The Strategy Book

Leo over at Zen Habits is suggesting I would be happier if I write more.  He’s probably correct.

So here’s a story boys and girls… (And usual rules apply, keep Google handy for my obscure references, HTML links go stale too fast)

About a year ago, an interesting gentleman named Max McKeown apparently found my inconsistent effort here, saw some value, and asked me to read and review a book he’d written.  I accepted, and he graciously sent me a free copy of the book.  It coincidentally arrived on my birthday.

Of course, as I said, that was a year ago.  Max, I am very sorry it took a year, but I’m finally fulfilling my end of the bargain.  Thanks for the cool book!

So as I said, the book showed up in the mail (via Amazon I think).  Of course, I had just bought a house, after starting a new job.  Not to mention the normal stress of toddler chaos, etc.  As Aaron Allston once wrote – you have to know what the timing is good for.  Well, the timing was terrible.  Took me about 6 months to read the book, mostly on my lunch hour at the office.  I’ve probably reread half the chapters twice.  Actually started at least 4 different versions of this article in the last 9 months.  There’s a draft on Google docs, one on WordPress iPhone app, and another in my Awesome notes app, probably a draft or two sitting in my email.  Not to mention copious notes scribbled in the margins and the inside book cover.

But here’s the two lessons learned that are pretty obvious to an outside observer.  I was way too overcommitted at the time I made the commitment.  But It’s never too late to try, try again.  You’ll never finish if you don’t try.

Max Mckeown the strategy book

First Edition Cover

So, I read and carefully reread and considered Max McKeown’s Strategy Book for the better part of a year.

It’s a good book.  Based on what I could find in a little bit of open source intelligence (i.e. online research); Max is an English writer, consultant, academic and thought leader type with a collection of graduate degrees in Business Strategy.  You can find him on YouTube, Wikipedia, and Twitter, but no TED Talk yet.  He appears to like black leather jackets and presents wearing t-shirts.

Hence, his Strategy Book is informal and well focused on business strategy; though I would argue many of it’s lessons are applicable to strategic science in general.

Now, I preface my critique by saying I’m a serious wonk.  Just a few days ago I went on my first after dark babysitter date since my daughter was born.  My wife took me to a presentation/reception with the NASA Team that just finished a 5-year research project on Saturn’s moon Titan.  I wished they had been more technical, but it was a general audience of about 200 people, so I instead acted like a giddy teenager.

So when I say Max’s book is light and easy to read but lacks scientific rigor; that’s the opinion of a physicist.  Many of you will adore the fact that Max uses plain language and an organized format to explain and validate dozens of basic concepts of strategy without any mathematics or science, but with a good dose of real life examples and anecdotes from the business world.

I personally view the book as fundamentals of business strategy.  Max obviously knows what he is talking about.  The book is an excellent business strategy 101.  And it has a place on my bookshelf as such.  It distills the state of strategy practice as known by western business schools.  It was very reminiscent of everything I saw taking my Strategic Planning Professional exam a couple years ago.

The book does not cover much else.  You have to get past the normal consultant/thought leader fluff in the beginning.  The examples talk about products and services, customers and market competition.  You will not find math, game theory, economics, military science, behavioral science, or really any straight science.  It’s simply good, solid business school strategy.  Which makes it accessible and digestible to a wide audience, and Max does show a level of sophistication with his craft.  I found myself nodding my head up and down through most of the book.  It’s a valuable read.

I wish it had been more technical and more precise in many places.  But that was not the purpose of the book, nor it’s writer.  It’s a business guy talking business strategy.  No more, no less.

Every Chapter is formatted with a stated objective, the context of the objective, the challenges involved, how to recognize/measure success of implementing the objective, and the potential limits and pitfalls involved.  The 235 pages walk you through understanding strategy as a subject, how to internalize strategy in yourself, create and implement it in a business organization; and a collection of his favorite business strategy tools like SWOT, Porter’s 5 forces, various idea maps, visualization matrices, and processes that he has had success with.  It’s a Strategy MBA in a single book, with a decent index.

