic science and get more in depth ideas on “The Problem with Competitive Intelligence”, Please check out the podcast.

Thanks!

-T

 

Posted in Business Strategy, Intelligence, Self Help | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Top Ten Strategy Tricks: #10 Schwerpunkt

Top Ten strat­egy Tricks — Really our ten favorite strat­egy concepts.

Here at strate­gic sci­ence we have a bag of tricks — mostly dif­fer­ent strate­gic tech­niques used for intel­li­gence, plan­ning, exe­cu­tion and adap­ta­tion. Things like SWOT, PESTL, five forces, value chains, PERT, Gannt Logic, Mett — TC, C4ISR, The Kill Chain… etc.

Given our time avail­able, a full analy­sis of even one let alone 10 meth­ods would be so long nobody will read it.

So we’ll cover one item at a time, Abe Lin­coln style (like a woman’s dress, long enough to cover up, but short enough to keep inter­est). But we’ll give you the full list now so you know why you’re com­ing back for more. And one quick warn­ing, our favorite tricks here at strate­gic sci­ence tend to be unortho­dox with an anti estab­lish­ment interpretation.

10 — Schw­er­punkt
9 — Wedge’s Instant Strat­egy
8 — Action is faster than reac­tion
7 — Instinct over Facts
6 — Ghost Tac­tics
5 — Ratio­nal Self Inter­est — The 90% Rule
4 — OODA Loop
3 — Stand Alone Com­plex
2 — Bad News First
1 — The Fourth Turning

Bonus tricks beyond the Ten: Com­plex­ity The­ory, Decep­tion Sci­ence, and the Macho YoYo.

Schw­er­punkt

First in the top ten series

We are putting Schw­er­punkt at num­ber 10, because it’s so impor­tant it needs to be men­tioned first.… Prob­a­bly belongs as num­ber 1 or 2 if ranked by importance.

“An oper­a­tion with­out Schw­er­punkt is like a man with­out character.”

–Field Mar­shal Paul von Hindenburg

Schw­er­punkt is Ger­man, trans­lates lit­er­ally to “hard point” or “dif­fi­cult point.” The term orig­i­nates in Clause­witz’ “On War”, where Clause­witz uses it to mean strate­gic objec­tive, goal or destination.

Schw­er­punkt has been adapted by dif­fer­ent trans­la­tions as focus of effort or cen­ter of grav­ity; a some­what dif­fer­ent con­cept used in mod­ern mil­i­tary doc­trine; notably the vastly dif­fer­ent inter­pre­ta­tions of Amer­i­can COG and Ger­man Mil­i­tary Schw­er­punkt. Their stuff works, but it’s much more com­pli­cated than what we need for strategy.

In strate­gic sci­ence as always, we go to the roots of the term — a hard point, the schw­er­punkt is the unmov­ing tar­get of your strat­egy. The one thing every­one is work­ing toward.

In the busi­ness world, schw­er­punkt is typ­i­cally imple­mented in the form of visions and mis­sion state­ments. And here I have to give Herb Ruben­stien credit; he says a strat­egy
should always be some­thing you can state in one sen­tence. That sen­tence is your schwerpunkt.

So what?

So a schw­er­punkt is your strate­gic tar­get. It could be con­trol­ling Bagh­dad in 72 hours (US Mil­i­tary in 2002), Obtain­ing 15 Mil­lion sub­scribers (Dish Net­work), or sell­ing con­sis­tent qual­ity fast food across the globe (McDonald’s). Sim­ply com­mu­ni­cat­ing the schw­er­punkt to every­one par­tic­i­pat­ing in the strat­egy allows them to use their own judg­ment in how their respon­si­bil­i­ties align to the schw­er­punkt. And it is the tar­get used to deter­mine pri­or­i­ties and rel­e­vance of efforts. If your using resources in such a way that don’t point towards your schw­er­punkt, why are you using them?

Miyamoto Musashi, the leg­endary Japan­ese swords­man wrote pro­lif­i­cally on sword fight­ing; often not­ing if your goal is to stick the pointy end of the sword into the other man; any fancy tech­niques, motions, or the­o­ries that dis­tract from that sim­ple goal are useless.

Appli­ca­tion

This should be obvi­ous upon inspec­tion — a sim­ple sen­tence that estab­lishes the des­ti­na­tion or cen­tral goal for the orga­ni­za­tion pro­vides just enough guid­ance that the lead­ers and indi­vid­u­als of the orga­ni­za­tion can fill in the gaps of the strate­gic plan and exec­u­tive guid­ance that always appear in exe­cu­tion. Bet­ter, a well com­mu­ni­cated schw­er­punkt allows mul­ti­ple lead­ers to inde­pen­dently and simul­ta­ne­ously adapt strat­egy to chang­ing sit­u­a­tions imme­di­ately coor­di­nated by a com­mon schw­er­punkt — with­out senior lead­er­ship get­ting in the way.

Exam­ples

Most com­mon exam­ple are the con­test real­ity shows like Iron Chef or Project Run­way. The chal­lenge is to often to cre­ate a result around a cen­tral theme (i.e. schw­er­punkt). Judges fre­quently ask the losers why they ignored the schw­er­punkt and went off on some ran­dom tan­gent that had lit­tle to do with the scope of the challenge.

My per­sonal exam­ple of how a shared group schw­er­punkt allows enhanced uncom­mu­ni­cated group coor­di­na­tion was sim­ply meet­ing my friends for a movie. Fresh­man year of col­lege, every­one scat­tered across the state at dif­fer­ent col­leges and jobs, bunch of dis­or­ga­nized 19 year old’s all agree to meet at the same the­ater in the city for the 5:30 pm big action movie pre­mier they all wanted to see. Sort of a reunion. Well, this was the early 90’s before cell phones and email, so com­mu­ni­ca­tion was a challenge.

I got stuck in fri­day after­noon rush hour when I hit town, and got there about 5:29 PM, about a minute before the big movie started. I was not alone. About 3 of us showed up about that time. There was no way we would get a seat, odds are the new movie would be sold out right?

Well, it didn’t mat­ter. Because we had solid com­mit­ments, a firm ros­ter, and group trust; one guy patiently was wait­ing out­side the the­ater with 3 extra tick­ets in his hand, and the rest of the group had bought extra sodas and were sav­ing seats inside. All that coor­di­na­tion sim­ply thanks to say­ing yes to a friend on a 20 sec­ond phone call a few days ear­lier. The Schw­er­punkt was to get the gang back together to see a cer­atin movie at a cer­tain time; and every­one inde­pe­dently cor­rdi­nated efforts and picked up each other’s slack to make it hap­pen smoothly despite a lack of communication.

Beyond the question

Sim­ply put, hav­ing a schw­er­punkt is not enough. It has to be clearly com­mu­ni­cated, and used as the pri­or­ity and cen­tral value in deci­sion mak­ing. Just like every other wasted strate­gic plan, it only works if you actu­ally use it and act on it.

See you next week,

Thanks for read­ing, your hum­ble strategist,

TS Galpin

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

The Difference Between Intelligence and Espionage

An out­side the box strate­gic dis­cus­sion by TSGalpin

The Dif­fer­ence Between Intel­li­gence and Espi­onage.

Is a mat­ter of life and death.

(2016 Bonus answer – because this article gets a ton of traffic – here’s the direct answer:

Intelligence is information gathering.

Espionage is illegal.  When you break the law to obtain information (secrets).

Or grey area illegal involving lying, cheating, stealing, misrepresenting.  Unethical or Immoral behaviour that risks lawsuits and making enemies is espionage or borderline espionage.  The Society for Competitive intelligence has guidelines and a code of conduct for this sort of thing.  People protect secrets for reasons.  Stealing secrets is espionage.

The classic SCIP example is if an anonymous source sends you an unmarked package full of your competitor’s secrets – it’s unethical espionage, and potentially illegal if you keep and use the package once you understand what it is – it makes you an accessory to espionage.   SCIP at least used to recommend you return the secrets to their owners, and act in a honest and trustworthy fashion.  Which is good advice in a context where you can’t kill your enemies, also know as the civilized world.

A kid that steals their older sister’s diary is a simple example of basic espionage, because if trivial, it is an act of stealing protected secrets and their are consequences if you get caught.  The remaining old article illustrates the real world consequences of intelligence and espionage.)


I actu­ally had some fun stuff planned for this week’s arti­cle, but catch­ing up on the news changed my mind. As a cute com­edy song pointed out in 2004, Amer­ica is so spoiled now that obe­sity is an epidemic.

Really? Just think about that. We have it so good that one of our most dif­fi­cult chal­lenges as a soci­ety is eat­ing too much.

About 1.7 Bil­lion peo­ple live in Poverty. That basi­cally means about a third of the earth isn’t sure where their next meal is com­ing from. And Amer­i­cans are dying from overeating.

So what does that have to do with intel­li­gence and espionage?

Well, con­sider Amer­i­can are so spoiled we are dying from overeating. How else are we spoiled? One could say most Amer­i­cans view the world through Dis­ney col­ored glasses; War is an abstract idea we see in movies; crime is rare and the police han­dle it. Eat­ing, heat, and elec­tric­ity are a cer­tainty, even air con­di­tion­ing and inter­net access are a cer­tainty these days. The worst thing most peo­ple can imag­ine is los­ing their job.

The rest of the world isn’t so for­tu­nate. War, Plague, Famine, and Death are com­mon. Life is cheap, guns cost less than food. Chil­dren fight wars started by par­ents that died before they could know them.

