In 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released The Wizard of Oz. Towards the end of the film the protagonists finally arrive at their desired location, in order to meet the great Wizard of Oz. Confronted with the ominous presence of the great wizard, Toto the tiny dog casually makes his way over to a concealed curtain in the corner. Next, he slowly pulls aside the curtain, revealing an old erratic man frantically pulling levers, and twisting dials whilst yelling into a microphone. And thus, the Great Wizard of Oz was revealed in his true form, warts and all.

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This is a great analogy for the emergence of data in the corporate and commercial worlds. In 2006 Clive Humby coined the phrase ‘data is the new oil,’ and the growth of Google, Amazon, and Facebook (to name a few) are all testament to the lures associated with this largely misunderstood resource.

The temptation for many organisations is to ‘collect data’ and present it on sexy dashboards with various graphs, presentations, and tables. This is often done in response to:

  • First sight of a competitor’s capabilities and the urge to create a similar capability because it must be what is serving them well.
  • The need to look busy or proactive
  • The desire to feel informed in order to better understand
  • Supporting decision-making

The creation of these tools is expensive, distracting, and without focus and prioritisation can be dangerous rabbit holes in which to get lost in.

In 1978 The Hitchhikers Guide to Galaxy was released by Douglas Adams, originally presented as a radio comedy broadcast on BBC4. A comical scene exists whereby an alien race develops a supercomputer called ‘Deep-thought’ in order to answer the ambiguous questions to ‘the great question – of life the universe and everything’. After 7.5 million years of processing time, it comes back with the disappointing answer of ’Forty-Two’.

Deep-thought goes on to explain,

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“I think that the problem is that you have never really known what the question is…You have to know what the question actually is, in order to know what the answer means”

So herein lies the problem. So many organisations are frantically collecting as much data as they can without any coherent understanding as to why, or for what purpose.

THE IMPORTANCE OF STRATEGY

Strategy should underpin everything that we do with our teams. The link between operational efforts and our strategy direction should be strong, coherent, and measurable.

As a minimum our organisational strategies should include:

  • Vision – Where we are heading
  • Mission – Why we do what we do and how do we know when we have got there.
  • Scope or Services – How we do it
  • Objectives & goals – The nuts and bolts of how we will grow our influence, value to others, and our teams. Also, how we intend to measure it.

Our organisational strategies need to deeply influence our decision-making. Data serves the purpose of reinforcing decision making by:

  • Creating faster decision loops
  • Distinguishing between different courses of action
  • Disproving assumptions and turning them into facts
  • Measuring the success and validity of our objectives and goals
  • Sensing where emerging opportunities are presenting themselves
  • Linking with our understanding of risks and opportunities

But in order to achieve all this, data must be used as a surgical weapon, not a blunderbuss/shotgun approach. Failure to do so will only cause more problems than you had originally.

POOR DATA COLLECTION

Data is not the silver bullet people often choose to rest their projects and careers on. Any statistician worth their salt will describe how information can be manipulated to tell the desired story. Moreover poor or lazy collection of information will lead to terribly unreliable outcomes. For example:

  1. Size of the pool. If the pool of information is too small, it will not provide an accurate depiction in which to make reliable deductions as it is not representative of the demographics or groups you are seeking information from.
  2. Length of the analysis. If you are capturing information from a very small period of time, then it is likely affected by environment and external influences which will lead to a false reading. If you ever need an example of this, refer to those people that follow the stock market every few minutes, but have committed to a longer-term strategy. The fluctuations do not tell an accurate story of the growth or decline of a particular group of shares.
  3. Scope of the study. When the scope of the study, or the question you are trying to answer is poorly defined, you are likely to collect data that doesn’t serve a purpose. Refer to ‘Depp-Thought.’
  4. Methods of collection. There are countless different mechanisms of collecting data and then analysing it. If the wrong method is chosen, then it will significantly distort the results. There are professions that specialise in data collection for a reason. They use different tools to achieve different things!
  5. Reliability of the sources. If the information is pooled from dubious sources then the validity of the findings will be questioned later. It is very much a case of ‘crap in, crap out.’

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

Before diving into data-collection we must know why we are committing to it.

The questions must be geared towards answering an overarching concern or opportunity and should directly link to our project scope or organisational strategy.

The questions must be geared towards refining and tightening the scope of the collection in order to narrow the ambiguity of the project.

To get started you could ask:

  • What information do I need to collect, in order to answer what question?
  • What decisions need to be made? What information is required to help make that decision?
  • What information do we not need to collect? What don’t we need to collect?
  • How much information do we need in order to answer the question? When can we stop and make the decision?
  • Does this information perform an important function, or is just creating white noise? (hint: link to decision making).
  • Can I further tighten the filters and variables in order to target a specific question?

HUMAN BEHAVIOUR

The list of human shortfalls that affect data are too lengthy to mention. But here are two very important ones that are often overlooked, bias and subjectivity…

Bias

Bias comes in all different forms including everything from ‘confirmation bias’ where we actively look for information that confirms our original hypothesis or stance, through to ‘selection bias’ when data is selected subjectively, and everything in between.

Needless to say, that our own personal biases completely undermine our ‘objectivity’ if not cross referenced against other sources or mechanisms.

Examples of this occurring include (source: Cmotions):

·      Poorly articulated questions in questionnaires

·      Choosing people from a demographic that will support our claim or stance

·      Breaking people into poorly defined or irrelevant groupings

·      Measuring things incorrectly

·      Non-random selections

Subjectivity

Everyone is experiencing the world in very different ways. Moreover, the way we feel at a certain time can have significant implications on the way that we collect information, engage with participants, and interpret information.

If you want accurate and useful data you need:

·      A plan (the right tool for the right job)

·      Structure (sequencing and staging)

·      Objectivity (multiple sources of data, and quality checking collector’s activities)

·      Quality assurance

·      Professionalism and Discipline (stick the plan and don’t jump to assumptions)

If you do not have these things as a minimum, your efforts are likely in vain, and you are likely wasting everyone’s time.

CONCLUSION

Data is a new fad.

It sounds cool, but most of the time it doesn’t mean anything or serve any purpose because we don’t give it the respect or attention it deserves.

If you are collecting data without knowing why. Stop. Reassess. Fix it.

I would suggest that if you are looking for data that prove to yourself that you are doing great work then you are likely using it for the wrong reason.

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I recently posted a number of content pieces that explained ‘The Principles Of War’, a set of broad and overarching guidelines that acted as a filtering system for the operational and strategic efforts we conducted within the Military. In response to these posts many asked me to collate the information in a central source so that they might apply more reasonably to their businesses and teams.

There is no point in providing a set of principles, guidelines or considerations unless we build a context behind them that establishes relevance.  This is my shot at doing that for the Principles of War in a corporate context.

The Principles of War are a set of guiding principles that act as considerations for military planning and strategy.  It has become apparent that there is some utility in using them in the corporate environment.  In this article, we look at the analysis and interpretation of the principles with that concept in mind.