And the best part is he gives plenty of advice on how the reader, likely not being an executive, but likely an analyst or middle manager can navigate corporate culture to make use of the knowledge of the book.  Yes, kids, there is some good wisdom in the pages too.  He has a chapter entitled “Understanding what can go wrong.” He spends time on the fact the strategy is change management.  If you can get your mind outside the box, it covers layman’s strategy well and can be useful for most decision making and problem solving, especially where you face a group dynamic (friends, family, organizations, and businesses).

Most business strategy books are trying to sell a theory, process, or system.  Max chose to give us a useful broad reference instead.  And he intentionally filled every topical chapter with thought provoking questions intended to guide your own critical thinking process, and teach you how to think like a strategist.

As I said, It’s a good, educational book.  You can find it on Amazon or at   Paperback only, which has a cool slick polymer finish that feels good in my hands but couldn’t find it on Kindle.  Sorry Kids. (Update – as of 2016 on Kindle)

After writing this, I think I’ll read The Strategy Book again after I finish The Japanese Art of War, something Thomas Cleary wrote that I have to reread whenever I get caught in my own OODA Sprial, something that appropriately describes my past 2 years.  Which is another lesson learned; it doesn’t matter how much they pay you, a painful job is a painful job, no amount of money can change that.

So if you want a good read in business strategy 1o1, Max McKeown wrote the book for you.

That’s all I got today.  Thanks for reading,

Ted S Galpin, SPP


Posted in Book Review, Business Strategy, Strategy | Tagged | Leave a comment

And we’re back – with some thoughts on the OODA Spiral

Just short on my lunch break, but had some fascinating side discussions helping out with the strategic planning for ironically the Association of Strategic Planning (ASP).

(Warning, on a reread this is heavy wonk on esoteric terminology, and I’ve found hyperlinks outside the blog to reference ideas expire and then do little good, keep google handy).

I was pondering the idea of combining Bruce Bueno de Mesquita’s game theory approaches  with proactive OODA loops.  An idea that I have played with for years, my father started calling an OODA Spiral.  If Observe, Orient, Decide, Act is a good scientific model for human / mammal decision making….

Then it possible to get “looped.”  Literally things are happening faster than you can keep up, and the world passes you by, at least for a moment.  Happens to me allot when I am trying to do something while my Wife and Daughter compete for my attention.  Invariably I get looped by to much information and burn my breakfast on Saturday morning.  I would argue that getting looped, or a lock of the decision cycle is generally what happens to a quarterback right before he gets sacked.  Can’t make a decision fast enough, and somebody else ends the play for him.  Read:  “Looped” = Decision lock = a stalled or interrupted OODA cycle.  You get stuck on observe and orient, can’t decide and act fast enough.

SO a decision spiral is when a decision making process gets looped, and more information / things happening just loop again and again into a spiral of inaction.  That would be what the US military calls “Shock and Awe”.  If there is more happening than you can deal with, you loose the ability to make decisions until the world slows down enough that you can orient to it.

The Game theory aspect of it it simply knowing what people will focus on, and if you can loop them, trap them in an OODA spiral they no longer can make make actions that effect you – at least as long as you can keep them in a spiral.  Talk about taking initiative.

That’s the idea anyway.  Let me know what you think.

The concept that hit me talking with my friends at ASP, was that in organizational strategic planning, i.e. strategic planning for a business; a decision spiral could be related to the common phenomena of strategic plans that sit on a shelf and never get implemented.

This goes back to my old post on OODA loops and the tyranny of the urgent killing any schwerpunkt one might have.  So busy fighting off alligators you forget you are in the swamp to drain it, not fight alligators.  In business, most of the executives I know are so busy fire fighting, caught up in tactical urgency, they never have time for anything strategic.