I’ll spare the sta­tis­tics and num­bers because this is depress­ing enough already. The point is peo­ple need to remem­ber how dan­ger­ous a place the world is when they start inter­act­ing with it, or their mis­takes will get some­body killed.

And I don’t know about you, but I don’t like hav­ing a death on my con­science. Not if I could have eas­ily pre­vented it, or worse yet contributed to it.

Def­i­n­i­tions
Recent Events
The Rea­son Why
Wit­ness Pro­tec­tion
Did it make a dif­fer­ence?
Walk­ing The Line
Cross­ing The Line
Who Pays the Price?
The Ethics and Morals of Infor­ma­tion
Outcomes

Def­i­n­i­tions

Intel­li­gence is about gath­er­ing infor­ma­tion and ana­lyz­ing it so you can make informed deci­sions to accom­plish your goals. Sounds sim­ple eh? The trick is some prob­lems are com­pli­cated, and some infor­ma­tion is hard to find or under­stand. That is why we have busi­ness intel­li­gence, com­pet­i­tive intel­li­gence, defense intel­li­gence, national intel­li­gence, etc. Peo­ple fig­ured out that news and opin­ions make great enter­tain­ment, but you need intel­li­gence analy­sis to really make a good deci­sion and antic­i­pate the con­se­quences of your actions.

Espi­onage is about dan­ger­ous intel­li­gence; i.e. secrets. These are things that peo­ple are will­ing to fight to pro­tect and protected by laws. Most busi­ness secrets really aren’t that big a deal, and domes­tic indus­trial espi­onage is a hard to quan­tify activ­ity often result­ing in legal action and peo­ple los­ing jobs.

You get out into the world; espi­onage is con­sid­ered a mat­ter of national secu­rity, is often a mil­i­tary mat­ter, and peo­ple kill to pro­tect their secrets. Often because those secrets keep them alive. Osama bin Laden doesn’t want his loca­tion to be known, because if it is, a bomb will land on it. That’s a sim­ple exam­ple of the infor­ma­tion peo­ple are will­ing to kill or die for.

Obvi­ously most Amer­i­cans don’t do those sort of things or think in those terms. If they do, they often wind up in jail or worse.

The last tech­ni­cal term is “redac­tion;” basi­cally a fancy word for cen­sor­ship of secrets. That old TV show where “names are changed to pro­tect the inno­cent” is a great exam­ple of redaction.

Recent Events

So what started all this?

Wik­ileaks is an inter­na­tional orga­ni­za­tion based in Swe­den that calls itself ” a multi-jurisdictional pub­lic ser­vice designed to pro­tect whistle­blow­ers, jour­nal­ists and activists who have sen­si­tive mate­ri­als to com­mu­ni­cate to the public.”

Ear­lier this week Wik­ileaks released 90,000 secret US mil­i­tary Afghan war intel­li­gence doc­u­ments it obtained to news sources, and made about 75,000 pub­licly avail­able online. To their credit Wik­ileaks did make an effort to try and redact the doc­u­ments to reduce any neg­a­tive impact. The media reac­tion has been sig­nif­i­cant, talk­ing through the details and reaction.

The Rea­son Why

Wik­ileaks, much like the mod­ern media and jour­nal­ists is all about free­dom of infor­ma­tion, trans­parency in gov­ern­ment, and fight­ing cor­rup­tion; all while pro­tect­ing the sources that pro­vide them with information.

So basi­cally they don’t like secrets, and hon­estly do pro­vide an impor­tant gov­er­nance func­tion to help keep the pow­ers that be a lit­tle more honest.

But the ques­tion is did they accom­plish that this time?

Did it make a dif­fer­ence?

Well, accord­ing to both the Wash­ing­ton post and for­mer CIA Direc­tor Michael V. Hay­den, no. All the media out­lets are report­ing that the wik­ileaks infor­ma­tion only con­firms what we already know:

– War is worse when described by peo­ple on the ground than by politi­cians.
– There are civil­ian casu­al­ties in war.
– Pak­istani Intel­li­gence is hard to work with.
– The Tal­iban are get­ting stronger.
– The Amer­i­can backed Afghan gov­ern­ment has prob­lems with corruption.

All things we’ve known for a long time, and most of them men­tioned in my pre­vi­ous arti­cle on Afghanistan.

Despite their mis­sion state­ment; Wik­ileaks didn’t give us any­thing new to work with. The “whistleblowers” are being inves­ti­gated by the mil­i­tary. All they pro­vided were some his­tor­i­cal records that don’t change the Amer­i­can Pol­i­tics at all, but will prob­a­bly get the peo­ple Wik­ileaks is try­ing to pro­tect arrested. Not exactly good for the rep­u­ta­tion is it?

Wit­ness Protection

Here’s the whole point of what I’m writ­ing. The dif­fer­ence between intel­li­gence and espi­onage is wit­ness pro­tec­tion. When peo­ple are will­ing to kill to pro­tect their secrets, what do they do to the peo­ple that tell you the secrets?

When you use a per­son as a pri­mary intel­li­gence asset — that is you ask them to spy and con­duct espi­onage on your behalf; there’s usu­ally an implicit social con­tract that you will not endan­ger the life of your source or their fam­ily; oth­er­wise why would they risk them­selves to share the infor­ma­tion with you?

In Afghanistan and Pak­istan, the US Mil­i­tary has eas­ily thou­sands of civil­ian intel­li­gence con­tacts hid­ing in plain sight, covertly pro­vid­ing us with infor­ma­tion on the Tal­iban and Al-Qaeda. Most are likely civil­ians who live in areas fre­quented by our ene­mies, or who con­duct busi­ness with our enemies.

Wik­ileaks redacted the names. But report­edly the dates and places and details are there, free for down­load on the Wik­ileaks web site. You want to know how the US learned about the meet­ing where your brother got killed in Kan­da­har? Now you can read the Pen­ta­gon file on it. It’s like try­ing to remem­ber the name of the guy who puked in your sink at that party in col­lege. If you were there and you know all the peo­ple involved, it’s not to hard to con­nect the dots and start fig­ur­ing out the names of who’s talk­ing to the Americans.

Wik­ileaks just compromised the lives every con­tact we have in the region, and the lives

Walk­ing The Line

The Hacker com­mu­nity is the orig­i­nal “Set the infor­ma­tion free” cul­ture. In the same week as this Wik­ileaks con­tro­versy is going on, Adrian Lamo, a well known hacker, had a sim­i­lar oppor­tu­nity this week, and han­dled it very dif­fer­ently. He took the hard drive filled with 90,000 secret doc­u­ments pro­vided by an Army intel­li­gence ana­lyst, and returned it to the mil­i­tary. He said “I went to the right author­i­ties, because it seemed incom­pre­hen­si­ble that some­one could leak that mas­sive amount of data and not have it endan­ger human life,” as quoted by CNN.com.

But the hacker under­stood the con­se­quences of publicly releas­ing that infor­ma­tion — peo­ple would prob­a­bly die.

He under­stood the dif­fer­ence between intel­li­gence and espionage.

Cross­ing The Line

Funny that the hacker with a crim­i­nal record was wor­ried about the wit­ness pro­tec­tion issue. And Wik­ileaks only did enough to pro­tect the iden­ti­ties of Amer­i­can soldiers.

And what did they get out of it? There has been no change in our view of Afghanistan or Amer­i­can pol­i­tics due to the leak. All they did was get credit for the largest leak of mil­i­tary secrets ever, and consequently endan­gered the lives of thou­sands of Afghan and Pak­istani con­tacts and their families.

Who Pays the Price?

In an arti­cle on CNN.com for­mer 4 star gen­eral and CIA Direc­tor Michael V. Hay­den called wikileak’s release both stu­pid, and a tragedy.

Most of the sources men­tioned in the 75,000 released doc­u­ments now have to won­der, how good are their ene­mies at con­nect­ing the dots? How do they pro­tect them­selves and their families?

The Amer­i­can mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence com­mu­nity has lost it rep­u­ta­tion for pro­tect­ing it’s part­ners in the region. Remem­ber the next time you work with the US gov­ern­ment, your inter­ac­tion will be doc­u­mented, and who will be look­ing for pay back when your deeds come to light?

So the US will prob­a­bly lose most of it’s spies in the region, and has lost cred­i­bil­ity for recruit­ing new ones. Doesn’t exactly help us fight terrorism.

The Ethics and Morals of Infor­ma­tion

Iron­i­cally this is prob­a­bly some­thing best under­stood by hack­ers and intel­li­gence pro­fes­sion­als. The Strate­gic and Com­pet­i­tive Intel­li­gence Pro­fes­sion­als even have a care­ful Code of Ethics that addresses the con­se­quences of controlling information.

Any­body who trades in infor­ma­tion, be they a jour­nal­ist, an intel­li­gence pro­fes­sional, or an ide­al­ist like wik­ileaks really needs to under­stand the respon­si­bil­i­ties and con­se­quences of that trade. And part of that is decid­ing how and when to respon­si­bly report the infor­ma­tion you have with­out jeop­ar­diz­ing the lives of inno­cent people.

I would argue that “The peo­ple have a right to know,” does not take pri­or­ity over the oblig­a­tion to do no harm. We might all ben­e­fit from jour­nal­ists and groups like wik­ileaks devel­op­ing an eth­i­cal stan­dard like the hip­po­cratic oath.

But real point is, if you traf­fic in infor­ma­tion — in intel­li­gence, journalism, or oth­er­wise you need to under­stand the dif­fer­ence between intel­li­gence and espi­onage, or you will get peo­ple killed.