Simply put, the principles exist to help frame ‘how’ to think and not ‘what’ to think.  This means that we are free to explore whatever is needed to solve the problem.  However, we must be careful to balance our priorities and resources to enable the best possible outcome.

These are the principles in order but not in importance.  Each plan or initiative will see a different prioritisation of each of these principles in order to achieve a different effects or outcome.

  1. The selection and maintenance of the aim
  2. Concentration of force
  3. Cooperation
  4. Economy of effort
  5. Security
  6. Offensive action
  7. Surprise
  8. Flexibility
  9. Sustainment
  10. Maintenance of morale

The situation will see each principle being utilised differently and should be weighted depending on the circumstances, what needs to be achieved and the priorities set out by the planner.  As an example, when developing a concept for client focused service (aim) we may need to bring in another organisation to cover an identified need (cooperation) which we could only build ourselves at a much higher cost (economy of effort).  This joint venture may necessitate an exchange of restricted information (security) to ensure the team is established, trust is built, and we can be demonstrating our ability to adjust to our client’s needs (flexibility/aim).

For this scenario, the client focused service has primacy.  It may look something like this.

Note – ‘the doctrine’ comments are excerpts from Land Warfare Doctrine 1 – The Fundamentals of Land Power 2014 – The Principles of War

THE SELECTION AND MAINTENANCE OF THE AIM

The doctrine – Once the aim has been decided, all effort must continually be directed towards its attainment so long as this is possible, and every plan or action must be tested by its bearing on the aim.

“ Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future ” – Walt Disney

In broad terms, it means to keep the object/ end in mind at every level of the operation. The creation of the aim (end state/ outcome) takes time, energy, and some serious thought. This is true for military and corporate action.

When selecting and maintaining the aim:

  1. Ensure it aligns with your values
  2. Communicate it simply and effectively to those involved
  3. Reinforce the aim at all levels
  4. Resist the urge to ad hoc stray from the aim
  5. Maintain open lines of communication with key stakeholders
  6. Test any changes against its impact on the overall aim
  7. Bring subject matter experts in for objectivity

Know where you are heading before you start. It allows you and your team to align to a common outcome and make decisions as well as maintain momentum in your absence. From CEO to a jobseeker, selecting and maintaining your aim provides the purpose to make sound decisions.

CONCENTRATION OF FORCE

The doctrine – Concentration of force is the ability to apply decisive military force at the right place, at the right time and in such a way as to achieve a decisive result.

“ The talent of the strategist is to identify the decisive point and to concentrate everything on it, removing forces from secondary fronts and ignoring lesser objectives. ” – Carl von Clausewitz

To be successful we need to be able to concentrate our capabilities, at the appropriate time and place, to achieve success. This means knowing what we have, what it can do and where it is going to have the most impact.  Then doing it.  This principle is about be deliberate and even more so, decisive.

In a corporate context this would mean:

  1. Having the funding to support a new project or capitalise on an opportunity
  2. Aligning staff, capital and messaging at a key point to achieve and outcome
  3. Defining areas that are irrelevant for expenditure
  4. Having a surge capability to reinforce success
  5. Knowing the strategy and communicating key locations and times for action
  6. Making decisions within the time to be effective
  7. Building alignment, momentum and energy to decisive points in the plan

We cannot spend everything on anything.  Prioritise those actions that will have the highest impact and align to the strategy.  Then build up the required resources, staff and capital to seize an opportunity.  This is a deliberate and defined process.

COOPERATION

The doctrine – Cooperation within joint combined arms interagency teams, allies and coalition partners is vital for success. Only in this way can the resources and energies of each be harnessed so as to achieve success.

” It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed. ” – Charles Darwin

Vital to success is the ability to bring together multiple agencies to achieve an overall effect.  What this means in a practical sense is to build teams that cover each other’s gaps.  We cannot know or be great at everything, so we join forces with others to create something better than our own individual capability.

What cooperation looks like:

  1. Admitting that you are not strong in an area
  2. Aligning with a team that is
  3. Leaving your ego at the door and being prepared to be led depending on the priority
  4. Acknowledging a greater purpose
  5. Sharing information freely and in a timely fashion
  6. Synchronising the efforts in space, time, and priority to create the best impact
  7. Putting the team needs first
  8. Protecting each other and representing them in areas where they don’t represent themselves

Combining efforts takes a great deal of trust, authenticity, and respect.  It may be for a short period or an enduring strategic partnership.  The vulnerabilities of your joined team must be protected at all costs.

ECONOMY OF EFFORT

The doctrine – Economy of effort is the prudent allocation and application of resources to achieve the desired results.

“ The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency. ” – Bill Gates

Economy of effort.  This principle deals with ‘playing smart’ and making the full use of available resources. It is in this space that we create a balance in priorities and what we can realistically achieve and sustain.  Appropriate allocation must be nested with the strategy as they are finite.  Priority allocation must go to the main effort that and supporting efforts will be created to enable it.

In a corporate setting this might look like:

  1. Priority resourcing to finding new opportunities
  2. Supporting effort in retaining and consolidated current projects
  3. Reserve resources segregated for identified contingencies

A changing environment requires adaptability and if the main effort/ supporting efforts evolve then the priority of resourcing will change.  At all times maintaining your economy of effort must be nested with the other principles like sustainment.  Appropriate allocation of effort can mean the difference between success and failure.

SECURITY

The doctrine – Security is concerned with measures taken by a command to protect itself from espionage, sabotage, subversion, observation, or surprise. It is of basic concern during any campaign or operation. Security is required to operate effectively with minimal interference from the enemy.

“ Protection and security are only valuable if they do not cramp life excessively. ” – Carl Jung

To be able to continue to operate and/ or obtain opportunities we must first ensure that our own capabilities are as secure as required by the strategy.  Now in times of need, sacrificing security for speed may be that strategy but it must be a planned, deliberate, and precise decision.  Offensive strategies can also be a method of security as we stay mobile, maintain momentum and aren’t targetable.

In a corporate context, this could mean:

  1. Securing your information, strategies and plans from your competitors
  2. Ensuring you have consolidated resources to mitigate uncertainties
  3. Future proof your employee relevance by developing them
  4. Maintain quick and deliberate decision-making cycles to stay ahead of the competition
  5. Securing financial viability by maintaining cashflow
  6. Diversifying to create redundancy to secure operational viability
  7. Mitigating priority risks to reduce critical events

Security of our businesses in physical, financial, strategic, operational and resource-based decisions is important to enable us to operate effectively with minimal disturbance.  This principle allows us to analyse risk and mitigate it before crisis occurs.

OFFENSIVE ACTION

The doctrine – Military forces take offensive action to gain and retain the initiative. This has often taken the form of building momentum and fueling it to snowball the opposition. In most circumstances, such action is essential to the achievement of victory.