That’s pretty well established.  But think of that in terms of an organizational OODA spiral. The environment is changing faster than the organizational decision cycle can react, and eventually they give up trying to constantly reorient.  They don’t even figure out how to orient to a strategic plan they spent resources developing, they just see lots of change and work that is hard to understand, and the whole company joins in a stand alone complex of work on tactical urgency, maintaining the status quo…  Instead of making strategic decisions and actions that would remove or preempt the tactical problems.  The whole organization gets trapped in an OODA spiral.

Apologies – A stand alone complex – concept from a show called Ghost in the Shell.  Basically a stand alone complex is a simple idea empowered by the information age.  Given the same information, people tend to make the same decision.  Give the same information in the form of tweets and TV to a few million kids on twitter, you get brand based social moments and the Arab spring.  A stand alone complex is a simple consequence of game theory.  Viral information that inspires action in a significant part of the population, that all individually come to the same orientation, decision, and action from the same or similar observation.  That is a stand alone complex.

So what?

OK.  Many esoteric ideas add up to what?

The short version is simply this.  If we know the root cause of a problem, we can engineer a solution.  If strategy rarely if ever gets implemented in businesses because of a stand alone complex in the form of an OODA spiral, at least among leader ship.  Then the solution is to not let leadership get looped.  Prevent the  OODA Spiral.  Traditionally in strategic planning that means the executive decision maker simply makes the decision and then coerces action down the chain of command to make change and implement strategy.

But there have got to be other ways than brute force, right?  Can a strategy professional influence a CEO, Board, or group of senior decision makers in such a way to prevent the OODA spiral that prevents them from implementing a strategic plan once they have it?

I’m thinking yes.  Change management before the Change? More on that later

Thanks for reading the Lunch Time analysis.

-Ted S Galpin SPP




Posted in Business Strategy, Math, Strategy | 1 Comment

Motives, Managing Expectations, Alignment and Friction.

So, been gone for a very long time.

Explanation – life is what happens while you are making other plans.  Survived the “new normal” economy.  New day job, new house, lots of new changes.

First a good strategic lesson I just picked up from a really popular blog:  The Art of Non-Conformity

“…one important fact: it is always very important to carefully examine someone’s motives in communicating.

Whenever you read something, ask yourself, “What are the author’s motivations? Why did he or she choose to devote a great deal of time and effort to one particular thing in exclusion of others?”

Good lesson from Chris Guillebeau.  Why am I doing this?  Because writing about strategy helps me understand it.  And I love strategy and want to understand it better.  Sharing it helps because other people read what I say, let me know when I’m wrong, challenge my assumptions, and help me learn.

So, I was speaking of new changes in my life.

Including a paradigm shift here at Strategic Science.  This started out as my rather ambitious goal of putting out well researched, well edited and referenced technical essays on strategy on a consistent basis.  That takes way too many hours.  Obviously not a realistic goal.  But I did get a surprising amount of very positive feedback for my efforts.   And since noticed I’ve still spent an inordinate amount of time writing about strategy.  Just that half of it went to a couple of friends in email, and the rest sits in a filing cabinet full of notes…

Not an effective strategy.  I got OODA Looped by a combination of unrealistic expectations and normal distraction caused by life, family, career, kids.

So to apply lessons learned.  It’s easy to lose sight of strategic goals when urgency ends up trumping priority.  Or in this case tactical (short term) needs trumps strategic (i.e. long term goals).  And one of my long term goals is to use this tool as a way to build a strategy body of knowledge.

So going forward, probably less technical rigor – but hopefully more than a couple posts a year.

Today’s lessons to share.  “It is always very important to carefully examine someone’s motives in communicating.

But to go beyond the obvious, do that with yourself.  Carefully examine your motives in what you are doing.  Are your actions, tactics, methods strategically aligned with your goals?  Mine were not, and I’m the strategy geek.  Sure, there are mitigating circumstances that impede strategy.  Clausewitz and the United States Marine Corps call that strategic friction “That which makes the seemingly simple extremely difficult.”

Strategic alignment is a no brainer right?  You need to focus on your schwerpunkt, balance urgency with strategic priority, and keep your actions aligned with your schwerpunkt.  As Myomoto Mushashi wrote “Do nothing useless.”

