The Art of Strategy: Movements
What is strategy? Why do you need it? How do you do it? And, how can you be more certain to succeed? The Art of Strategy provides timeless answers to these eternal questions. It is a modern reading of Sun Tzu’s Art of War using the lenses of strategists John Boyd and Simon Wardley (swardley). (All parts; other reading and viewing formats).
Use the environment to achieve optimal momentum and move in accord with stakeholders.
In ambiguous environments: move along paths where competition is weak or small; avoid strong competition; to succeed, engage only if momentum and climate is advantageous.
In volatile environments: first, avoid change and lure competition into the maelstrom; when engaging with competition, move with the change, avoid going against it.
In inertial environments: move past quickly; if encountering competition, find islands of support.
In stable environments: move based on advantages that the landscape offers and the organization’s capabilities — climatic patterns have limited impact here.
Skilled leadership find advantages in every type of environment.
Climate impacts the environment; consider this and act accordingly.
In ambiguous environments, improve visibility and situational awareness to secure the safety of the organization. Use landscape to secure advantageous momentum.
In volatile environments, climatic patterns are dangerous if being impatient. Avoid moving to positions that climatic patterns can cut off. Leave exploration of volatile environments for competition.
Change creates massive amounts of information; observe and orient carefully to avoid surprises.
When close and quiet, they occupy a natural stronghold.
When far away and challenging to engage, they want us to move as they occupy an advantageous area.
Observe the environment.
Anything that occurs affects everything around it.
The smallest phenomenon completes the picture.
The environment around competition shows their activity.
Scout the environment to know their setup.
Observe comptition’s words and actions.
Humble words and increased preparations indicate imminent advance.
Strong words and aggressive advance indicate imminent retreat.
Apologies indicate respite.
Suggesting a truce without a treaty indicate strategizing.
Setting up equipment indicate deployment.
Speeding to deploy indicate reinforcements on the way.
Half advance, half withdraw indicate a trap.
Observe signs of increasing devastation by deviations from the expected.
Gluttony indicate hunger.
Drunkenness indicate thirst.
Seeing advantages yet avoid advancing indicate fatigue.
Observe signs of disorder in structure and ways of operating.
Shouting at night indicate fear.
Disorder in ways of operating indicate distrust in leadership.
Constant communication and reorganizations indicate chaos.
Angry leadership indicate fatigue.
Misconduct, mistreatment and folding indicate desperation.
Observe leadership’s words, actions and impact.
Whispers and nods in groups indicate loss of trust and unity.
Too frequent positive feedback and rewards indicate distress.
Too frequent negative feedback indicate collapse.
First violent, then fearful indicate loss of spirit
High spirited for a long time, yet avoid engaging, nor leaving indicate unpredictability and is to be carefully investigated.
In strategy, avoid relying on sheer size.
Assess the situation, secure trust and focus momentum to succeed;
that is enough.
Being unprepared and underestimating competition surely means failure.
Giving negative feedback before trust has been established
leads to reluctance which means difficult strategy deployment.
Avoiding giving negative feedback after trust has been established
means strategy deployment is impossible.
Harmonize people in fellowship for certain success.
Consistent communication and training in purpose and doctrine
means harmonized actions, decisions and choices.
Inconsistent communication and training in purpose and doctrine
means incoherent actions, decisions and choices.
Harmonized actions, decisions and choices across the organization brings trust, confidence and success.
Recipe for Generating Confusion and Disorder
Need a fighter that can both lose energy and gain energy more quickly while outturning an adversary. In other words, suggest a fighter that can pick and choose engagement opportunities — yet has fast transient (“buttonhook”) characteristics that can be used to either force an overshoot by an attacker or stay inside a hard turning defender.
Idea of fast transients suggests that, in order to win, we should operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than our adversaries — or, better yet, get inside adversary’s Observation–Orientation–Decision–Action (OODA) time cycle or loop.
Why? Such activity will make us appear ambiguous (unpredictable) thereby generate confusion and disorder among our adversaries — since our adversaries will be unable to generate mental images or pictures that agree with the menacing as well as faster transient rhythm or patterns they are competing against.
- High Speed (supercruise)
- Rapid energy gain and rapid energy loss coupled with high turn rates and low turn radii
- High pitch rates/high roll rates/high yaw rates coupled with ease of control
Patterns for Successful Operations
Move along paths of least resistance (to reinforce and exploit success).
From Wardley Maps.
In a high situational awareness environment … navigation tends to be visual, learning is from context specific play and strategy is based upon position and movement.
In the figure below, I’ve provided a value chain for our online photo service adding in the superfluous term “needs” to emphasize that this is a chain of needs. Obviously, for simplicity, not everything is included e.g. payment.
Value chains on their own are reasonably useless for understanding strategic play in an environment. This is because they lack any form of context on how it is changing i.e. they lack movement.
Evolution is shown as the x-axis and all the components on the map are moving from left to right driven by supply and demand competition. In other words, the map is not static but fluid and as components evolve they become more commodity like.
Movement and its consistency — you can follow this path to go from A to B — are not only essential qualities of a map but they also turn out to be essential for map making. Explorers can’t explore by just sitting still, something has to move (whether it’s them, a drone or a satellite is immaterial). Action is a necessity for exploration.
Maps unfortunately don’t tell you what to do … we have to act. It’s movement which is the key to learning. Without movement, we do not discover, we do not explore, we do not learn and in most cases, we simply die. Maps simply provide a systematic way of learning, of not repeating old mistakes, of applying patterns from one context to another and not blindly marching to your doom along a well trodden path with signs saying “doom, doom, ‘ere be doom”. Of course, you might still decide that this is the best path for you. Maps don’t tell you what to do, they help explain the landscape.