Out­comes

If I were a Tal­iban or Al-Qaeda strate­gist — I now have 75,000 clas­si­fied US Mil­i­tary reports that tell me what my ene­mies know and don’t know. What they are good at and what they are not good at. And best of all, it gives me more than enough infor­ma­tion to purge (kill) every source of pri­mary intel­li­gence the Amer­i­cans have in Afghanistan, Pak­istan, and prob­a­bly the sur­round­ing parts of cen­tral asia.

The Wik­ileaks down­load is actu­ally an amaz­ing resource for mak­ing a strate­gic assess­ment of the US Mil­i­tary in Afghanistan.

The Amer­i­can mil­i­tary now enjoys a rep­u­ta­tion as not being able to pro­tect it’s allies.

And Wik­ileaks has proven at least in this case, that to take credit for a good scoop, they will release infor­ma­tion that does no good whatsoever, but does plenty of poten­tial harm.

Wikileaks has proven they don’t care if their leaks get people killed.

Makes you won­der, are they stu­pid or just self­ish? Does it make a difference?

The only thing I can say — is with “friends” like these, who needs enemies?

The take away here is in intel­li­gence, the dan­ger is your typ­i­cal busi­ness risk. But espi­onage con­no­tates laws being bro­ken, and life threat­en­ing dan­ger. Those who work in espi­onage often risk not only their lives, but for the com­pro­mised con­tacts in Afghanistan, likely their inno­cent fam­i­lies are in dan­ger as well.

The dif­fer­ence between intel­li­gence and espi­onage is sim­ply the level of risk you take to get the information you want.  You chase secrets and start breaking laws, you crossed the line.

And the corollary to that is likely the higher the risk, the greater the poten­tial to inflict harm.

And infor­ma­tion pro­fes­sion­als have a moral and eth­i­cal oblig­a­tion to not com­pro­mise the safety of inno­cent peo­ple. That’s a mes­sage Wik­ileaks needs to hear.

And to the point, Wik­ileaks needs to take off their Dis­ney col­ored glasses, rec­og­nize how dan­ger­ous the world is and learn the dif­fer­ence between intel­li­gence and espi­onage, so maybe they will think twice before they endan­ger thou­sands of lives by releas­ing sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion that has no pro­duc­tive effect on the world.

Thanks for reading,

Your hum­ble strategist,

T.S. Galpin

Posted in Competive Intelligence, Geopolitics, Intelligence, Military Strategy, Strategy | 4 Comments

You don’t know Sun Tzu

An out­side the box strate­gic dis­cus­sion by TS Galpin

You don’t know Sun Tzu

Well, actu­ally maybe you do.  But Prob­a­bly not the same way I do.

I’ve been work­ing long days on the strat­egy book, and Sun Tzu cer­tainly takes some time to inter­nal­ize.   There’s a say­ing — “there’s noth­ing new under the sun.”  That’s true in sci­ence, espe­cially strat­egy.  Today we are talk­ing about what the mil­i­tary calls “net assess­ment.”  It hap­pens to be the first chap­ter in Sun Tzu’s “Art of War.”  You’ll prob­a­bly rec­og­nize these ideas from busi­ness the­o­ries out there, it’s a com­mon and often poorly exe­cuted con­cept in strat­egy and intelligence.

Assess­ment is the details of “Know your self and know your enemy, and you will win a thou­sand bat­tles.”   If noth­ing else, you need to have a holis­tic assess­ment of where you are and what you face; or what you don’t know will likely end you.

Sun Tzu has the best method for assess­ment I’ve found (though I have found many adap­ta­tions or rein­ven­tions).  There’s noth­ing new under the sun.

And sorry it’s a lit­tle late, had some tech­ni­cal prob­lems to rem­edy.  Hope­fully this is worth the wait.

Sun Tzu Bing Fa?
The prob­lem with Sun Tzu
Tao —
Pur­pose & Val­ues
Tian — The Envi­ron­ment
Di – Sit­u­a­tion & Posi­tion
Jiang — Abil­ity of Deci­sion Mak­ers
Fa — Meth­ods & Tech­nol­ogy
Bal­ance of advan­tage
The take away
So what?

A statue of Sun Tzu

Statue of Sun Tzu in Yuri­hama, Tot­tori, Japan (com­pli­ments of Wikipedia).

Sun Tzu Bing Fa?

You’ve prob­a­bly heard of it as  Sun Tzu’s Art of War, the Chi­nese clas­sic now ingrained in pop­u­lar cul­ture.  Most have no inten­tion of read­ing it, and those of us who try get headaches.  How­ever it is well regarded across the globe as the old­est and most author­i­ta­tive work on strat­egy.  So in strate­gic sci­ence we work through the headaches to try and unlock the enigma.

The Art of War is the Eng­lish title as trans­lated by Lionel Giles, the first author­i­ta­tive Eng­lish trans­la­tion made in Britain 100 years ago, ded­i­cated as a gift to his brother, a mil­i­tary offi­cer at the time.

The Chi­nese title is “Sun Tzu Bing Fa.”  The lit­eral trans­la­tion can be made as “Mas­ter Sun’s Com­pet­i­tive Meth­ods” or more appro­pri­ately “Mas­ter Sun’s Strat­egy.”  The “Art of War” how­ever is a far more roman­tic and poetic title, that reflects the mar­tial nature of the text (and likely a choice influ­enced by Machiavelli’s work of the same name).

The prob­lem with Sun Tzu

Is under­stand­ing what he left behind.

The con­text

Is largely ancient Chi­nese feu­dal king­dom sur­vival, around the war­ring states period.  The Strate­gic the­ory is mar­ried to the mil­i­tary sci­ence, and rooted in Taoist phi­los­o­phy.  So many dis­miss the book as mil­i­tary sci­ence or Chi­nese phi­los­o­phy; rather than gen­eral strat­egy (It’s actu­ally all three).  Schol­ars often stress that the idioms are largely Taoist and eas­ily mis­lead­ing to west­ern readers.

The lan­guage

Is hard for flu­ent schol­ars.  And lit­er­ally ancient.  Any given char­ac­ter in the text has mul­ti­ple mean­ings, some of which don’t directly trans­late well to Eng­lish con­cepts.  Just skim­ming the chap­ter title trans­la­tions on the Wikipedia page shows the dif­fi­culty of pre­cise trans­la­tion for sim­ple 1 or 2 char­ac­ter chap­ter titles.  It was writ­ten poet­i­cally on bam­boo strips, rep­utably with math­e­mat­i­cal log­i­cal rela­tion­ships that don’t really trans­late to Eng­lish text (espe­cially con­sid­er­ing most trans­la­tors are lin­guists and his­to­ri­ans, not math­e­mati­cians versed in trans­lat­ing Chi­nese for­mula into west­ern math­e­mat­i­cal sym­bols.  And who buys a math book on Sun Tzu? I’ll bet there is a small audi­ence for:

ƒ(advantage)=?(assessment)??[(?purpose)(?climate)(?position)(?leadership)(?technology)]

(Though per­son­ally I really miss the proofs we did in topol­ogy and abstract alge­bra, and enjoy that sort of exercise.)

Any­ways,

The Thomas Cleary and Gary Gagli­adri trans­la­tions very care­fully admon­ish that with­out a knowl­edge of Chi­nese lan­guage, cul­tural idioms, the his­tor­i­cal con­text, Tao­ism, and the struc­ture of the orig­i­nal text, under­stand­ing even a very good Eng­lish trans­la­tion is challenging.

So that leaves me spend­ing a few weeks with sev­eral dif­fer­ent copies of The Art of War, Gary Gagliardi’s handy translit­er­a­tion of the Tai­wanese Military’s com­plete ver­sion of Bing Fa, and my dog eared copies of Tao Te Ching and Tao of Pooh, and hun­dreds of online searches  to try and make up for my west­ern education.

Start­ing with the orig­i­nal Chi­nese Char­ac­ters, in true strate­gic sci­ence fash­ion the exer­cise here is to find the gen­eral core con­cepts in Bing Fa and present them in pre­cise sim­ple language.

Mas­ter Sun’s 5 Prin­ci­ples of strate­gic assessment

Tao — Pur­pose & Val­ues

Tao trans­lates to “Way” or “Path.”  See­ing that Tao­ism is a sub­ject onto itself, we will tread lightly.  For strate­gic assess­ment, in the con­text of mea­sur­ing an orga­ni­za­tions com­pet­i­tive advan­tage, Tao is the organization’s pur­pose and values.

This is impor­tant in terms of both strate­gic align­ment of action, and achiev­ing max­i­mum com­pli­ance from your peo­ple.  Peo­ple fight harder for a cause they believe in.  And in both east­ern and west­ern thought there is often a moral advan­tage con­sid­ered in a higher pur­pose.  You can make sim­i­lar argu­ments using incen­tive based game the­ory and ratio­nal choice on the advan­tage of a moti­vat­ing pur­pose and shared val­ues.

How hard do I work on unpaid over­time that only keeps my boss happy and earns some face­less exec­u­tive a bonus?  By com­par­i­son, how hard do I com­mit myself when I’m help­ing my friends or fam­ily?  That’s why vol­un­teers defend­ing their homes often enjoy sig­nif­i­cantly higher com­bat com­pli­ance then invad­ing pro­fes­sional mer­ce­nar­ies.  Pro­tect­ing your fam­ily and home is a much stronger moti­va­tion than fol­low­ing orders, plun­der, or fear of pun­ish­ment.  Like wise how many of you know exec­u­tives that bad mouth the company’s mis­sion state­ment, core val­ues or code of ethics?  Why would you trust or risk your­self for lead­er­ship that does that?