But plan for friction.  It will happen.  If you’re at war or in construction the obvious friction will be weather and logistics.  If your executing strategy in business, your obvious friction will be budget and culture; or as Stephen Haines liked to say, “The Shark of culture eats strategy every time.”

Plan on friction, or you will make the same mistake I made for the last two years.  Scroll down the blog and you’ll see the results made by underestimating strategic friction.  You may get by for awhile, but don’t be surprised when you get bogged down.


Posted in Business Strategy, Military Strategy, Self Help, Strategy | 2 Comments

The coolest thing I’ve seen all year (AI)

Hi there world.

First – A warning to all you young turks out there gearing up to change the world. It will vary with circumstances, but infants are resource consuming schwerpunkts, that will make it difficult to finish any other projects (Apologies for the slow trickle of articles).

Teaser – the lead in is a little long, but the topic is recent developments in AI managed strategy.

On to the topic at hand. As a Strategy geek, growing up I spent inordinate amounts of time playing strategy games. As with many this fascination started out with Chess and Axis and Allies, but quickly moved on the the likes of Herzog Zwei, Star Control, and Star Wars: Rebellion… Leading to a long list occasionally continuing now with distractions like Sins of a Solar Empire. I learned all about resource management, maneuver and misdirection, and the limits of computer interface and computer opponents. My pipe dream for years has been an in game macro building interface that would allow me to automate repetitive tasks and coordinate complicated tasks requiring multiple commands issued simultaneously; like coordinating multi vector combined arms assault. Something nearly impossible to pull off with a mouse and keyboard, hot key, click, drag and drop interface.

I digress. The standard in real time strategy (RTS) games is Blizzard’s franchise StarCraft. Published in 1998, it’s still heavily played and the subject of multiple professional leagues (mostly in South Korea) despite it’s sequel being released last year (something I’ve avoided, my time being stretched too thin already).

StarCraft is simply the standard because it’s known as the most refined, polished, and accessible yet complex RTS game available, with arguably the best game balance. A reputation made possible by years of constant user feedback and updates to an initially best of class software.

So what? Star Craft is nothing new. Cool, but basically just a good diversion. Though many would argue that due to the sophistication of the game, it does make a good laboratory for experimenting with strategy and tactics. Personally I’ve successfully been able to use it to play with concepts like Shock & Awe, OODA Loops, using psychology against human players; and geometry and pattern recognition against AI (artificial intelligence or computer programed) opponents. One of the limits I found with the AI in StarCraft (and pretty much every other game I’ve played), is eventually, if you survive long enough, it seems like the AI reaches the end of it’s script, and basically falls asleep into a passive state. In Star Craft it only takes a few hours; even playing against 7 AI players, I know if I can last about 3 hours the AI will slow down and give me a chance to take them out one by one. In newer RTS games it may take longer, but inevitably I found in playing AI opponents, if I can set up a strong defense and economy; I can basically wait for the AI script (or scripts for multiple opponents) to run out and go passive on me (something I found by accident in Sins of A Solar Empire, this can take 30 hours, but a good defense will last if you leave the game running while you sleep and go to work). Then winning the game is easy. Now the same tends to work with human opponents, typically after hours of play they get tired and sloppy, resorting to attrition (especially late on Friday nights), and even the best players will make mistakes and give you opportunities if you can wear them down or confuse them.

Which brings me to the coolest thing I’ve seen this year. I was looking online to see if my theory on AI scripts running out was correct. During that search I unexpectedly stumbled into the Coolest Thing I’ve seen in at least a year.

