Certain to Win
Table of Contents
In May 1940, the Germans attacked virtually the same allied coalition they had attacked a generation earlier. As in 1914, the forces were roughly equal, but this time German weaponry was on the average inferior and there was no chance of achieving surprise. Even so, the Germans won in two weeks. Similarly in the world of business, there are many cases where smaller companies have managed to thrive and gain market share against their larger and better financed competitors. If you ignore the tactics, which must always be different between war and business, you find that the cultures and strategies employed by smaller but scrappier armies are remarkably similar to their commercial counterparts.
Why basing your strategy on what can be measured, proven, and modeled will leave you open to a wilier competitor. This is an insidious threat to modern business, as you can see from the common aphorism, "What gets measured gets done." It is not that more accurate measurement or better models would solve the problem. It is that by the nature of competition, this whole approach cannot succeed.
Agility: now it can mean anything from outsourcing to investing in higher speed networks. To the late American strategist, Colonel John R. Boyd, USAF, it held a specific meaning that was largely mental and cultural in nature. In a famous 8-hour briefing, he marshaled persuasive arguments to show that his meaning had produced winning armies for the last 2,500 years and invincible fighter pilots for the last 70. Since it doesn't depend on hardware or even the type of competition, business can use it as well as the military.
Unlike agility, "strategy" had a looser connotation for Boyd. Military strategy fits between technique & tactics, which are destructive in nature and must be practiced to perfection, and the nebulous concepts of national goals and unifying visions, which are constructive ideals that underlie a country's grand strategy. Boyd offered a solution to this dilemma, based as usual on what has worked from Sun Tzu to Moshe Dayan, and again, it is as applicable to commerce as to war.
An effective instrument is the difference between talking strategy and actually being able to use it. For human organizations, armies as well as companies, this instrument is the culture, and Boyd recommended four elements of a culture that will enable organizations to employ his strategy. Back in the late 1980s, I noticed that the way a few highly successful companies, particularly Toyota, described their cultures could have come right out of Boyd's briefings. This idea intrigued Boyd and eventually led to this book.
Once you understand the strategy and have an effective culture, you're ready to play the game. The game you play usually goes by its Chinese name, cheng/ch'i. Although it has only has two basic moves, it is an ancient game of infinite subtlety that requires the utmost creativity, skill, and initiative from everybody on your team. In war, if you play it well, you can produce ambiguity, deception, surprise, and shock; in business you can create customers of fanatical loyalty. If you learn this game better than any of your competition, you will make yourself, as Sun Tzu promised, certain to win.
The principles described in this book have been worked out in detail in only three areas. In armed conflict, they are known as "maneuver warfare." In manufacturing we find "lean production," essentially the Toyota Production System. In product development, they lead to the esoteric field sometimes known as "set-based concurrent design" as used in in the Toyota Development System. If you don't happen to work in any of these three areas, what do you do? And even if your field is manufacturing or R&D, how do you get started?