Deadly conflict is inevitable when companies compete for the same client. Your team, your alliance, will fight their team, their alliance, for people, places, and things on a battlefield that you may or may not choose. There will be a winner. There will be some losers. With the right strategy, your endgame ends in your victory and their defeat. So goes the ways of strategic games. If you want to win, you need to know Strategy.
Really understanding strategy is a hard problem. One that requires itself a strategy. Amazon list over 200,000 books on strategy. Finding any book is easy. It’s a simple query executed in a text field of a web page. It’s results in a collection of data. Authors, summaries, recommendations. But picking one of them requires a decision. A decision requires analysis, a point of view. Therefore, deciding on book can also be an easy action if the right analysis of the proper data is performed. Learning about Strategy requires Tactics (talk about this later).
This foreplay between strategy and tactics has never been better illustrated than through the works of John Braddock. John was a case officer at the CIA. He developed, recruited and handled sources on weapons proliferation, counter-terrorism and political-military issues. He was a master spy. And as he points out, master spies are master strategists and master tacticians.
Through John’s second book “A Spy’s Guide to Strategy, we learn about strategy through the eyes of a CIA case manager. A master spy. A field operative. John teaches us that Strategy is imagination and reasoning, separate but connected. Strategy is looking forward (imagination) and reasoning backwards.
He shows us how to reason backwards from our endgame through zero-sum games where our battles will take place. We continue backwards through positive-sum games where our alliances are built. Farther backwards into boss-games – inevitable. To win the boss-games, we might have to win the more zero-sum games, more positive-sum games, and maybe more boss-games. A cycle.
Once you reason backwards far enough, you must move forward again by taking action. You turn decisions into actions. Actions into results. John shows how these results lead to yet more strategy. More tactics. This framework is beautiful in its simplicity and applicability to everyday life. Corporate life. Home life.
In the spring of 2017, I watched my company change. A good change. No, a great change. Our leadership shifted course, from systems integration to digital transformation. We had a new end-game, which required a new strategy. We want companies to hire us for their transformation activities. People. We wanted to dominate the North American and European markets. Places. We want them to pay us to do this. Things. As John say, we needed a new strategy for this people, places, and things.
We weren’t alone in this game, we had competitors. Major competitors. Ones with hundreds of thousands of people and even more alliances. They also want the same clients, in the same regions, and their same money. We were heading for conflict. Global conflict. We were going to play a zero-sum game, a game that they had more market share in. A game that if we lost we could be vanquished. We had a problem. A strategic problem, so we reasoned backwards.
We needed new and bigger alliances. Alliances that were formed on solid and unshakable partnerships. These partnerships needed to bring new capabilities that could be used in our future zero-sum battles. So we formed alliances around Artificial Intelligence (AI). We partner with mega technology companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. Behemoths. We also developed specialized alliances with industry leaders for human trafficking, substance use disorder recovery, and financial crimes. Good for flanking. Within our company we reorganized, we played boss-games. We formed new team, which required new leadership, new bosses.
Over the last years, we’ve actioned forward through many competitive zero-sum conflicts using our new AI strategy. We lost some, but we won even more. In loosing and winning, continue to imagine forward, testing our end-game, assessing their end-games. We reason backwards through our alliances, finding new partners and new industries. We make informed decisions, we action forward. The strategic cycle continues.
So, if you are a master strategist, read John’s book to learn how Osama bin Laden used this strategic framework to position himself as the next Khalif of his Caliphate end-game. If you are a master executive, then read this work to help you really understand the dynamics of strategy. If you are both, drop me a note on what that world is like.