“ A little deed done very well is better than a mighty plan kept on paper, undone. Wishes don’t change the world; it’s actions that do this business! ” – Israelmore Ayivor

We need an offensive action (read, a bias for action in this case) to either regain or maintain initiative, or in a corporate context; maintain your competitive advantage, be first to market, launch on a project or create and seize opportunities.  This action must be deliberate and decisive and must be driven towards achieving the established aim.

To effectively implement offensive actions, we should:

  1. Empower people who have a bias for action (as long the strategy supports it)
  2. Consolidate and make use of adequate resources
  3. Ensure the action is sustainable to the end
  4. Be linked to other key stakeholders to support
  5. Use an element of surprise
  6. Make effective use of available resources
  7. Be deliberate and decisive
  8. Be oriented towards the overarching aim or strategy
  9. Be balanced with security of our own capabilities

In a military context this may necessitate combat however, it can also be the use of information actions and achieving influence as well.  Overall, it is important to understand the importance of having a bias for action as it creates momentum, speed in decision making and advantage over your competitors.  This bias will ultimately allow you to create opportunities not just be reactive to them.

SURPRISE

The doctrine – Surprise can produce results out of all proportion to the effort expended and is closely related to security.

“ In conflict, straightforward actions generally lead to engagement, surprising actions generally lead to victory ” – Sun Tzu

In a military term this might require deception or simply being able to disperse and concentrate rapidly, concealing your activity, appearing weak when you are strong etc.  The idea is to be where you are unexpected or where you are expected at a time when you are not, in forces that weren’t planned for.  In a corporate context, this may mean the release of a new strategy, software, market entry, product release in a time and manner that is not expected so that your competitors can’t mimic or get the inside track.

To achieve successful surprise:

  1. Be where you are not expected to be
  2. Appear vulnerable when you are in fact strong
  3. Appear strong when you are weak
  4. Approach markets from different methods
  5. Create strong allies who enable you to scale and disperse rapidly
  6. Know your environment in detail
  7. Understand the importance of timing
  8. Have a strategy and a plan
  9. Show the minimum amount of activity in an area people are expecting so that they don’t know what your actual aim is. It is called a feint.
  10. Be adaptable and ready to respond to your changing environment

This list is ultimately endless but, in a nutshell, utilising surprise not only keeps you and your team excited about new plans, it also enables you to capitalise on opportunities before others know you are even looking at them.

FLEXIBILITY

The doctrine – Flexibility is the capacity to adapt plans to take account of unforeseen circumstances to ensure success in the face of friction, unexpected resistance, or setbacks, or to capitalise on unexpected opportunities.

“ It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change. ”  – Charles Darwin

This is your ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment (your AQ).  I would also include your resilience to setbacks, ability to deal with friction, chaos and complexity and to make decisions in uncertainty.  The aim of flexibility is to maintain dynamic decision making across multiple lines of operation and still be synchronised.

To build flexibility:

  1. Identify and communicate the overall aim
  2. Understand your environment
  3. Build a redundancy or reserve of resources
  4. Empower decision making at the lowest level
  5. Simplify communication
  6. Provide realistic and relevant boundaries
  7. Create an environment of innovation
  8. Absorb risk, friction and anxiety for your team

Giving your team and organisation the confidence and capability to accept risk and seize opportunities is a deliberate process.  As leaders we have a responsibility to create the environment and set the conditions for success.  Build and train your teams to be able to understand intent and feel confident to take risks knowing that you have their backs.  Ultimately, gaps and opportunities will be found by them.  If they feel confident and capable, you will be able to pivot early and often.

SUSTAINMENT

The doctrine – Sustainment refers to the support arrangements necessary to implement strategies and operational plans.

“ You won’t find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns, and even wars have been won or lost primarily because of logistics ”  – General Dwight. D. Eisenhower

The new executive with the grand ideas will often forget about the sustainability of a project or strategy.  Logistics and sustainability don’t just happen and can underpin an entire campaign.

Deliberate planning of time and resources for both offensive and defensive strategies should be a priority if you want an enduring impact.  The sustainability or logistical elements of are also those things that are easily targetable by a competitor who can bring more support to the game.

To be sustainable we must:

  1. Accurately plan the requirements of our missions
  2. Have a redundancy
  3. Identify the needs and requirements of our teams
  4. Be prepared to do more with less (should not be the ‘go to’ move)
  5. Be creative and use initiative
  6. Allocate resources to those areas with the greatest impact
  7. Prioritise resources (especially time and energy)
  8. Have a strategy and a plan

Sustainability of our initiatives is the life blood of enduring impact.  In change management, fatigue and obstruction are the result.  In projects, loss of capability occurs or a failure to meet scope.

Be clinical and decisive in your application of resources.

MAINTENANCE OF MORALE

The doctrine – Morale is an essential element of combat power. High morale engenders courage, energy, cohesion, endurance, steadfastness, determination and a bold, offensive spirit.

“ An army’s effectiveness depends on its size, training, experience, and morale, and morale is worth more than any of the other factors combined. ” – Napoleon Bonaparte

For those that know and understand the power of good morale, it is understood that this can be the power that turns the tide and make the unachievable…achievable.

Teams with high morale based on being highly trained, determined people with a shared value set, cohesion and trust will outperform even the best ‘qualified’ teams (on paper) with low morale. This is the secret force multiplier that changes the game.

Morale is built on:

  1. Trust
  2. Shared experience
  3. Open communication
  4. Success (short/long term) and performance
  5. Influential leadership (at all levels)
  6. A shared purpose and identity
  7. Commitment and conviction to succeed
  8. A genuine and authentic care for each other and the team
  9. Culture and a feeling of belonging
  10. A willingness to put the team above yourself

If you have worked in a team with high morale, you will understand the power and addictive nature of it. You feel indestructible and associate the impossible as the possible. However, it takes work and commitment to being a part of something bigger than yourself.

SUMMARY

The principles of war have been developed over the years as a set of factors and considerations for successful planning and implementation of strategy.

Depending on the environment, the adversary, experience, available time and any other amount of identifiable conditions will determine what weight is applied to each principle. We cannot achieve every principle perfectly every time. Sometimes we may have to sacrifice one to achieve another as a priority of circumstance. That means that careful consideration and analysis must be applied to each strategy and plan. The consideration itself will lead to a better plan than had it not been done at all.

Ultimately, having a set of principles that can help aid in planning and decision making helps you to create better outcomes.  The principles of war are one such set.

I recently saw an amazing post by Ian Mathews which prompted me to write this article.

Before becoming a Management Consultant, I was an Infantry Army Officer within the Australian Army.

My early years within the Army were founded in an education into military strategy and tactics. Many veterans would have experienced this for themselves. I can say with absolute confidence, that the lessons I learnt during this time have significantly shaped the way I perceive the world, most notably those interactions between organisations in highly competitive markets. This is not to say that organisations cannot co-exist, cooperate, or operate with an abundance mindset, but it is to recognise the fact that the actions of one organisation can directly impact the operational effectiveness of another. And, if we agree that the interactions between organisations, coupled with unique approaches to market ultimately decide our own team’s fate, then I feel it is something worth learning about.