Apparently the University of California Santa Cruz has a thriving AI research program in computer science; and when the StarCraft API was made available to the public in 2009, and a new opportunity was quickly recognized. You could create a stand alone AI player program that could control StarCraft through the API. In the spirit of Deep Blue and Chess AI, they decided to take AI research to the next level by organizing a StarCraft AI game competition. Chess is hard because you have to consider all moves and see the future, but the moves are limited. AI playing Poker is mostly a matter of probability. Go is harder because you have many more pieces and more moves to consider, but you can always see the whole board. In Star Craft you have to deal with all of the above, plus the fog or war (i.e. the unknown areas of the game you can’t see), resource management, and the rock paper scissors limitations of different units in battle. And you have to do all this in real time, the other players don’t have to wait to take their turn. They can keep making moves while you are still making a decision. Until now, all AI research done with RTS has been limited to buggy, open source home made games with their own host of issues. For the first time AI research has access to a reliable and refined commercially developed RTS software for research.

To quote an AI instructor at Berkley “I can literally walk down the list of concepts we cover and show you where every one of them show up in StarCraft and in our agent.”

So simply put, programing an AI to play Star Craft is not only a legitimate activity for research in computer science and artificial intelligence, but there are multiple professional leagues on different continents that can provide highly ranked players to test the AI against.

So it’s great for computer science research, and yeah, programing a computer to play a real time strategy game is fun. But what does this have to do with strategy?

AI is already here
Forces you to formalize the basics
It gives you a lab to experiment in
Lessons learned
A Culture of Innovation
My Wish List

AI is already here

As a Strategist, the concept of Artificial intelligence is a fun idea. If I program a computer correctly, can it execute strategy for me? My early lament in college was simply just to have a macro script interface for Star Craft, so I could automate repetitive and predictable tasks; like resource gathering and scouting; not to mention more easily coordinate the actions of a hundred units better. Hot keys help to speed up a mouse and keyboard interface, but it’s almost impossible to really manage a good Cannae style pincer moment clicking a mouse as fast as you can ordering a few units at a time.

But the potential is there. That type of automated strategy is already present in the stock market. You can look at price history of stocks, and where the price changes go from a relatively smooth curve of deliberate human decision changing to the saw tooth up and down of algorithm based trading is really obvious; especially to my friends that engineer industrial controls systems where you see the same phenomena. Computers react faster, and typically more decisively. They trade stocks, run industrial equipment, and keep our power, communications, and financial infrastructure running reliably, by reacting faster and taking in far more information with more precise memory than a human operator. The limit being they don’t yet think, and for the most part automated control systems, typically SCADA based, can only deal with situations they are programed for. Anything weird happens, in a hedge fund or an industrial control circuit; the computer doesn’t think, it defaults to a human operator to make the hard choices. Now when it comes to keeping the lights on and the value of my 401k, I’m glad they are not experimenting with artificial intelligence that can out perform human decision making; the price of mistakes is too high.

But in a game? A video game play tested for over a decade to be arguably the best available real time strategy environment? I though a computer playing Jeopardy was Cool, but the guys at IBM got to have all the fun. Now I have a playground for testing AI. I have a playground for testing Strategy. Best of all, I have a playground for testing AI controlled tactics and strategy. And there is a formal competition where I can compete against my peers. Makes it easy to figure out what theoretical strategic fundamentals are needed, and which aren’t. You can measure, record, replay. All the things you can’t do in the real world that makes after action analysis so much the purview of opinion and guess work as much as fact.

Forces you to formalize the basics


The military strategy community is working on ideas like 4th Generation Warfare, 5th Generation warfare, asymmetric warfare, swarming, and network centric warfare. An exercise like the StarCraft AI Competition forces the participants “back to basics” especially in terms of strategy. They couldn’t just program in tactics and maneuvers. Given the rules of the game, they had to invent decision making and management software to obtain and manage resources; i.e. the had to start with logistics. Then teach software to scout out targets, have a memory and then decide what to invest your resources in, and what resources to use against what targets.

But the point is they had to start from scratch and do everything. Formalize the computer basics of logistics and resource planning into computer algorithms; before the computer could even build an army to maneuver. Strategy doesn’t get more fundamental than that. They can’t ignore anything as details to be handled later by subordinates, there are no givens. Every behavior has to be programmed in, and when they miss something, it was readily apparent in testing as a weakness that was exploited by an opponent.

