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Elements of Strategy

High achievers usually attain great heights because they approach their craft strategically.

For those of you who shudder at my use of that over-used word, I sympathize with you. The words strategy, strategic, and strategically are indeed overused, especially in business circles, and often by people who seem not to understand much about the word in any sense. And while it is true that at its most basic level, strategy can be thought of as the bridge that gets you from where you are now (Point A) to where you wish to be (Point B), there is much more to strategy than meets the eye. Allow me to draw upon military history from ancient times to give you a small sampling as to what is often involved in strategy.

We could go all the way back to the 8th Century BC and learn from Homer something about strategy. Homer referred to two qualities about strategy that were amplified by Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527). The two qualities, in the original Greek, were bie and metis. The first of those two words could be translated as strength and the second as cunning. Machiavelli thought of them as force and guile. I’d like to elaborate on the second of those concepts as it pertains to strategy.

It’s a rare businessman that thinks of either cunning or guile when he or she thinks of strategy. But military people, chess players, poker players, and some athletes use that concept with fluency. It is often used to make an opponent (or “the competition”) imagine that you are weak when you are actually strong. Example: one of my previous martial arts instructors, GM, told me a story about an incident that took place when he was in high school. He was a very accomplished martial artist even back then. A group of three Chinese gang-bangers approached him on one occasion meaning to rough him up for some reason. GM pretended he was frightened to death. His facial expression took on a look of panic as he blubbered out the words in a voice suggesting he was almost crying like a sissy, “No, please don’t hurt me, please, please!!!” As he said this, he even squatted down as if he was about to go to his knees to begin begging for mercy. But right as one of his assailants got very close, GM threw a devastating blow with pinpoint accuracy, a solid punch to his attacker’s solar plexus, knocking the wind right out of him and causing excruciating pain to the bully. This prompted GM to stand straight up and move towards the other two attackers who had now grabbed their fellow gang member by the arms and quickly escorted him away. GM had initially come across looking weak and vulnerable, frightened and defenseless, when he was, in fact, anything but. The sudden shock of attack was as unexpected as would be the lunging of a Saltwater Crocodile – abrupt, and without warning, but deadly. GM had behaved strategically.

Similarly, when General George Washington found himself and his troops in a desperate situation during the Revolutionary War against the British, he did the opposite of GM. His troops were trapped by a body of water and the British Army had Washington’s troops hemmed in with nowhere to go. Working through the night, Washington had some of his men remain boldly in the front of their location, keeping bonfires burning and making it seem as if the Americans were prepared for battle the next day. Meanwhile, General Washington used stealth to have his troops be carried across the water on small boats all night long. When sunrise was upon them, there were still some additional troops that had not yet made their escape and the British Generals would have detected the ruse were it not for the God-given miracle of a thick fog that settled into the area, thus keeping the Americans obscured from British eyes for the additional hours necessary to complete the escape. When the fog finally lifted, the British were dumbfounded that no Americans were in the area any longer; they had seemingly vanished into thin air. Washington, like GM above, had acted strategically, had used artifice to elude an overpowering enemy, allowing him to fight (and win) another day.

I will have much more to say about strategy in future issues of Uncommon Sense. In the meantime, do not lose sight of the role cunning or guile might play in your use of strategy or in your opponent’s use of strategy.

Ara Norwood is a multi-faceted and results-oriented professional. Spanning a multiplicity of disciplines including leadership, management, innovation, strategy, service, sales, business ethics, and entrepreneurship. Ara is also a historian, having special expertise on the era of the founding of our republic.
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