During my first four years in the Army, a number of fundamental lessons were taught regarding the different types of warfare and strategic approaches. These lessons were further investigated throughout my career and were regularly cross-referenced against our operational efforts at the time.

History has shown that the differences in strategic approach inevitably decide the outcomes of almost every major military and international effort. My observations accrued from working inside the commercial and corporate world as a relative outsider have shown me that there is a reluctance to change strategy or consider different approaches often at the long-term detriment of the organisation. Furthermore, there is often a lack of willingness to learn new more simplistic methods of operation or approach. Conversely, those organisations that are willing to consider different perspectives and approaches often leave their competitors in their wake as they seemingly glide their way to success. The most damning situation of all is the vast number of organisations that aren’t operating with any strategy at all…

For the companies that are doing well, the reason they seem to glide so effortlessly towards their goals is because they are able to answer one fundamental question:

“How can we best use our precious resources in order to achieve the strategic outcomes we seek?”

With this said, I want to take the opportunity to introduce a number of different military methodologies and in turn demonstrate their utility in a corporate and commercial context.

ATTRITION WARFARE

“Attrition warfare is a military strategy consisting of belligerent attempts to win a war by wearing down the enemy to the point of collapse through continuous losses in personnel and material. The war will usually be won by the side with greater resources (Military-SF, 2007). The word attrition comes from the Latin root ‘atterere’, meaning to rub against, similar to the “grinding down” of the opponent’s forces in attrition warfare (Merriam Webster Dictionary).”

World War 1 and many sections of World War 2 were prime examples of attrition warfare. During these campaigns, an enemy would simply try and saturate an enemy force by bringing as much force to bear on them as possible until their systems and team’s collapse. Attrition warfare unequivocally favours the larger force and requires less imagination and agility in order to conduct. The resource cost is immense but if conducted in the right context (with the right force offset) can result in decisive victory, whereby an opposing force can be completely incapacitated in one location and in one event. There is a catch though, when a decisive victory is not achieved it results in prolonged wars that can extend for years with organisation’s ‘digging in’ and are incredibly difficult to dislodge.

In the commercial and corporate context attrition takes the form of monopolised businesses that are so massive and occupy so much of the market, there is no practical way for smaller organisations to try and compete with them by using direct or overt methods. Examples would include (but are not limited to):

  • Certain types of paid advertising
  • Sponsorship of events
  • Undertaking certain types of legal action
  • Poaching high-end staff by way of salary incentives

Attrition as a practical commercial strategy is almost solely limited to those incredibly large organisations with huge resources on hand. The very same organisations that advertise during the Super Bowl as an example.

MANOEUVRE WARFARE

Manoeuvre Warfare refers to a strategy aimed at unbalancing, unhinging, or outmanoeuvring an enemy. It was developed in response to emerging middle-sized conventional armies that were adamant in avoiding the huge losses associated with attrition warfare. It pays particular attention to identifying and defining the root purpose of a campaign and finding different ways to achieve the same aim. It is commonly referred to as targeting an enemy’s ‘Centre of Gravity’, which is loosely defined as that ‘thing’ that gives them the will or the ability to fight.

 

History has seen different militaries use Manoeuvre Warfare in different ways. Some armies have made use of:

  •  Physical Dislocation. Geared at removing the key assets or logistics that enable them to operate.
  •  Temporal Dislocation. Being faster to move than the enemy, particularly in achieving important terrain, milestones, or assets ahead of time.
  •  Moral Dislocation. Attacking the enemy’s will to win, or fight. This often includes a significant effort to get into the minds of the key decision-makers and shape their decisions.

Each of these different methods may be run simultaneously, and all of them have emphasis placed on surprise and making faster decisions than their competitors.

In the commercial and corporate context, we see manoeuvre characteristics in those organisations that are adept in prioritisation and channelling their efforts towards those outcomes that will have a disproportionate impact in support of their strategy. These organisations know their strengths and weaknesses and magnify their results exponentially by focusing their precious resources towards 2 or 3 outcomes. Manoeuvre in this sense allows organisations to start capturing market share from bigger competitors, and the market share they capture will be more tailored towards where they can have the highest impact.

GUERRILLA WARFARE

“Guerrilla warfare is a form of irregular warfare in which small groups of combatants, such as paramilitary personnel, armed civilians, or irregulars, use military tactics including ambushes, sabotage, raids, petty warfare, hit-and-run tactics, and mobility, to fight a larger and less-mobile traditional military (Wiki).”

The concept of Guerrilla style tactics was heavily publicised in the works of Sun Tzu who suggested that a much smaller force could win against a much larger competitor if it made absolute use of all its available resources and was able to move faster before they could respond properly.

 

Guerrilla warfare is based on an idea that smaller teams can create significant issues for their enemies providing they stay under the ‘detection threshold’. They almost always have significantly sparse resources and they rely heavily on the use of supporters, partners, and sympathisers. Their support networks are often incredibly loyal and ideologically linked with their fighting purpose.

In the corporate or commercial context, it means that smaller more agile organisations can achieve huge proportionate impacts providing they are willing to remain agile, dynamic and are able to incentivise people behind their cause. It also means that smaller boutique agencies can provide highly tailored services to organisations who are not keen on paying premium prices.

In many ways, this has been one of the founding success features of The Eighth Mile Consulting as we endeavour to support areas of the market that are not detected by the larger players in the industry. This in turn with our support from partner organisations has meant that we can seize opportunities quickly, provide valuable services and maintain our loyal support network (providing we continue to give value regularly). With this as context our organisational values and ethos make sense:

  • Service – Client tailored service delivery
  • Initiative – Find a need, fill a need
  • Integrity – We do what we promise
  • Accountability – Actively seek responsibility

CONCLUSION

I have not even scratched the surface on the intricacies associated with each of these strategies or the myriad of other strategies available, but I am sure we can agree that there is a utility in their application within a corporate and commercial context.

Now it might seem counter-intuitive to suggest that these strategies do not always have to be adopted in an overtly aggressive manner against others. The more astute readers will recognise that in the corporate and commercial context that these strategies often speak more to how we operate our own teams and strategies and are less geared towards destroying your competitors. I firmly believe in the concept of an abundance mindset, but I also acknowledge that the actions of one organisation can have far-reaching implications on our own. So, this being said I would suggest that understanding of these strategies:

  • Helps us prioritise our efforts towards the effect we are seeking to achieve.
  • Reduces our scope of operations towards those things that will provide the most significant impact and effect.
  • Encourages us to recognise our strengths and weaknesses, and therefore assist us in finding our relevance.
  • Promote early adoption of detecting those routes that will provide the paths of least resistance.
  • Incentivise us to think outside the box instead of always reinventing the wheel.

‘The enemy’ in the corporate or commercial context might not be your competitors, but it might be your environment and its ever-changing conditions.