The first assess­ment is who has the most advan­tage from the effec­tive­ness and align­ment of the their organization’s pur­pose and values?

Tian — The Envi­ron­ment

Tian trans­lates to “heaven” or “divine prov­i­dence.”  It’s like ask­ing who’s side nature is on.  When Mas­ter Sun rec­om­mends to dis­cuss heaven he means what are the advan­tages and dis­ad­van­tages that no one con­trols.  These are exter­nal con­di­tions of the cli­mate, sea­son, or envi­ron­ment like weather, the econ­omy, reg­u­la­tions, laws, and com­mod­ity prices.  Try­ing to find busi­ness financ­ing in 2007 is very dif­fer­ent than 2009.  Sea­sons may change, but they are also beyond your control.

So which orga­ni­za­tion enjoys more com­pet­i­tive advan­tages from the nature of the envi­ron­ment?  The clas­sic exam­ple is the strate­gic mil­i­tary advan­tage that Rus­sia enjoys in the win­ter.  Hitler and Napoleon both failed to invade Rus­sia because they failed to con­sider the harsh Russ­ian win­ter.  On the other hand, the long Russ­ian win­ter ices over ports, com­pli­cates logis­tics and work­ing con­di­tions, and cre­ates an eco­nomic disadvantage.

Cur­rent envi­ron­men­tal busi­ness fac­tors are the econ­omy, poor avail­abil­ity of financ­ing, still rel­a­tively cheap energy and the poten­tial of envi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tion of energy.  But if you’re hir­ing there is a plen­ti­ful and well moti­vated labor pool for most skill sets.  So a grow­ing com­pany, if it can find cap­i­tal, would enjoy cheaper growth costs and bet­ter staffing today than say 5 years ago in a dif­fer­ent climate.

The sec­ond assess­ment is the nat­ural envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors and who gains an advan­tage or dis­ad­van­tage from them.  Tim­ing is everything.

Di — Sit­u­a­tion & Posi­tion

Di trans­lates to “Ground,” “Place,” “Sit­u­a­tion,” or “Posi­tion.” Or as the cliche’ goes “Loca­tion, Loca­tion, Loca­tion!”  These are the exter­nal con­di­tions that can be cho­sen or con­trolled.  You may not be able to con­trol the weather, but you can choose the time, place, and posi­tion of your bat­tles.  This can be fight­ing down­hill or locat­ing your fac­to­ries near cheap for­eign labor.  The Red Barron’s dog fight­ing posi­tion­ing based on the Dicta Boel­cke is great exam­ple — if pos­si­ble keep the sun to your back, and attack tar­gets from above and behind.

Michael Porter’s Five Forces analy­sis is a pop­u­lar tech­nique for assess­ing a busi­ness mar­ket posi­tion.  It con­sid­ers the posi­tions of your sup­pli­ers, cus­tomers, exist­ing com­peti­tors, new com­peti­tors, and sub­sti­tute prod­ucts; and can be used to deter­mine how to posi­tion your­self to succeed.

You can choose when, how, and where you com­pete.  Is the posi­tion close or dis­tant?  Do you have room to maneu­ver?  Is the posi­tion easy or dif­fi­cult to obtain and con­trol?  Find a posi­tion where you can­not lose.

Obvi­ously posi­tions change.  A west fac­ing hill side is a great uphill advan­tage until the sun sets in your face and blinds you.  Or you can sim­ply be unable to main­tain you posi­tion and lose it.  Com­pe­ti­tion is often about fight­ing over advan­ta­geous position.

The third assess­ment is who enjoys the most sit­u­a­tional or posi­tional advantages.

Jiang — Abil­ity of Deci­sion Mak­ers

Jiang means the “gen­eral” or “lead­er­ship.”  Mas­ter Sun uses it to mean the abil­ity of deci­sion mak­ers.  Assess the deci­sion makers’:

Intel­li­gence. Are they knowl­edge­able and pos­sess good judg­ment?  Can they make quick deci­sions?  Do they have the right skills?
Trust.  Do they inspire trust?  Can they be trusted?  Do they trust their sub­or­di­nates?
Love.  Do they take care of their peo­ple and care about the cost of vic­tory?
Brav­ery.  Are they will­ing to take the right risks and stand up to their fears?  Do they inspire brav­ery in oth­ers?  Are peo­ple will­ing to fight for them?
Dis­ci­pline.  Are the able to do the right thing at the right time con­sis­tently with­out over­sight?  Do they main­tain con­sis­tent dis­ci­pline, incen­tives and expec­ta­tions in the organization?

Now this may be the most sub­jec­tive part of the assess­ment, but typ­i­cally speak­ing, human resources and cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion bench­marks alone may speak vol­umes.  Here the trick is not to judge by rep­u­ta­tion, rather by evi­dence to the above criteria.

The fourth assess­ment is the abil­ity of the deci­sion makers.

Fa — Meth­ods & Tech­nol­ogy

Fa trans­lates to meth­ods, skills, prac­tices, tech­niques, or doc­trine.  For the pur­pose of strate­gic assess­ment it means skill level and effec­tive­ness of your meth­ods, and the effec­tive­ness of the tech­nol­ogy used.  This is how good your orga­ni­za­tion is at what it does, and the qual­ity of it’s tools and weapons.  How strong, how fast, how effec­tive are your processes, logis­tics, and end prod­ucts?  How well trained are your people?

As John Kee­gan wisely argues in his book “Intel­li­gence in War” even when good intel­li­gence is avail­able, you can’t win a bat­tle if you don’t know how to fight.  When com­pe­ti­tion gets fierce, the stronger com­peti­tor always enjoys that advantage.

The effec­tive­ness of your meth­ods and skill at exe­cut­ing them is one of the sin­gle most impor­tant advan­tages you can have.

Tech­nol­ogy can­not be dis­missed.  In 480 and 490 BC inva­sions of Greece, the Greeks tech­no­log­i­cal advan­tage over the Per­sians was sim­ply the Hoplite heav­ier armor and weapons.  Greeks used longer spears, and metal shields; Per­sian spears were shorter, their shields were wicker.  Nobody real­ized the advan­tage of stealth tech­nol­ogy and mod­ern Amer­i­can air power until tested against the world’s 4th largest mil­i­tary dur­ing Desert Storm in 1991.

How­ever, new tech­nolo­gies that com­pli­cate processes and require sig­nif­i­cant train­ing are often a com­pet­i­tive dis­ad­van­tage.  A won­der­ful exam­ple is BYD who fig­ured out how to make supe­rior prod­ucts with inex­pen­sive Chi­nese engi­neers and labor inten­sive man­u­fac­tur­ing meth­ods; beat­ing out com­peti­tors using exotic processes and indus­tri­al­ized robotic manufacturing.

The sub­tle con­text of this is train­ing.  Supe­rior tech­nol­ogy and meth­ods only work if the peo­ple have the train­ing to use them to an advantage.

Meth­ods and tech­nol­ogy may be dif­fi­cult to mea­sure directly; like lead­er­ship you may have to mea­sure them through indi­rect means, or sim­ply test their effec­tive­ness through direct com­pe­ti­tion.  But you can fig­ure out who’s got the advan­tage and what it is.

The fifth assess­ment is who’s meth­ods, tech­nol­ogy and train­ing give greater advantage?

Bal­ance of advantage

Mas­ter sun then advises you add up all the advan­tages and dis­ad­van­tages found in the assess­ment, and you will see who has the over­all advan­tage.  If your mea­sure­ment of assess­ment is accu­rate, you can pre­dict the winner.

For exam­ple, In WWII the Nazi’s enjoyed home field defen­sive advan­tage, more expe­ri­ence, more sophis­ti­cated meth­ods and best of breed tech­nol­ogy in most cat­e­gories; but supe­rior tech­nol­ogy, a more expe­ri­enced army, and home field advan­tage did not make up for poor pur­pose and val­ues, not to men­tion inten­tion­ally dis­or­ga­nized over­lap­ping lead­er­ship that could not exe­cute an effec­tive strate­gic deci­sion with­out Hitler’s micro­manag­ing approval.

The final assess­ment is the net assess­ment.  Add up the advan­tages and dis­ad­van­tages on each side, and you’ll have great insight into who will win, who will lose, and why.

The whole point of net assess­ment is to holis­ti­cally under­stand everyone’s strengths and weak­nesses, so you can maneu­ver your strengths against your competitor’s weaknesses.

The take away

As I said at the begin­ning — prob­a­bly noth­ing there that hasn’t been said in a dozen busi­ness man­age­ment books.  Sun Tzu just nicely brings in all together in a cou­ple of pages.

Once you’ve made the five assess­ments, Mas­ter Sun chal­lenges the net assessment:

Which polit­i­cal lead­er­ship holds the right pur­pose and val­ues?
Which man­age­ment posses supe­rior skill?
What sea­son and posi­tion pro­vide supe­rior advan­tage?
Which method of com­mand and con­trol works best?
Which force is stronger?
Which peo­ple have bet­ter train­ing?
Which incen­tives and dis­ci­pline are most con­sis­tent and clear?

These tell you who will win and who will lose.  If you want to win, You need to develop an orga­ni­za­tion that is com­pet­i­tive on every above point, e.g. the five assess­ments and the net assess­ment ques­tions.  If you are assess­ing strat­egy for com­pe­ti­tion, this is how you iden­tify the key strengths and weaknesses.

This net assess­ment should make it obvi­ous what you need to do to win. And just as impor­tantly, what won’t work (please, never again try com­pet­i­tive entry into Rus­sia dur­ing the winter).