To help you in the process of challenge, I’ve added a cheat sheet below for the characteristics of activities … Where arguments continue to rage then look to see if the component is in fact multiple subcomponents.
Example: Why of Movement, Why Here and Not There
When thinking about strategy, the first thing you need to do is identify where you can attack before why here over there. It’ all about position (y-axis) and movement (x-axis).
There exists two different forms of why in business — the why of purpose (i.e. win the game) and the why of movement (i.e. move this piece over that).The why of movement is what I’m going to concentrate on here but in order to examine this then we must first understand the landscape, orientate ourselves around this and then we can determine where to attack.
Prior to 2005, I had sat in many meetings where options were presented to myself and my executive team and then we made a choice based upon financial arguments, gut feel and concepts of core. We had never used a landscape to help determine where we could attack. This was a first for us and very much a learning exercise. I’ve taken that earliest map from 2005 and highlighted on it the four areas that we considered had potential. There were many others but for the sake of introduction, I thought I’d keep it simple. These four wheres are shown in the figure below.
Where 1 — we had an existing online photo service that was in decline but which we could concentrate on. There existed many other competitors in this space, many of which were either well financed (e.g. Ofoto) or ahead of us in terms of offering (e.g. Flickr). There were also unmet needs that we had found. As a company we had acquired many capabilities and skills, not necessarily in the online photo business as the group developed many different types of systems. We also had an internal conflict with our parent company’s online photo service which we built and operated. Whilst our photo service was open to the public, the parent company’s service was focused on its camera owners and we had to tread a careful game here as our own service was sometimes considered a competitor. We had two external users (our public customers and our parent company) and though not explored in the map above, they had conflicting needs. By meeting the needs of our public consumers in the public site we could diminish the value seen by our parent company in their own version. For example, making it easier for public consumers to upload images from mobile phones did not sit well with a parent company trying to sell cameras.
Where 2 — we had anticipated that a code execution platform would become a utility (what today is called serverless). Remember, this was 2005 and long before systems such as AWS Lambda had appeared. We had ample skills in developing coding platforms but most importantly, we had also learned what not to do through various painful all-encompassing “Death Star” projects. There would be inertia to this change among product vendors that would benefit us in our land grab. To complicate matters many existing product customers would also have inertia and hence we would have to focus on startups though this required marketing to reach them. There was also a potential trade-off here as any platform would ultimately be built on some form of utility infrastructure similar to our own Borg system (a private utility compute environment that we operated providing virtual machines on-demand, based on Xen) and this would reduce our capital investment. Our company had mandates from the parent to remain profitable each and every month and to keep headcount fixed hence I had no room to expand and any investment made would have to come out of existing monthly profit despite the reserves built up in the bank. A platform play offered the potential to reduce the cost of our other systems and increase the speed of development of our other revenue generating projects hence freeing up more valuable time until a point where the platform itself was self-sustaining.
Where 3 — we had anticipated that a utility infrastructure would appear. We had experience of doing this but we lacked any significant investment capability. I was also mindful that in some circles of the parent company we were considered a development shop on the end of a demand pipeline and the parent was heavily engaged with an external hosting company. In this case, the parental company needs (many of which could be described as political) were potentially in conflict with our business needs. Unfortunately I had painted ourselves into this corner with my previous efforts to simply “survive”. If we made this move then in essence many of these problems were no different from the platform space except the agility benefits of platform were considered to be higher. The biggest potential challenge to us would not be from existing product (e.g. server manufacturers) or rental vendors (e.g. hosting companies) but the likes of Google entering the space. This we expected to happen in the near future and we certainly lacked the financial muscle to compete if it did. It seemed more prudent to prepare to exploit any future move they made. However, that said it was an attractive option and worth considering. One fly in the ointment was concerns that had been raised by various members of the team on issues of security and potential misuse of our systems by others. It seemed we would have our own inertia to combat due to our own past success with using products (i.e. servers) and despite the existence of Borg. Fighting multiple forms of inertia and the parent company whilst competing against a likely service from Google seemed a bad deal.
Where 4 — we could instead build something novel and new based upon any utility environments (either infrastructure or platform) that appeared. We understood that using utility systems would reduce our cost of investment i.e. the gamble in the space. However, any novel thing would still be a gamble and we’d be up against many other companies. Fortunately, we were very adept at agile development and we had many crazy ideas we could pursue generated by the regular hack days we ran. It might be a gamble in the dark but not one we should dismiss out of hand. It had the benefit of “just wait and see”, we could continue building and wait for market to launch services we could exploit. Alas, I’m not the sort of person who wants to sit back and watch others create the field before I exploit it.
Looking at the map, we had four clear “wheres” we could attack. We could discuss the map, the pros and cons of each move in a manner which wasn’t just “does this have an ROI and is it core?” Instead we were using the landscape to help us anticipate opportunity and points of attack. I suddenly felt our strategy was becoming more meaningful than just gut feel and copying memes from others. We were thinking about position and movement.
The Art of Strategy: All Parts
- Assessments: How to assess, prepare and shape
- Challenges: How to use and reduce inertia, entropy and friction
- Success: How to succeed together with stakeholders
- Setup: How to create resilience
- Momentum: How to use creativity focus and timing
- Shaping: How to shape and avoid being shaped
- Engagement: How to engage using surprise
- Adaptations: How to adapt to shifting situations
- Movements: How to move to optimize momentum
- Landscape: How to approach difficult areas
- Situations: How to handle difficult situations
- Disruption: How to disrupt and avoid being disrupted
- Intelligence: How to use intelligence to create foreknowledge