If we look at it from this angle, we open the door to huge opportunities to reinvent our brands, define our team’s purpose, and provide an enduring legacy.

For those interested in developing unique business strategies please feel free to reach out and discuss with me or my team. 

For other articles and daily posts please follow David Neal and  Jonathan Clark.

 

One of the most distinctive memories from my early days within the Army was one of my respected Sergeants suddenly and abruptly correcting one of my trainee peers.

My mate had mentioned the unmentionable…

We were discussing what we should do if we encounter an enemy that was larger or more dangerous than we had originally predicted, and someone mentioned the word ‘retreat’. The response from my sergeant was immediate, ‘Australians DO NOT retreat!’. He went on to explain that we might withdraw in the interest of finding a terrain that was more conducive and favourable for us, but we do not retreat.

This is a statement that has stuck with me since that time. It speaks of the importance of always moving forward and regaining the initiative. Of remaining focused and deliberate in everything we do. It accepts that at times we might have to take a step back, but this should only be done to regain our footing in which to be able to take more steps moving forward. Over the years this phrase has spread its utility into most aspects of my life such as:

The Importance of Strategy

But here is the catch, it is predisposed on an assumption that we know what direction we should be heading. What point is there moving forward if it is entirely the wrong direction?

This is why having a strategy is so incredibly important. A strategy is a framework which sanity tests our decisions in short time, in order to allow us to stay focused on heading in the right cardinal direction. I have seen so many people get this wrong at their detriment.

We need to ask ourselves does our strategy (personal or professional):

  • Detail what we are seeking to achieve (Mission)?
  • Explain what it looks like when we achieve it (Vision)?
  • Include a sequence of how we might actually transit there (Goals, pillars, objectives, measures of success)?
  • Contain an acknowledgement of what we are willing to invest (or give up) in order to achieve it (resource allocations)?

It is an area that is too often paid lip service, but it is this defining feature that separates good teams from the absolute best.

A strategy allows a team to make quicker decisions, allocate precious resources towards those efforts with the highest impact and effect, as well ignore those shiny distractions which enticingly seduce people off of the centre line of their success.

Stopping the rot

‘Moving forward’ all the time is extremely difficult. It requires consistency, dedication and focus. Traits that can be increasingly hard to come by these days.

Our world is full of ever-increasing distractions and information that act as ‘white noise’ to our concentration. This white noise can incrementally increase for some people to the point where it becomes debilitating to their decision-making abilities. Some teams can become so confused by the pressures associated with these distractions that they reactively overcompensate by creating more and more high priorities. Leaders become withdrawn as the idea of moving forward appears less and less tenable.

For these teams, a ‘circuit breaker’ is required. Something that can stop the spiralling confusion and provide some level of clarity. This often requires a combination of the following:

  1. Strong leaders & managers with clear roles and responsibilities. Kotter once described the distinction between Leadership and Management, explaining that leaders coordinate ‘change’ and managers coordinate ‘complexity’. I particularly like this description as it is a simple reference for teams to make in order to refocus and distribute their team’s efforts. It is a common observation that the teams that are drowning have not clearly identified the distinction in roles and responsibilities between key roles. Everyone is trying to do everything, and no one is doing it well.
  2. Objectivity. Sometimes people are so saturated in their problems that they cannot see the overall context. They are literally living minute by minute and the idea of popping their head about the parapet in order to refocus their direction is unimaginable. This is where objectivity is so key. A third set of eyes, from someone who is not so absorbed in the problem, can be invaluable in asking the right questions and assisting in resetting the focus.
  3. Horsepower. Some teams are under-resourced and under-supported – plain and simple. These teams have often been heading in the right direction but just do not have the horsepower or workforce to get their project over the line. They have been doing ‘more with less’ for so long that they have reached culmination, and they just need reinforcement. Jonathan Clark once said to me, ‘sometimes you don’t need more people standing around the hole telling you how to dig better, you just need them to jump in and help dig’.
  4. Prioritisation. It is common to see teams that have a massive list of ‘what to do’ they have forgotten to detail what they ‘do not need to do’. The list of what is not required is often more important than what need to do. It stops people being lured down the enticing trip falls we eluded to earlier…

Some of the readers might resonate with some of these observations. If you have, I would love to hear your comments, case studies, and ideas.

The Eighth Mile Consulting team has founded a reputation for helping teams navigate through this confusion. There is an amazing feeling of elation as a team steps over the line of success when things months prior looked dire and unachievable.

For those slugging their way through problems at this very time, remember:

  • We don’t retreat, we withdraw to more favourable conditions
  • We ensure the actions we are doing are working to an overarching strategy or design.
  • We don’t give up, but we do adapt our approach

 

 

Our clients buy in mysterious ways. This is because they buy on emotions and rationalise post-purchase. With this in mind, how can you ensure you position your brand better and develop a key message that stands out from the rest?

In this 50-minute workshop, we discuss with Dan Rowell from DSR Branding how to deliver a clear, unique and memorable message.

Topics We Discussed In this workshop

  1. Finding your point of difference 
  2. Balancing the risk between subtle and overt strategies
  3. The greatest value for money in marketing 
  4. Where to invest your marketing budget 

Developing your message 

Strategy development is fundamental to creating and running a successful campaign for your organisation. What are the values you stand for? What is it that your audience really wants to hear? The Eighth Mile Consulting can help you build a strategic outlook and communication plan to deliver your business and client outcomes.

Dan shared some awesome insights for those feeling a little lost in the marketing space. He recommended the A Brand New World Podcast and left us with the AIDA model to keep in mind when building content: Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. Here are some questions to help you find the right track. What constraints are your working with? How are you delivering a credible and trustworthy message? Are you giving your marketing ideas the overnight test? 

For more helpful videos to help you grow your people and your organisation subscribe to our YouTube channel.

What is your favourite tag line? Let us know in the comments below!

John Kiriakakis from The Eighth Mile Consulting asks Anand Tamboli what we need to consider before implementing Artificial Intelligence within a business.

There are a number of areas within operating expenses for a business where cost reductions can be found with the implementation of these new technologies. We touch on some of these expenses that may raise questions for your own strategy development.

Some of the myths surrounding AI that we cover

  1. It is too expensive
  2. There is too much complexity involved
  3. You will attract a bad reputation for automating
  4. Automating will solve all of your problems

We also break down the levels of AI and provide case studies on what this may look like in your business from

  1. Data-driven decision making 
  2. Shared roles between bots and humans
  3. Complete automation of functions 

In this video, we explain how implementing AI within your business can increase your efficiency, giving your employees more time to deliver higher quality and improve your overall client experience.

With all of this in mind, what are the next steps?

Before you begin the implementation phase of your AI project, consider these points;

  1. Look for the small wins
  2. Pick a clear outcome
  3. Do not get stuck in a money drain
  4. Set defined boundaries for the project
  5. Find a low risk, low cost, stepping stone to use as a sample test

Let us know – What are some challenges in your business that you think AI might be able to resolve?