It gives you a lab to experiment in.

It gives you a laboratory to test your theories against both theoretical AI frameworks, and test against expert human players, to validate or prove the theories wrong. Once you get the fundamentals down, you can still fine tune them, test them hundreds of times quickly to see what the algorithm is missing. And as the AI gets more sophisticated, you can layer and prioritize different techniques and theories in the program, and see what works, and what doesn’t.

The academically built parametric models used for AI research and military defense planning simply are not as sophisticated or refined as the millions of man hours that have gone into StarCraft. This is a far better Sandbox than we’ve ever seen before. Powerful, sophisticated technology that’s already built and very affordable. A Strategy Theoretician’s dream come true. Now I just need to work on my programming skills.

Lessons learned

The UC Team, creators of the Berkley Overmind AI that won the first competition in 2010 has shared it’s experiences in many places online.

The learning experiences from the first competition are note worthy to the larger practice of strategy. Static scripted plans just didn’t work, they were easy to out maneuver or disrupt. Strategies had to be flexible and able to adapt. Creating “agents” or sub processes in the AI to handle different responsibilities and decision making was the next step. They had to create list of responsibilities, an org chart, and division of responsibility. And they each had to be flexible and interactive to respond to the ever changing competitive environment. Just like a modern business or army.

They gave the computer a series of schwerpunkts for different situations, and let the AI decide when to do what based on the current conditions. Just like the practice of letting middle management/ tactical commanders dictate their own tactics to achieve their objectives.

Most of the AI development was spent purely on resource planning and management.

When It came to combat strategy, they were already short on time, so they picked Zerg Mutalisks, a very versatile and affordable air unit to base their entire offense on. They programmed the Mutalisks to fly in groups, and gave them essentially a vector field that pushed them to attack targets, and push away from danger. Using several clever techniques to fine tune the vector field and teach the agent target selection resulted in an expertly executed hit and run cycling swarm that picked off the most dangerous enemies first while avoiding enemy attacks. A level of tactical control I could never pull off with my mouse.

But their offensive strategy was simple. Find the easiest to use weapon available, and figure out of to maximize it’s potential. Simple strategy executed by very refined and simple yet effective tactics. Not really different from Pepsi selling cola or WD40 selling cans of lubricant. Pick something simple and reliable, and just get really good at it. The refinement was done by programming a game that ran multiple iterations of encounters with the vector field at different settings and letting the AI experiment and use metrics to optimize the settings. Trying different settings, measuring results, and applying lessons learned (conceptually close to Six Sigma).

Target selection in the end was a simple matter of predicting return on investment (ROI) – another empirical exercise. If the cost of engaging a target outweighed the benefit, don’t attack. The trick was developing the values of different behaviors; and the trade off between tactical advantage versus strategic outcome. Once developed, the computer automatically analyzes all known targets and engages the targets that have the best strategic effect (as weighted by the values programmed in) while avoiding battles it can’t win until it has more resources to take on harder targets of value. If set up correctly, it will allow the AI to ignore unimportant targets of opportunity (red herrings) in favor of strategic targets. Again, something that is hard to manage when you only have one set of eye keeping track of hundreds of units on the map.

Path Planning. One lingering bug StarCraft has; when left to their own devices, units on the move can get stuck on walls or in corners, especially when traveling long distances. For a human player this is a small annoyance, but for an AI, it meant they had to develop their own agent to plan and control the path and movement of units. Once they had Path Planning, they combined that with the danger avoidance agent, and they could have multiple scouts constantly traveling around the battlefield, with good situational awareness given by crossing lots of terrain, but high survivability from being able to avoid known and suddenly appearing danger.

With that high level of situational awareness, the resource planner is able to adapt resource planning and prioritization based on the behavior and resources of other players. (i.e. If an opponent starts building air power, you need air defense and vice versa.)