Now here’s the trick.  Assess­ment of your inter­nal busi­ness is prob­a­bly han­dled by finance, busi­ness ana­lysts and busi­ness intel­li­gence.  The assess­ment of busi­ness com­peti­tors is prob­a­bly done by either mar­ket research, com­pet­i­tive intel­li­gence, or lack­ing that, a cou­ple of proac­tive leaders.

That should show an obvi­ous dis­con­nect.  If your inter­nal ana­lysts and exter­nal ana­lysts are dif­fer­ent depart­ments, with dif­fer­ent goals, meth­ods, and val­ues… Then your busi­ness is prob­a­bly inca­pable of mak­ing a valid net assessment.

So what?

If, and only if you can coor­di­nate and com­bine inter­nal and exter­nal scopes of busi­ness to align, mea­sure, com­pare, and con­trast your inter­nal assess­ments with your exter­nal assessments; then, and only then have you legit­i­mately com­pleted the step so fun­da­men­tal to strat­egy that Sun Tzu put it on the first page of The Art of War.

If you don’t have a strate­gic assess­ment, or worse, your strate­gic assess­ment is patched together from unaligned work prod­ucts from dif­fer­ent groups — then your strat­egy won’t be based on the rel­e­vant facts; and will likely fail when those facts deter­mine com­pet­i­tive advantage.

If you’re look­ing for some­thing use­ful for the com­pet­i­tive intel­li­gence folks to do?  Have them do a net assess­ment, and have them start on your inter­nal assess­ment first.  That will pro­vide the tem­plate for exter­nal assessments.

But how do you use that every­day? What does this actu­ally mean for you as an individual?

Well, if you want to enjoy per­sonal com­pet­i­tive advan­tage.  Con­sider your pur­pose and val­ues.  Are they work­ing to your strate­gic advan­tage?  Think about your envi­ron­ment, what is the tim­ing good for?  Where can you posi­tion your­self?  How do you rate on the 5 abil­i­ties of deci­sion mak­ers?  Can you improve your abil­i­ties?  What meth­ods and tech­nol­ogy do you have avail­able?  Can you improve them?  Sim­ply under­stand­ing these prin­ci­ples for your­self, your fam­ily, and the groups you work with will allow you to be bet­ter at any­thing you want to do.

If you ever find your­self in a com­pet­i­tive envi­ron­ment, you can then make the com­par­a­tive net assess­ment of your oppo­nents and obsta­cles to best align what you have, to the oppor­tu­ni­ties for suc­cess that your com­peti­tors pro­vide you with.

Thanks for reading,

Your hum­ble strategist,

T.S. Galpin

Posted in Business Strategy, Military Strategy, Strategy | 3 Comments

The Problem with Competitive Intelligence

An out side the box strate­gic dis­cus­sion by TS Galpin

The Prob­lem with CI

When keep­ing up with the CI prac­tice, a com­mon theme is CI falls on deaf ears and is heav­ily under uti­lized.  How do you fix that?

In a nut­shell, if you don’t main­tain a close rela­tion­ship with your CI cus­tomers, espe­cially exec­u­tives, how do you know you are giv­ing them what they need, and why should they trust you?  It’s impor­tant to know that in CI, exec­u­tives are very com­pli­cated and impor­tant cus­tomers, not sta­tic sub­scribers to a newslet­ter or blog.

CI?
The CI Mind
The Exec­u­tive Mind
CRM
Turn­ing Ene­mies into Friends
Pri­mary Intel­li­gence and Sec­ondary Intel­li­gence.
The Best Practice

CI?

For those not famil­iar with CI, CI is com­pet­i­tive intel­li­gence.  Defined by the Soci­ety of Com­pet­i­tive Intel­li­gence Pro­fes­sion­als as:Com­pet­i­tive intel­li­gence (CI) is the process of mon­i­tor­ing the com­pet­i­tive envi­ron­ment and ana­lyz­ing the find­ings in the con­text of inter­nal issues, for the pur­pose of deci­sion support.”

Lit­er­ally, keep­ing lead­er­ship informed on every­thing they need to know to keep the busi­ness com­pet­i­tive and suc­cess­ful.  CI accord­ing to that def­i­n­i­tion needs to know how every­thing in the com­pany works, every­thing that hap­pens inside and out­side the com­pany rel­e­vant to the busi­ness, what the needs, expec­ta­tions, and desires of lead­er­ship are; and what needs to come to the atten­tion of the deci­sion mak­ers to make informed deci­sions.  Good intel­li­gence often has sum­ma­rized analy­sis, options, rec­om­men­da­tions, and the risks and con­se­quences asso­ci­ated with them.

The CI Mind

Com­pet­i­tive Intel­li­gence pro­fes­sion­als are smart.

Let me take that back.  CI pro­fes­sion­als are VERY smart.  They are up there with sci­en­tists and engi­neers.  They tend to be very tech­ni­cal, pre­cise and wonk­ish (tech­ni­cally pedan­tic).  So just like sci­en­tists and engi­neers they tend to be very good at what they do, under­stand all the details, intri­cately com­pre­hend the value or their work, and can’t fathom why any­one wouldn’t appre­ci­ate and under­stand their work and uti­lize it properly.

But there is a prob­lem with being the smartest guy in the room.

The Exec­u­tive Mind

Now con­sider for a moment the typ­i­cal exec­u­tive mind.  They are obvi­ously smart and good enough to get and keep the job, they are not dum­mies.  The aver­age exec­u­tive is equal parts arro­gance, abil­ity, over­worked stress and inse­cu­rity from fight­ing to get and keep their job.  Most exec­u­tives are not trained or groomed for the posi­tion.  The get pro­moted on merit and do their best to keep up (Google “Peter Prin­ci­ple”).  Most of the execs I’ve worked with put in 60 — 80 hours a week, answer sev­eral hun­dred emails a day, and have to keep track of sev­eral hun­dred respon­si­bil­i­ties and issues, includ­ing lit­tle things like bud­gets, hir­ing and fir­ing, respon­si­bil­ity for profit and loss, and sur­viv­ing com­pet­i­tive inter­nal pol­i­tics on top of com­pet­i­tive busi­ness.  They answer work emails on their black­ber­ries on nights and week­ends.  Its always inter­est­ing to see a string of emails that started at mid­night, bounced between 10 peo­ple in the mid­dle of the night and hits you in box at 4am with a note from your boss say­ing — “Urgent, address this first thing when you get in the office.”

It’s a very hard job, but good for worka­holics, and many use perks like golf meet­ings, lunch meet­ings, gen­er­ous vaca­tions, Mar­riott points and big bonuses to man­age stress.

Here’s the point, say you are a expe­ri­enced exec­u­tive, you’re under the gun try­ing to com­pete and and pre­vent lay­offs in a dif­fi­cult econ­omy.  The CFO keeps beat­ing you up on your bud­get, the VP of HR is hound­ing you to get eval­u­a­tions out, and the CEO wants to know why your group isn’t per­form­ing as promised.  You are under tremen­dous pres­sure and have plenty to lose (all the perks and that great salary).

Then some geek from some dark cor­ner of com­pet­i­tive intel­li­gence walks in, quickly com­presses 6 months of research and analy­sis into a 10 minute power point sum­mary, and then expects you to do some­thing with it.  You think there’s prob­a­bly some­thing to this, this CI guy is cer­tainly smart and could prob­a­bly do your job.  And worse, while you’ve spent the past few months in meet­ings and fire fight­ing, here’s some genius ana­lyst that had the lux­ury of a few months to fig­ure out every­thing you’re prob­a­bly doing wrong or ignoring.

How do you take advan­tage of this with­out look­ing stu­pid?  How do you explain this to any­one else when you’re not quite sure you get it?  How do you main­tain author­ity if you start ask­ing CI dumb ques­tions? How the heck do you know you can trust this CI?  Where did it come from?  Is it worth risk­ing your career to stick your neck out act­ing on this intel­li­gence you barely under­stand done by some­body you barely know?

Even worse, say the pre­sen­ta­tion is done to a room full of com­pet­i­tive and ner­vous exec­u­tives.  Nobody wants to appear stu­pid or weak, exec­u­tives already know every­thing right?  So every­body pre­tends they under­stand, talks around the issue, and unless they are part of a very pro­gres­sive and sophis­ti­cated cor­po­rate cul­ture, odds are their best self inter­est is to sim­ply ignore the intel­li­gence report after the meet­ing, main­tain the sta­tus quo,  and hope either it goes away or the CEO does some­thing with it.  Act­ing on it is not worth the risk, even if it looks good.

CRM

CRM in this case is cus­tomer rela­tion­ship man­age­ment.

CI pro­fes­sion­als, like their engi­neer­ing and sci­ence cousins, tend to enjoy research and analy­sis.  CI can never under­stand why nobody uses their analy­sis when it’s obvi­ously very right and very impor­tant.  “If I’m right what does pol­i­tics and rela­tion­ships have to do with any­thing?  It’s sit­ting right there in black and white; just read it!”  That’s clas­sic engi­neer mind.

CI will hap­pily spend months in a dark base­ment doing cal­cu­la­tions and fig­ur­ing out answers to ques­tions. How­ever in the same tech­ni­cal per­son­al­ity, most CI pro­fes­sion­als don’t seem to take the time to under­stand their audi­ence, the cor­po­rate pol­i­tics, or more impor­tantly how to get their cus­tomers of intel­li­gence to value and uti­lize the prod­uct.  No mar­ket­ing or sales, just the thud of the report on a desk.  That’s why com­peti­tor pro­files are so pop­u­lar an intel­li­gence prod­uct, they may be next to use­less and time inten­sive, but every­body at least under­stands them.