For more helpful videos to help you grow your people and your organisation subscribe to our YouTube channel.

This article was originally shared by Ian Mathews on Forbes

David Neal spoke with Ian Mathews about his transition from his career in the military into founding his own consultancy alongside his partner Jonathan Clark.

David shares with Ian the considerations he and Jonathan explored when establishing The Eighth Mile Consulting strategy development.

They also covered these points in their conversation which can be seen in this short 8-minute video posted to Linked In.

  1. The costs of not acting on instinct
  2. The lesson on letting your ego impact your leadership
  3. Why do we fall into the trap of micromanaging?
  4. How much time do you invest in developing people who have not yet met their mark?

From Active Duty To Startup Founder: An Interview With David Neal

If you interview an executive and a military leader, many aspects of the conversation will sound remarkably similar. Both are responsible for adapting to change, leading people, thinking strategically and delivering results.

But several times during the conversation, you are reminded of just how different the stakes can be for the military leader. An executive might recall delaying the removal of a poor performer, resulting in a disruption in business. The military leader provides a similar example but with much graver consequences.

I recently met with David Neal, CEO of The Eighth Mile Consulting, to discuss his journey from the Australian Army to founding a successful business. David spent 13 years with the armed forces before leaving to build a company that helps private enterprises with change and project management, strategy and leadership consulting.

What was your first experience in business? When I was 14, I worked in a liquor store. Sweeping, stacking shelves and all that sort of stuff. I learned the value of talking to people and building rapport, particularly at a young age, because a lot of the customers were rough around the edges.

Your focus now is on leadership. What were your early influences? In my adolescence, I did Shotokan karate and worked my way up from a very young age, competing in the World Championships. That drew a lot of my time throughout my younger years. I was coached predominantly by my dad and spent time on the national team.

You mention your father as a coach. What other examples did your parents set for you? My parents worked in the tax office. That’s an interesting story by itself because my mom and dad come from pretty rough stock, a suburb called Elizabeth in Adelaide, which for many years was the highest crime rate suburb in the whole country. My dad scored a scholarship by randomly attending a school hall once. He went into the air-conditioned school hall on a very, hot Australian summer day. To stay in the air conditioning, he had to take an aptitude and IQ test. He is a brilliant man and his scores landed him an accounting scholarship funded by the government. He created a career there with my mom, working shoulder to shoulder on many of the same projects. It’s a pretty cool story when you think back to how they pulled themselves out of tough times through education.

What was your first leadership role with the military? I went to two institutes: The Australian Defence Force Academy and The Royal Military College – Duntroon, where they designate army leadership officer training. It’s a very competitive environment and you get used to being uncomfortable. I also did some infantry-specific training and deployed immediately to Afghanistan. Straight out of military school, I spent 10.5 months on combat operations in Afghanistan, as a 22-year-old in charge of up to 27 soldiers at any time.

What was that like? That was very gritty work. My role was as part of an Australian force that could support the Afghan National Army and make sure that our soldiers were getting back alive. Wherever there was trouble, we got dragged in and would get our hands dirty. That’s where I developed my close affiliation with the U.S. because we supported each other during some tough times.

What was an early observation in that role that stuck with you? One of the things I observed was a difference between the U.S. and Australian forces in style and approach. I used to talk to my soldiers on a first name basis, regardless of what rank they were, and they’d be like, “Yeah, boss,” and walk off. I had a US lieutenant struck by the casual approach to the way that we deal with our soldiers. And he was like, “How can you do that? This is your rank, and this is their rank, and we’ve got to maintain discipline.” I learned not to rely on my position because the Australian Army is less structured in our hierarchies. And so what works for one military did not necessarily work for the other. We both have the same tactics on the battlefield, but the way that we communicate with our teams is drastically different. He thought they were insulting me by calling me boss, but in our world, that was a sign of respect. If they started calling me sir, I knew I’d stuffed up.

Does that lesson apply in business? There’s a level of respect in assuming that the people who work with you can poke fun at you. It shows that we trust your ability to deal with it. And if we don’t talk to that person or we don’t want to offend them or whatever, then that’s probably a more concerning sign in our culture.

Tell me about a mistake you made as a new leader in the field. I did not make the hard decisions early enough. An example of that, I had someone in mid-level leadership that was in charge of other people. I was easily influenced and didn’t want to break up the team just before we deployed. I thought that I could change or educate that person in time, and I was wrong. We had a gunfight, and this person froze at a time that I needed them not to freeze. And I now look back and know I could’ve done something about that.

Why didn’t you act on your gut sense? I didn’t want to ruffle feathers, and I didn’t want to upset the status quo. I paid the price for that at the gritty end. If I had groomed someone else, I wouldn’t have risked people’s lives. So for me, have those hard discussions early and be willing to justify the reasoning behind that.

I went through the same thing as a new leader. My naive way of thinking was, “I can change everybody.” It was my ego saying, “I’m a good enough leader to overcome this.” Absolutely. The lead up to that, we’ve gone through four years of relatively intense training where everything is graded, marked and assessed. You’re compared against your peers. The day you graduate, you’re rated from one to whoever is left in the class. You know where you sit in terms of your cohort, your peers, and these are arguably the best leaders in the country. And you’re getting rated against those people. I mean, that’s always in the back of your mind. There’s a competition about who is the best. I’ve got to be the fastest, and I can’t be the weakest — all these really kind of misaligned perceptions.

How did those rankings impact your judgment? I didn’t want to be the one with the weaker team. I didn’t want to cause problems for my headquarters. I didn’t want to be that guy. I wanted to be the guy with solutions. I’ll fix it. And really what I was doing was slapping more band-aids on the problem but not curing the infection underneath. And ultimately, I paid the price for that. And then I had to endure the rest of the tour with that individual. And it hurt me. I had to micromanage to make sure that my soldiers were safe and this came at the expense of the overall operation. With a few hard discussions early, we could have fixed that entire thing.

What were the consequences as you got dragged down to a lower pay grade? The soldiers see that, and they’re like, “Well, why is the boss mucking around at our level? Why is this, why is that?” And I’m trying to work behind the scenes to make sure that everyone’s safe and we all get back alive. That weighs heavy on your conscience. You’re trying to make sure that we’re all going to get back. The other thing I learned, and I think it relates to corporate, military, and personal life is the value of context.

The times when my staff were most frustrated with me were when they didn’t know how or why we were doing something.

If I could talk to a younger version of me, I would say spend that extra 60 seconds on every engagement you have with people to explain the context about how and why you’re doing something. If you can cover both of those things, it will prevent 90% of the problems before they start.

What happens when a leader isn’t transparent enough? It always creeps out anyway. Whatever you say to one person will get back to the original person. It builds strong rapport and trust when you go up to another human and say, “I have a lot of respect for you, and I’m not going to talk behind your back. I’m going to say these things to your face because I believe that you can deal with it.” If you can frame conversations in that way, people will take it positively. One thing that took me a long time to figure out is that the more vulnerable I am, the stronger I am.