And danger aware path planning and high situational awareness also allowed the hit and run swarms to circumvent patrols and penetrate small gaps in defenses and quickly wipe out strategic targets before opponents could respond. This level of awareness is kept in a precise database giving a more exact awareness than the limited attention and memory that forces a Human player to act on memory and instinct.

Purely by following what made sense in programming the AI for the competition; the Berkley Overmind Team developed a network centric swarm that won the competition over other strategies. Which repeats similar research done in the defense community by Rand and others. Makes you wonder if anybody on the Berkley Overmind team was aware of network centric warfare or not. I’d love to ask that question.

A Culture of Innovation

In terms of AI. The first obvious innovation is seen in the results of the competition. Many AI’s were able to utilize and defend against many of the unconventional tactics used in professional play; but also showed unexpected adaptation and decision making to unexpected situations and strategies.

Within the somewhat limited environment of StarCraft, the AI’s had managed to make decisions and successfully solve problems using a mixture of processes and procedures. Businesses would be so lucky to be so effective and efficient in their decision making. Given a clear set of rules and relationships, the computer was able to succeed in surprising ways. Or as one article put it, “Most interesting of all, the contain-harass-expand strategy was a completely emergent behavior.”

Secondly, one of the articles mentioned going forward, after the competition they will be publishing the source codes of the AI’s as part of the proceedings of the conference. The idea being that each year the competitors will be standing on the shoulders of the giants from the previous year; instead of reinventing the wheel every year you get an innovative and escalating arms race. In a few years, I’d expect to see some very sophisticated AI’s simply because each competition is building on the previous year’s work.

My Wish List

Well, first I’d love the chance to play some of these AI’s. In fact if I was one of the teams, I’d be tempted to set up a server that people could connect to and play. While there is a potential counter intelligence concern there, the amount you could learn by looking at replays would really improve your learning curve, especially if you have a learning AI playing a variety of human players.

Second, I’d love to participate in the competition somehow. But given how rusty my limited programming skills are, and how limited my time is already; I doubt I could produce a work product comparable to what dozens of university students can produce over the course of a year. But as an avid Star Craft Player and more importantly Strategy Researcher, I’d happily do pro bono consulting just to get to participate in such a cool experiment.

Ghost Tactics

Combining their hit and run behavior, threat tracking, path planning, and scouting used by Berkley’s Overmind AI gives a wonderful view of the battle space where you put your strengths precisely against the enemies weaknesses. This would make Sun Tzu proud.

It also is a variation of one of my favorites from the Strategy Bag of tricks.

In the book Conventions of War: Dread Empires Fall by Walter Jon Williams, the Author postulates a space navy tactical method co developed by 2 characters; called either the “Martinez Method” or “Ghost Tactics”. Is actually a very similar concept if a little more sophisticated than what the Berkley Overmind used. This is a mathematical technique that applies great for things like Star Craft and Naval Warfare, but more creatively could be applied to other military or even business environments, as always, the trick would be in proper application of the model.

Ghost tactics is similar to the Berkley Overmind overall effect. You track all the known positions of all the units, obstacles, etc. Create a 4D Vector field showing the areas over time of each units weapons effect and ranges, sensor effect and ranges, and use that data to generate a constantly updating Convex Hull (This makes me glad I signed up for that differential geometry elective in college). Simply put, a Convex Hull is a path showing the intersection of two different overlapping data sets (typically represented by vector fields or shapes). The idea is that you create 2 data sets. First an enemy data set showing where and when they are strong and weak. You create the same data set for all of your units.

Giving the 2 data sets knowing where and when all the safe and dangerous places are, relative to each individual unit, changing over time and as new data comes in. You create a convex hull in the computer overlapping all your strong positions with all the enemies weak positions. You prioritize them by the best and worse places to go. The Berkley Overmind basically accomplished this result in real time without resorting to complex geometry.

Now the Author Walter Jon Williams takes it a step further, suggesting you move your forces along that convex hull with a path planning algorithm that uses a chaos based function to maneuver randomly across that convex hull, so the opponent cannot predict where you will be or anticipate your strategy, beyond that you will always have your forces lined up where you have a tactical and strategic advantage. Great for attrition, but I’m not sure how you reconcile unpredictable target selection with high value target selection.