And If I’m an exec­u­tive that instinc­tively hates and fears every group of smart peo­ple that threaten my abil­ity or polit­i­cal posi­tion, keep­ing a group of expen­sive CI ana­lysts busy doing work with neg­li­gi­ble return on invest­ment is a good way pre­vent CI from becom­ing a threat, and maybe even get rid of them dur­ing the next bud­get cut.

So how do you win over an audi­ence that prob­a­bly hates and fears you?

Turn­ing Ene­mies into Friends

Fun­da­men­tal Sun Tzu, this is Psy­ops 101.  The Green Berets actu­ally have many books on the sub­ject and call it counter insur­gency.  A polit­i­cally savvy CI group will engage and com­mu­ni­cate with it’s exec­u­tives and deci­sion mak­ers in per­son on a reg­u­lar basis.  That means stop by their office at least once a week, talk to them, get to know them, under­stand their needs, and sup­port them directly. If you are located to far away to talk in per­son, phone calls work too (They did for me across three time zones and 5 states).  For CI to sur­vive, they need to embed them­selves into the lead­er­ship process and mind of the com­pany.  That’s inter­nal cus­tomer rela­tion­ship man­age­ment.  In fact using a CRM tool to track and pri­or­i­tize inter­nal needs for CI may be appro­pri­ate in large organizations.

The take away here is com­pet­i­tive intel­li­gence needs to work their audi­ence like human intel­li­gence assets.  You need to keep them happy, secure, informed, and even depen­dent on you.

Pri­mary Intel­li­gence and Sec­ondary Intelligence.

For those unfa­mil­iar, Pri­mary intel­li­gence means get­ting infor­ma­tion by talk­ing to peo­ple, Sec­ondary intel­li­gence basi­cally means read­ing it some where (often on line).  Mod­ern CI prac­tice is overly reliant on sec­ondary intel­li­gence, and from what I’ve seen with SCIP (the Soci­ety of Com­pet­i­tive Intel­li­gence Pro­fes­sion­als) Pri­mary intel­li­gence is actu­ally rarely if ever used in the cur­rent com­pet­i­tive intel­li­gence practice.

Most Savvy CI folks know that exec­u­tives and any­one with cus­tomer or ven­dor con­tact are an invalu­able source of pri­mary intel­li­gence.  Easy pri­mary CI is called hav­ing lunch with busi­ness devel­op­ment every week.

No deci­sion maker is going to trust sec­ondary intel­li­gence from some ana­lyst in another depart­ment.  But if your CI liai­son that vis­its your office three times a week vol­un­teers use­ful infor­ma­tion on that new account your work­ing, that’s a totally dif­fer­ent animal.

And if CI actu­ally comes to you as a source of Pri­mary intel­li­gence on a reg­u­lar basis, trusts your insight, and is happy to talk shop, exchange notes, ful­fill ad hoc requests and feed your ego; of course you trust them, their work is based on your input and you talk to them often!  Exec­u­tives need par­tic­i­pa­tion with and own­er­ship of CI to trust it.  Depend­ing on the size of your team and orga­ni­za­tion, the CI leader may just walk the halls and stick his head into every office every­day; or maybe you need to assign ana­lysts to stop by every stake­holder in the com­pany, then coor­di­nate CI needs and strat­egy in a CI staff meet­ing based on liai­son inter­nal pri­mary intel­li­gence.  Maybe based on per­son­al­i­ties of CI staff, some peo­ple will stick to full time sec­ondary sources and analy­sis while oth­ers main­tain CRM with the CI audi­ence.  A sim­ple best prac­tice is to have every­one in CI main­tain an inter­nal pri­mary intel­li­gence net­work of peers in every depart­ment of the com­pany — this will pro­vide invalu­able pri­mary intel­li­gence, give mul­ti­ple stake hold­ers into the CI process and prod­uct, and keep CI very famil­iar with the “con­text of inter­nal issues.”

But how­ever you do it, CI needs to think more like spies, and start treat­ing any stake­holder in CI as a pri­mary intel­li­gence human asset that needs to be main­tained, sup­ported, and uti­lized on a fre­quent basis if CI really expects to have a large impact on exec­u­tive deci­sion mak­ing.  If every­body knows and trusts you, the research and analy­sis becomes the hard part of the job.  If you use your net­work to infor­mally sup­port research and analy­sis; you can get infor­mal buy in early on at mul­ti­ple lev­els in your intel­li­gence cycle.  Imag­ine hav­ing dif­fer­ent exec­u­tives explain­ing dif­fer­ent parts of analy­sis to the group in an exec­u­tive intel­li­gence review meet­ing.

The Best Practice

If you work in CI, and you’re not the first per­son your exec­u­tives call when they need an informed opin­ion, you’re hon­estly not doing your job.  Imag­ine you stop by a VP’s office, and he is frus­trated by a prob­lem.  After let­ting him vent for ten min­utes,  you as a CI pro­fes­sional can quote him what the Har­vard Busi­ness Review, the Wall Street Jour­nal, the Econ­o­mist, and Strat­for have to say on the sub­ject, plus you can quote the inter­nal met­rics, com­pare them to indus­try bench­mark­ing, men­tion that a guy down in IT you talked to the other day was work­ing a sim­i­lar prob­lem for HR, and maybe we could get some syn­ergy by expand­ing the scope on the HR solu­tion to sup­port a com­pet­i­tive need.  And you know from research for the annual com­peti­tor analy­sis, that if imple­mented well, the solu­tion would actu­ally give a good edge on your pri­mary com­peti­tor.  You know some of the strate­gic ini­tia­tives are under bud­get, and you think there may even be avail­able bud­get for it.  And you are prac­ticed at artic­u­lat­ing these insights to the VP that you talk to often and share a com­mon vocab­u­lary with.

CI should be in so tight with exec­u­tives, that they are famil­iar with the con­tent of intel­li­gence pre­sen­ta­tions weeks before the meet­ing, so your audi­ence is informed and tak­ing action at the meet­ing, not con­fused vir­gins try­ing to fig­ure out what it means.  You do that by main­tain­ing the cus­tomer rela­tion­ships, know­ing their expec­ta­tions, and keep­ing them con­stantly informed, in per­son, by talk­ing to them.

That’s what CI should be.  If you are still main­tain­ing sta­tic reports that get pub­lished to peo­ple with no time to read them — guess what, your CI has lit­tle if any impact on the com­pany; it’s tac­ti­cal or ran­dom at best.  If you can infor­mally form strong rela­tion­ships with all your stake hold­ers, lit­er­ally by just walk­ing into offices and say­ing, “Hi, my name is Bob, I’m with com­pet­i­tive intel­li­gence, my job is to answer ques­tions, what do you do, do you know where I can get infor­ma­tion?  How can I help you?”  and go from there.  Don’t show them your CI prod­ucts, just learn their job, form a rela­tion­ship, and see what prob­lems they have that CI can help with.  Sim­ply engage their ego and get them talk­ing.  You’ll be sur­prised what hap­pens from there.

It worked for me on more than one occa­sion.  I’m hop­ing it can work for you.

Thanks for reading,

Your hum­ble strategist,

T.S. Galpin

Posted in Business Strategy, Competive Intelligence, Intelligence, Strategy | 18 Comments

In Afghanistan, there are no coin­ci­dences

In Afghanistan, there are no coin­ci­dences.

An out­side the box strat­egy analy­sis by TS Galpin.
Reprint from July 2nd, 2010

This week we’ll talk about Afghanistan, mainly because cur­rent events make it too fun not to.  Last week I orig­i­nally started doing a detail ref­er­enced the­sis on Afghanistan, but  real­ized that Strat­for has already done that, so I’ll stick to a con­cise value add here.

A Quick overview

The sit­u­a­tion on the ground.
What’s up With McChrys­tal?
The real­ity of COIN
The Big­ger Picture.

In Afghanistan, there are no coin­ci­dences.

In the movie “Ronin” Robert De Niro plays a laid of CIA spy in post cold war Europe freelancing to pay for retire­ment.  It’s a good 90’s spy flick.  One sim­ple take away that has stuck in my mind for over a decade now;  “There is no such thing as coin­ci­dence.”  If you Google the quote you’ll see it’s pop­u­lar in both action fic­tion and phi­los­o­phy.  It may not be a math­e­mat­i­cal fact of the uni­verse, but strate­gi­cally it’s an excel­lent habit to ques­tion coin­ci­dence, or in gen­eral when ever some­thing hap­pens have the habit to ana­lyze why.  Or be will­ing to have the why sur­prise you down the road.  If you assume there are no coin­ci­dences, it should help you mit­i­gate many poten­tial unpleas­ant sur­prises (Hmmmm, it’s mid­day in a China town street mar­ket and there’s no one to be seen, why am I the only per­son on the street? A coincidence?).

I would haz­ard to sug­gest, in Afghanistan there are no coincidences.

A Quick Overview

After the Sep­tem­ber 11th, 2001 ter­ror­ist attacks, the United States quickly unleashed every resource at its com­mand in the pros­e­cu­tion of Al-Qaeda and the Cap­ture of Osama Bin Laden.  It started as a very ele­gant and sophis­ti­cated over throw of the Tal­iban in Afghanistan and the destruc­tion of Tal­iban and Al-Qaeda strong­holds.  Leav­ing both groups on the run.