Can you elaborate on the importance of being vulnerable? It is counter-intuitive for someone trained to protect their reputation. The more I share about my vulnerabilities, the stronger the rapport I have with people. And I am able to leverage my network to achieve a disproportionate impact.

I find that the most productive people simply have more people willing to do them a favour. Absolutely. And what that looked like was, “Hey Bill, could I borrow some of your trucks? Could you give me a drop 20 km down the road with your helicopter, Harry? Because that would be a great asset for us not to walk that far.” These were favours, not orders or demands. This was over a mobile phone going, “Hook a brother up, and I’ll do you a favour later.”

How do you share vulnerability in a business context? When we meet someone, we tell them how bad we are at some things. We put those knives on the table before we start. We approached two-star generals with, “Hey look, this is where we’ve personally let you down. Let me explain where we’re weak. We haven’t hit the mark on this particular project.” The more we did that, the more those people protected us because they were like, “I can trust this person. I don’t need to hunt for the negative things. They just tell it to me straight away.”

As you approached the end of your term, how did you decide to start this company? I had no intention of creating a business. I jumped into a project manager role in a large not-for-profit organization to roll out an enterprise project. It was similar to some of the projects I worked on within defence. But while I was in that organization, I observed what I thought were Leadership 101 problems. It was a toxic environment, and I was like, “How can this business run when leaders can’t even talk to their staff? They can’t say one thing without bullying them.

So, you saw a problem first-hand and decided to build a solution? Yes. I started taking notes in the background with my friend Jonathan, as we were working on this project together. We got to the end of our contracts, and I said, “Do you think there’s merit in us starting a business where we can help people based on our lessons learned?” We got so comfortable working in high-performing teams, and there seems to be a complete vacuum of it. And working with high-performing teams is addictive. It’s an amazing feeling when you’re on a humming team, and everyone knows their place, and everyone’s getting stuff done. I thought, “Why don’t we start a business helping companies create great teams?”

Your company’s motto is, “Good people helping good people.” What does that mean to you? We look at projects and change initiatives holistically, but with a lens of, “How do you engage with people?” Because so many problems are disguised as something else. Most of what we deal with is people. What looks like a technical problem is often one person won’t talk to another because they don’t like them, and the company is trying to patch it with a new system that costs a million dollars. We ask why they don’t get the two talking to each other or get rid of the offender.

You started Eighth Mile Consulting with your longtime friend, Jonathan Clark. How important has it been for you to start this business with a partner? It’s massive. We made a deliberate choice that we would fulfil two roles, as we have two different styles. Behind the scenes, we do very different things. I’ve adopted the part of the gap-finder, forward-leaner, opportunity-finder, relationship-builder. Jonathan has adopted the systems, processes, structure, design, organization, management and operational side. Knowing your place in the team and defining it is crucial. We hold each other accountable, and I think our team thrives on that.

How did you think about positioning for Eighth Mile? In true military fashion, the first thing we did was purchase a whiteboard and a big marker. Jonathan and I sat there over bourbon and wrote about where you might not see two knuckle-dragging ex-infantry consultants. Where can we be a point of difference? And we focused on not-for-profits, clinical care, medical and education. We’re going to lean into these areas where we are a point of difference.

What was your marketing plan? We tried LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter with different messaging. I aimed at these various industries to see where we might provide value. LinkedIn quickly rose to the top, and I developed a few tactile skills on that platform. So we started building our personal brands concurrently while we were making the company brand. Our messaging slowly switched to, “Well, if you like me as a human, you should see the rest of my team, because they’re incredible.” Since our business has been running, we’ve spent less than $500 on advertising.

What advice would you give to someone starting a company today? In the small business world, you do everything for a while. You don’t have the capital, and you don’t have the revenue coming in. Your margins might be small. Write down your strategy. It’s a contract with yourself and that should incorporate a linkage to your personal life. Do not commit to starting a new enterprise or a new business if you think that it will not affect your home life.

You can read the full article here

In this 50-minute workshop, we discuss the relationship between offensive and defensive business strategies.

Topics We Discussed In this workshop

  1. Personalities, biases and decision making
  2. Running concurrent offensive and defensive initiatives
  3. Understanding the relationship between strategy and risk
  4. Leadership considerations

SMART BUSINESS REQUIRES SMART STRATEGY

Strategy development is fundamental to creating and running your organisation. Where do you want your business to be in five years? Where are you now? How big is the gap between where you are now, and where you want to be? The Eighth Mile Consulting can help you build a strategic outlook and implementation plan to deliver business and people outcomes.

For more helpful videos to help you grow your people and your organisation subscribe to our YouTube channel.

What are your thoughts or learnings when it comes to deploying the right strategy in business? Are you leaning towards an offensive business strategy or a more defensive one? Let us know in the comments below!

There is some genuine concern and trepidation about taking the first step. My question is, is it actually the first step that you are stalled on? Surely we are continuing something that has already begun. The action is the next step after the idea. The ‘how’ is the next step after the ‘why.’ In that case, the first step has been taken and now we have momentum.

In any project or change there is a slight pause at the beginning, followed by, “how does this thing start?” The thought alone strikes fear into a project or change manager. Especially, if there are tight dead lines. (Aren’t there always?) With your permission, let me share some simple tips and tricks for getting passed the first (next) hurdle.

1. Think of everything as a next step, not your first. The first step is always the hardest right? So… take the next step. It implies momentum and movement. Try re-framing your thoughts from “how do I start this thing,” to “what’s next?”

 2. Focus on the ‘Why.’ If you don’t know the reason for doing something, try and find it. Whenever there is an absence of what to do and how to do it, refer back to the reason why. This will guide your decision making and give your team a context for their own. For example, if I am analysing a next step, I filter it with ‘Good people, helping good people.’ That is my ‘why,’ what is yours?

 3. Establish a timeline with key timings and dead-lines. Building in boundaries and times for delivery, keeps us accountable to something. We know that something must be delivered at a certain time. This focuses our energy and allows us to prioritise what is important at a point in time. This way, we are less likely to get lost in things that don’t matter.

 4. Keep a project/ change notebook (log) – when in doubt refer to it and regain momentum. Ever lost track of what you were saying and couldn’t remember the point you were about to make? Keep a log/ diary of actions and information (mostly to reaffirm the ‘why’) and when in doubt, refer to it. This will allow a systematic and logic method of back tracking to then regain your momentum.

 5. Have a sounding board or mentor that is outside the project – they will provide logical and object perspective. A fresh set of eyes on a problem set is worth its wait in gold. Have you ever heard the saying:

Can’t see the forest for the trees

It means, that we are so buried in the details that we cannot see the whole situation. Take some time to detach from the details and re-orientate on the holistic picture. A new perspective will reveal information that can be extremely useful. Also, refer to point 2.