Sounds great in theory. Would be fun to try using a convex hull and chaos theory to make a highly dynamic and unpredictable AI, always wanted to see what that would look like and how well it would hold up in the real world.

Combined Arms

This is likely already on the way. Just like in the real world, the advantages given by using different weapons in a complimentary fashion will likely show up soon in the AI competition. The one I would really like to see is complimentary use of special abilities certain units have. Apparently the Second place team had Terran Workers constantly repairing units in battle, and gave that AI a competitive advantage only really overcome by old fashioned attrition.

OODA Loops

I can hear the skeptical half of the military community groaning already. But there is two applications of OODA that I would love to see in this context.

1 – The 30 second battle plan. Not sure how they do it now, but as detailed in One Bullet Away, by Nathaniel Fick; a decade ago Marine officer training taught officers to make their OODA loops faster. The idea being if you could plan and begin a battle plan, or for that matter change a battle plan in 30 seconds, you could react to a changing battle field faster than the enemy, and eventually out maneuver him. In the AI competition, ironically this would probably result in a programming exercise to optimize and tighten code for the purposes of making decisions and making analysis faster; ideally to be able to react and adapt faster than your opponents.

One possibility would be to code Ghost Tactics to compute the Convex Hull in the Graphics processor; which is specifically designed for differential geometry computation (assuming the competition server has a graphics card installed).

2 – Shock and Awe. I doubt you will demoralize an AI through fast attrition. But if you can hit an AI with different problems very quickly; you should be able to confuse it or slow down it’s decision making, may be even able to get it into decision lock, simply by giving it more problems than it can deal with. Now you’d have to be an expert in AI psychology (i.e. a Programmer) to do this properly. But it should result in some interesting effects if you can figure out how to pull it off.

Well, That’s all I have. The future is coming. If you believe the world is flat (or at least that I’m not the only person who reads outside my industry) I guarantee you people in the Defense industry are already looking to adapt the techniques from the Berkley Overmind into use of drones and C4ISR systems (I would love to use the Berkley Overmind to control say a few dozen Predator Drones on Patrol, you’d need human eyes to verify targets and give attack permission, but still at the very least would be a great way to determine path planning for scout drones, and maybe even to coordinate them on tactical offensive in a large scale conflict). Some aggressive financial types may even be able to translate those algorithms into highly adaptive and competitive day trading software somehow (they already figured out high frequency microsecond trading). When It comes the SCADA, I’ll just say I’m curious what could be done with smart SCADA, I’ve heard of several half baked failures already. But I’m a Post Modernist at heart, have to mix everything together and see what ideas I can adapt from unrelated places. I’m looking forward to seeing more good things come from the Star Craft AI Competition.

Thanks for Reading,

Your humble wishing he had more time to write and do research strategist,

Ted S Galpin

Posted in Games, Military Strategy, Strategy | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

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.




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.


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.


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.


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,

Ted S Galpin

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

The Difference Between Intelligence and Espionage

An out­side the box strate­gic dis­cus­sion by Ted S Galpin

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.

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


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

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 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.


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,

Ted S Galpin

Posted in Competive Intelligence, Geopolitics, Intelligence, Military Strategy, Strategy | 5 Comments

You don’t know Sun Tzu

An out­side the box strate­gic dis­cus­sion by Ted S 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:


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


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,

Ted S Galpin

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

The Problem with Competitive Intelligence

An out side the box strate­gic dis­cus­sion by Ted S 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.

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


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 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,

Ted S Galpin

Posted in Business Strategy, Competive Intelligence, Intelligence, Strategy | 20 Comments

In Afghanistan, there are no coin­ci­dences

In Afghanistan, there are no coin­ci­dences.

An out­side the box strat­egy analy­sis by Ted S 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,

Ted 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.


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

Posted in Business Strategy, Military Strategy, Self Help, Strategy | 8 Comments