That was 2001.  Since then the west­ern polit­i­cal aim of the Paci­fi­ca­tion and Sta­bi­liza­tion of Afghanistan has been a con­tin­u­ing deba­cle of polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary incon­sis­tency.  No strat­egy or amount of mil­i­tary force has been able to secure Afghanistan since the 1970’s.  Afghanistan is his­tor­i­cally a loca­tion of geopo­lit­i­cal impor­tance as a cross­roads of cen­tral Asia on the silk road.

So geopolitically, Afghanistan is rel­e­vant to the secu­rity and eco­nom­ics of Iran,Russia, China, Pakistan, and India.  Please note the first nation on the list is try­ing to become a nuclear power, the other 4 already are.  The West views Afghanistan as a secu­rity threat because it is cur­rently the home of inter­na­tional ter­ror­ism, i.e. Al-Qaeda.  Most of the pop­u­la­tion is tra­di­tion­al­ist and anti mod­ern liv­ing a lifestyle that has not changed in 100 years or longer.  The Econ­omy is cur­rently based on Opium Agri­cul­ture (mean­ing a largely crim­i­nal dom­i­nated black mar­ket financ­ing our ene­mies) or for­eign aid, though the US Mil­i­tary recently fin­ished a geo­log­i­cal sur­vey that iden­ti­fied huge heavy met­als and fos­sil fuel deposits that could trans­form Afghanistan into the rich­est mines in cen­tral Asia.

That’s the 3 para­graph summary.

What’s up With McChrystal?

Odds are he just wanted out.  Consider:

Last week the guy run­ning the cam­paign in Afghanistan, 4 Star Major Gen­eral Stan­ley McChrystal respect­ful resigned his respon­si­bil­ity for Afghanistan under pres­sure from Pres­i­dent Obama for “Behav­ior unbe­com­ing of a senior offi­cer,” specif­i­cally can­did remarks chal­leng­ing senior lead­er­ship attrib­uted to him in a very impres­sive arti­cle in Rolling Stone mag­a­zine.

So Who’s Stan­ley McChrys­tal?  Based on a vari­ety on online sources, mainly Strat­for, the excep­tional Rolling Stone arti­cle, and Wikipedia (which I con­fess is known to be dubi­ous at times) — McChrys­tal is a snake eater — to say he is a very scary, intel­li­gent and deadly spe­cial forces war­rior.  He comes from a mil­i­tary fam­ily, served his early career with the 82nd Air­borne and 75th Rangers, is a West point Grad­u­ate, a Green Beret, gave Pen­ta­gon mil­i­tary brief­ings to the media dur­ing part of Iraq, and before Afghanistan was the offi­cer in com­mand of Joint Spe­cial Forces com­mand, directly respon­si­ble for some the great­est suc­cess in Iraq.  As a 4 star Gen­eral he was known to pick up a rifle and go on night patrols in dan­ger­ous areas with reg­u­lar sol­diers.  Sim­ply put McChrys­tal is a seri­ous bad ass, known as basi­cally a hard headed, free speak­ing jock with lit­tle patience for politics.

Then gen­eral mes­sage the pop­u­lar media has deliv­ered in edi­to­r­ial and com­men­tary was this Pat­ton like war­rior was unfairly taken advan­tage of by a very savvy Rolling Stone jour­nal­ist.  That the poor Gen­eral with a his­tory of speak­ing his mind and buck­ing the sys­tem was a vic­tim of the mod­ern prac­tice of behind the scenes expo­sure in journalism.

Well, if you read the Rolling Stone arti­cle, McChrys­tal was described as a worka­holic in Afghanistan who never stopped to eat or sleep for over a year.  Then con­sider the new COIN (counter insur­gency) strat­egy is pro­gress­ing very slowly; and that Afghanistan is start­ing to look more like Viet­nam than Iraq – to say the US Mil­i­tary tac­ti­cal dom­i­nance is in a strate­gic quag­mire.  We never lost a sin­gle bat­tle in Viet­nam, but we didn’t win that war.

One story in the Rolling Stone arti­cle was very telling.  A sol­dier from a for­ward deployed base didn’t like the new rules of engage­ment under the COIN strat­egy, and emailed Gen. McChrys­tal a chal­lenge to go on a night patrol with the pla­toon.  So McChrys­tal showed up and went on patrol with them to make the point.

Well, a while later one of the guys in a pla­toon was killed in a fire­fight. The good gen­eral vis­ited the pla­toon to pay his respects.  While there, in front of a Rolling Stone reporter he spent an after­noon try­ing to explain and sell COIN to the pla­toon, but couldn’t get through to them.

So the new strat­egy in Afghanistan is slow to gain trac­tion.  McChrys­tal has been shoot­ing his mouth off for the past year, usu­ally mak­ing the White­house look bad; to the extent that sev­eral polit­i­cal ana­lysts are sur­prised McChrys­tal didn’t get fired sooner.  While hordes of jour­nal­ists are apol­o­giz­ing to the mil­i­tary, warn­ing to be care­ful of what you say on the record, they guy who just spent a few months being tailed by a Rolling Stone jour­nal­ist just got the pres­i­dent to ask him to retire at age 55 from a bat­tle he can­not win, and is enjoy­ing the first full night of sleep, relaxed meal, and time with his fam­ily he’s had in years.

You ask me the war­rior that didn’t know how to quit instead con­vinced his boss to reas­sign him.  McChrys­tal prob­a­bly has accu­mu­lated well over a year of vaca­tion pay under DOD rules, and as a four star gets a very com­fort­able pen­sion.  He’s 55 and can con­sult for a few hun­dred an hour as he likes.  And every pun­dit I’ve read agrees that the army has plenty of suit­able replace­ments fir McChrystal.  And all they did was take him off of Afghanistan, right now he’s still an active Major General.

One of the most pow­er­ful men on Earth, a mas­ter strate­gist, fight­ing a quag­mire war — hires a civil­ian con­sul­tant to bring in and baby sit a Rolling Stone reporter given unre­stricted access to the free speak­ing gen­eral.  Bring­ing in Rolling Stone was prob­a­bly McChrystal’s per­sonal exit strat­egy.  He didn’t quit, he never said never, he sim­ply pushed the pol­i­tics to a break­ing point in a way that won’t reflect poorly on his mil­i­tary career, only his polit­i­cal one.

The real­ity of COIN

Here’s the Mil­i­tary point.  The only known strate­gic tech­nique that works con­sis­tently against insur­gen­cies, i.e. rebel­lions and civil wars is COIN or Counter Insur­gency as devel­oped by west­ern mil­i­taries over the past few centuries.

In sim­plest terms, COIN is a direct mar­ket­ing cam­paign to sell a pop­u­lace that our pol­icy is bet­ter than the insurgent’s pol­icy.  Basi­cally sell­ing them peace­ful mod­ern democ­racy instead of the cur­rent war.  Ask­ing tens of thou­sands of basi­cally trig­ger happy 20 something’s in full body armor (Amer­i­can sol­diers) that don’t speak the local lan­guage, to exe­cute a direct mar­ket­ing cam­paign to sell democ­racy to a large scat­tered pop­u­la­tion of rural tribes does not exactly have good odds of success.

Now there are a few hun­dred Green berets over there with col­lege edu­ca­tions and COIN train­ing that speak Pashto and Urdu, and are very capa­ble of mak­ing COIN happen.

We just don’t have enough of them.  Even then they are try­ing to sell the dubi­ous Karzai gov­ern­ment as being bet­ter than the Tal­iban, when every­body knows the Tal­iban will win the day after the US Mil­i­tary leaves.  Karzai is not an easy sell to the Pash­tun peo­ple in south Afghanistan.  Nobody is will­ing to take charge of Afghanistan, but the US gov­ern­ment is not will­ing to give up either.  McChrys­tal obvi­ously was get­ting tired and frus­trated, and fig­ured he’d keep push­ing the politi­cians improve the sit­u­a­tion until he either got a winnable sce­nario, or they fired him for push­ing too hard.  But as a good sol­dier who wanted to win, unable to con­trol pol­icy, he did the best he could with the options available.

McChrys­tal did his job – Win the bat­tle or die trying.  In this case the job was mostly a polit­i­cal one, and so was the death.

The Big­ger Picture

So we have to ask, what is the endgame here?  What is really possible?

Well, a quick Google search sug­gests that we are spend­ing about $100 bil­lion a year on Mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in Afghanistan, about half of that is “extra cost” and about half is what we’d spend on the thou­sands of sol­diers to do their work some­where else.

You have to ask, as of this writ­ing a dou­ble dip reces­sion is look­ing more and more prob­a­ble.  The Krug­man inspired deficit spend­ing is weak­en­ing the fed­eral bud­get in the name of Key­ne­sian stim­u­lus — and regard­less of your eco­nomic phi­los­o­phy, there is a hard road with lots of pub­lic and pri­vate debt in a weak Global econ­omy ahead.  As John Mauldin is fond of writig these days, there are no good deci­sions left, only pain now or pain later.

So ask you what is the Return On Invest­ment of spend­ing an extra $50 — $60 Bil­lion a year on Afghanistan ?  Does it buy us that much secu­rity?  Does help keep the mil­i­tary strong?  Is it good for the peo­ple in Afghanistan ?

If the US Fed­eral gov­ern­ment is spend­ing $3,550 Bil­lion a year, and is fore­cast to col­lect only $2,381 Bil­lion, we might want to think about sav­ing money, instead of throw­ing good money after bad in a cen­tral Asian war that has no end in sight.

Con­sider Accord­ing to the Human Devel­op­ment Index, Afghanistan is the sec­ond least devel­oped coun­try in the world.  How much does it cost to build a nation?  And what do we get for our investment?  4 nuclear pow­ers plus Iran effec­tively if not lit­er­ally bor­der Afghanistan.  Yet they are not invested like we are. But they ben­e­fit the most from an eco­nom­i­cally pros­per­ous Afghanistan.  All those heavy met­als and fos­sil fuels will be sold to Afghanistan’s neigh­bors, if and when they are developed.