 6. You aren’t alone, invest in the team. How often have we heard of the best ideas coming from left field, somewhere we had not considered. This starts with the team. Teams that solve problems together are inherently stronger. Invest in that and the team will not only help with the solution but own the outcome.

6. Solve a problem, Then another and one more. Once we have solved enough problems, we are back on track. The biggest threat to delivery is no action at all. We will talk about wasting time and ‘what is the wrong action,’ in a later article.

There it is, some thoughts that might help you through a sticking point and allow you to gain some momentum. I would really enjoy your ideas and comments. 

What gets you through a ‘freeze’ moment? Let us know in the comments below.

When I joined the Australian Army as an Officer Cadet in 2006, my goals were to:

  • Lead soldiers into battle,
  • Positively influence their lives, and
  • Make a positive difference in the world.

Throughout my time in the military my understanding of successful leadership techniques has dramatically evolved from a rigid, authoritative and top-down approach to a more inclusive, group-influenced and adaptive approach. But more importantly my approach to problem solving and decision making is what has potentially evolved the most, and that is what I would like to discuss in this paper.

I once read a book by a late Chinese militarist and philosopher named Sun Tzu, his most famous work being ‘The Art of War’, written to provide context to war and conflict. Originally written to consolidate some of the constants that define war, a large number of its themes can be applied to modern environments, organisations and situations. I found that one particular selection of his quotes stood apart from the rest:

“Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards. Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing. Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions.”

Sun Tzu

This collection of references has colloquially been referred to, or summarised, as Sun Tzu’s ‘flow like water’ and is often loosely referred to in conversations everywhere. What is of particular relevance from this quote is its application to problem solving.

Throughout my life, I have observed leaders, managers and decision makers preach and assess others against throw away terms such as: flexibility, adaptability, initiative and effectiveness, however I personally do not believe that many individuals fully reach their potential in these areas, not through a lack of trying, but through a lack of awareness.

BYPASS OBSTRUCTIONISM

To apply Sun Tzu’s concept of ‘flow like water’ to problem solving we must first apply its relevance to our modern context by drawing a number of constants. Suppose, that an obstacle, hurdle or obstruction (or worse yet an obstructionist!) is likened to a rock within a flowing stream. Suppose further, that water (under Sun Tzu’s concept) is ever moving, constantly changing and reshaping, and is heading in one direction.

Every one of us has encountered a number of obstructionists throughout our own experiences. Characterised as that one irritable individual who has an inability to think laterally, who begins group conversations with ‘that can’t be done’, and lives happily in a world self-defined by boundaries and corporate governance. In the past I have likened such individuals to the’ Vogon Constructor Fleet’ from Douglas Adam’s ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy;’ an officious group of aliens responsible for maintaining the bureaucratic processes of the universe, with no regard for innovation. Please note, when I refer to obstructionists, I do not refer to bureaucratic styled professions, in fact, adaptive thinkers within such job categories have the ability to transform whole organisations by streamlining processes and cutting red tape. I refer primarily to individuals who have turned to the dark side. A team of obstructionists can often lead to toxic relationships, and without fail will hamper an organisation or team’s competitive edge, particularly when delivering projects.

Leaders must be able to identify obstructionists, acknowledge their concerns, and then bypass them in order to ensure that momentum is maintained on overall task/project success. Many a leader has become unstuck by becoming bogged down in obstructionist detail, whilst losing oversight of the original task and purpose. In the Army a term known as ‘marking and bypassing’ is used to explain a procedure by which a team identifies an issue on the battlefield which is outside their scope and capability. This team will then promptly mark it and pass the responsibility to other more specialist teams in depth as opposed to dwelling on the problem. This term can also be applied to explain the process of identifying an obstacle in the workplace, marking its existence and then bypassing it in order to complete the task in time, on budget, and within specifications.

DEVELOP A POSITIVE CULTURE WHICH REJECTS OBSTRUCTIONISM

It is one thing to be able to apply Sun Tzu’s, ‘flow like water’ to your own practices, but how does one influence a team to apply the same forward-leaning, positive approach to problem solving?

Employ the right type of people

If organisations intend to recruit individuals long-term then employ those people that are right for ‘a task’, not necessarily ‘the task’. This meaning, that organisations need to ensure the longevity of their investment (their people), and ensure that when Project A is finalised, the same person might be able to easily transition onto Project B which might have an entirely different scope, stakeholder contribution and design. This is the true meaning of ‘flexibility’ when referring to planning. In practical terms, this might mean that organisations make an assessment on an individual’s potential as opposed to their qualifications. This might also mean that individuals are assessed on whether they are likely to fit the culture of the organisation based on personality, approach to problem solving, and their work ethic. If you have obstructionists in your team, find a way to negate their effects, re-train them, re-assign them (to a better suited role), or worse case remove them completely.

Publicly encourage adaptive and ‘out of the box’ thinking

Leaders must always encourage adaptive thinking by individuals who demonstrate initiative. Ideas and concepts from staff are simply that, nothing more, nothing less – it’s not personal! Furthermore, leaders must be able to identify those contributions that are obstructionist versus those that are complimentary or constructive to the planning process. Positive contributions must be acknowledged publicly to the entire team, and similarly, obstructionism must be identified and as such bypassed or negated. Just remember, you do not need to use everyone’s contributions, but you do need to acknowledge its existence and intent.

Leaders must take risks and accept responsibility

Leaders must apply the principle of ‘risk versus return’. A team which consistently adapts, evolves and adjusts to changing conditions needs to take risks in order to maintain pace with competitors. This ultimately results in higher risk for mistakes. Good leaders must accept the full responsibility for their team’s mistakes, and in return they will receive greater followership and continued involvement from their team. Remember, never blame your team! Also, a successful leader does not blame other areas or departments in order to shift blame and make a common enemy. The most successful leaders I have seen have demonstrated humility and have gone to extensive efforts to provide context as to why other teams within their organisation have made their decisions. Word travels quickly, and this positive gesture may be returned to your team at a later date.

Train your team to be able to plan in the absence of information

Successful and adaptive teams are those that get ahead of the game. They demonstrate the ability to plan in the absence of all the information. They make experience based assumptions that allow them to get to further stages of planning. These assumptions are then either confirmed or denied concurrently, or in subsequent stages of planning. In any case, the team maintains its momentum in the correct general direction. Obstructionists by their nature, feel extremely uncomfortable planning without all the information, and can be seen using it as a means to hamper/halt the planning process – do not let this happen!

In summary, do not be a Vogon! If people provide you with constructive ideas, first think how that information may practicably be utilised to better your cause, or your organisation. If you identify obstructionists, mark and bypass them, to find another way to win, and do not get caught in their detail. Remember, there is always a way to reach an end-state, it might just take a zig-zag path around multiple obstacles to reach it.

Flow like water – Avoiding obstructionism

We have taken many of these lessons and incorporated them into The Eighth Mile Consulting.