So as Amer­i­cans we prob­a­bly need to have the discussion.  Is a con­tin­ued quag­mire of nation build­ing and ter­ror­ist attacks in the North, and a full blown COIN war in the south, is it worth $50 Bil­lion or more annu­ally to the Amer­i­can people?

If the US bud­get is in trou­ble, the US econ­omy is in trou­ble, and we are look­ing at a long reces­sion; why are we spend­ing bil­lions every year to con­tinue the longest war in US his­tory try­ing to rebuild a cen­tral Asia nation from scratch?  Are there less expen­sive ways, more geopo­lit­i­cally respon­si­bly ways to pro­tect us from ter­ror­ism?  Can we nego­ti­ate with the Tal­iban son­ner than later under a decade of COIN momen­tum to end this?  Can we still get what we want if we do?

These are ques­tions that will hope­fully be debated loudly and pub­licly in the com­ing elections.  As a nation can we afford to be the world police?  Can we afford to build nations in the cur­rent economy?

Thanks for reading,

Your hum­ble strategist,

T.S. Galpin

Posted in Geopolitics, Intelligence, Military Strategy, Strategy, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Strat­egy bogged down by reality?

Strat­egy bogged down by reality?

A per­sonal note. Ok seri­ously, one of my prob­lems is get­ting “looped” by the every­day grind.

Let’s step back a moment. What do I mean by looped?

I need to explain John Boyd, his OODA loop, and a lit­tle his­tor­i­cal context.

In brief, John Boyd was an Air Force Colonel, rep­utably one of the best fighter pilots ever, and a sig­nif­i­cant mil­i­tary the­o­rist of the 20th cen­tury. He’s known for being the pri­mary con­trib­u­tor to the F-15 and F-16 pro­grams; and he invented energy maneu­ver­abil­ity the­ory, which is the pri­mary rule of engi­neer­ing when design­ing a fighter plane.

One of Boyd’s most promi­nent ideas is the “deci­sion cycle” or “OODA Loop”. Which is a basic model of psy­chol­ogy, based on learn­ing the­ory, about how we inter­act with the world around us. All it pos­tu­lates is that human deci­sion mak­ing includes the fol­low­ing steps: Observe, Ori­ent, Decide, Act.

i.e.

Observe. I see a ham­burger place down the street.
Ori­ent. I like ham­burg­ers, and I’m hun­gry.
Decide. I want to eat a ham­burger now.
Act. Pull over and order a hamburger.

It’s a sim­ple model of psy­chol­ogy that has been shown to accu­rately describe human behav­ior. It is most obvi­ous when observ­ing small chil­dren (because it often hap­pens slowly).

In most strat­egy lit­er­a­ture, in a con­flict one wishes to out­pace and dis­rupt or manip­u­late the opponent’s OODA loop. Be advised that the OODA loop is actu­ally very sim­ple psy­chol­ogy, but is often mis­in­ter­preted and mis­used, espe­cially in defense cir­cles where argu­ments of inter­pre­ta­tion abound. OODA loops are a good model for show­ing how ini­tia­tive works, both in para­met­ric and lit­eral con­texts. Speed­ing up your own deci­sion cycle is often known as tak­ing the ini­tia­tive, and is com­monly taught in Marine offi­cer school (as 60 or 30 sec­ond bat­tle plans).

Every day I observe things that need to be done, ori­ent to the daily grind, and totally lose sight of my schw­er­punkt (strategic objec­tive). The thing is — the daily grind is tac­ti­cally rel­e­vant to my schw­er­punkt, and much of it is needed to keep cus­tomers happy and busi­ness going. But I’m just con­stantly looped by tac­ti­cal (imme­di­ate) issues… So tac­ti­cal urgency loops my strategic pri­or­ity. I’m busy all day doing impor­tant things, but have problems get­ting around to the “value add” projects I’m work­ing on.

How do we pre­vent get­ting looped by tac­ti­cal urgency?

That’s my question.

In the inva­sion of Iraq in 2002, the coali­tion schw­er­punkt was to con­trol Bagh­dad within 72 hours. Why 72 hours? Sim­ple, that’s the time limit of how long a sol­dier can fight with­out sleep. A 72 hour sprint to Bagh­dad fol­lowed by rest and regroup­ing. The 72 hour sprint has such speed, so many things hap­pen so fast as to loop the defend­ers — i.e. you get inside their deci­sion cycle. You are mov­ing so fast they just can’t keep up with the changes.  In OODA terms you give them to many things to observe and ori­ent to, and they ide­ally go into deci­sion lock.  They get over­loaded by a quickly chang­ing envi­ron­ment and you can do what­ever you want.   The doc­trine of “Shock and Awe” is lit­er­ally based on OODA loop manipulation.

So what does the inva­sion of Iraq and OODA have to do with get­ting bogged down at the office?

See, Marines like to fight. They train for it every day. They are really good at it. In the inva­sion of Iraq in 2002, I’ve been told one of the strate­gic chal­lenges was the Marines got bogged down with fight­ing when they should have been rac­ing to Bagh­dad.  I have a sim­i­lar prob­lem with morn­ing emails.

When Army units hit resis­tance, they sim­ply avoided con­tact, called in an air strike, and kept focused on the strate­gic objec­tive — take Bagh­dad in 72 hours.

Mean­while the Marines did lots of fight­ing that slowed them down. With rather spec­tac­u­lar tac­ti­cal suc­cess, they won lots of unim­por­tant bat­tles that really slowed down the race to Bahg­dad. They had a ten­dency to get looped by tac­ti­cal urgency. Sim­ply put they got dis­tracted by com­bat and for­got their strate­gic objective.

The cliche’ goes some­thing like: I’m so busy fight­ing off alli­ga­tors I for­got that the rea­son I jumped in the swamp was to drain it.

The thing the Army did bet­ter than the Marines in 2002 was sim­ple. They picked their bat­tles and del­e­gated tac­ti­cal urgency while stay­ing focused on their strate­gic objec­tives.

HR calls that pri­or­ity man­age­ment. You can Google tech­niques. You can keep a priority/urgency matrix. You can have a sticky note, reminder, poster, what­ever to remind you of your strate­gic goals.

But you always have to ask your­self, is this the best end­ing for my story? Is the fire I’m fight­ing now going to pre­vent future fires? Is this the best use of my time, can it wait, should it be ignored or del­e­gated while I focus on larger priorities?

Sim­ply put you need to pri­or­i­tize your action items with your schw­er­punkt as the pri­mary value, or you’ll get “looped” by the daily grind, lose strate­gic ini­tia­tive and fall behind sched­ule… May even start los­ing the war because you are fight­ing the wrong battles.

The hard­est deci­sion lead­ers have to make, and fre­quently in busi­ness the com­mon mis­take — is pick­ing your bat­tles. And not polit­i­cally, but tac­ti­cally. Most man­agers and exec­u­tives get so caught up in tac­ti­cal and oper­a­tional prob­lem solv­ing and fire fight­ing that they get looped by cir­cum­stances and lose all if any strate­gic ori­en­ta­tion to their work.

How many meet­ings have felt like a waste of time? How much of your daily fire fight­ing at work actu­ally makes money or strate­gi­cally posi­tions your suc­cess? Or are you just putting out fires as fast as you can with no strate­gic objective?

Tar­get fix­a­tion or micro­man­age­ment? Is micro­man­age­ment just a form of tar­get fix­a­tion where you let tac­ti­cal urgency dic­tate your pri­or­i­ties? Are you doing everyone’s details for them with­out man­ag­ing the big picture?

Now we can argue lack of top down strate­gic focus another time. In what you do, every deci­sion you per­son­ally make, first have a schw­er­punkt (or schw­er­punkts) in mind. And ask your­self, is what you are doing just tac­ti­cal urgency to grat­ify your per­son­al­ity? Or are you accom­plish­ing a sig­nif­i­cant return on you invest­ment of time into achiev­ing strate­gi­cally goals?

Ask your­self, are you get­ting looped by tac­ti­cal urgency? Or are you stay­ing focused on the big pic­ture and mak­ing progress towards the bot­tom line?

That is a skill devel­oped by prac­tice. Most peo­ple are bad at it. Most peo­ple, regard­less of rank or expe­ri­ence sim­ply get dis­tracted. Make a habit of fram­ing every deci­sion in terms of strate­gic pri­or­ity. For most of us there is more work than time. You only get so many hours in the day. At the end of the month, do you want to say you put out 30 fires? Or that you cir­cum­vented the fires and achieved a strate­gic goal that makes the fires irrelevant?

The trick is to prac­tice strate­gic focus and aware­ness. Check your­self at every action, every deci­sion. Ask what is my schw­er­punkt? Does this help strate­gi­cally? Am I being looped? Am I loop­ing myself? Google Cog­ni­tive restruc­tur­ing if your seri­ous about devel­op­ing the skill, a trained psy­chol­o­gist will know that technique.

In tough times, crazy busy at work, I fre­quently find myself looped, bogged down by the daily grind, and have to remind myself to reori­ent to my schw­er­punkt and stay aligned with my pri­or­i­ties, because I don’t have the time to do every­thing, and my lim­ited time is pre­cious. I need to spend it accom­plish­ing goals, not fight­ing fires that keep burn­ing regardless.

Thanks for reading,

Ted S Galpin

Image from Wikimedia Commons

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