Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Principles-Driven Assessment

Most of the readership of this blog is consisted of well-read strategic thinkers of various levels. We decided to focus the premise of this article on the process of strategic assessment by presuming that the majority have read the Sunzi's Art of War essay and understood the premise behind this essay..

Click here for an introduction article on the Sunzi's The Art of War.

Our recent research told us that some of the readers selectively viewed the Art of War essay and preferred to focus their time and their attention on the building of the plan, the strategic maneuverability and the engagement of the conflict.

Professionally, we have always considered the initial chapter- Strategic Assessment as the most relevant chapter of the book. It is one of those sections that people read quite often, but not understand how to apply it strategically.(We are working on a book that explains the theory and applications of this chapter).

The primary purpose of this chapter is to understand the big picture of one's settings before doing anything relevant. One can only improve their own future performance by properly assessing the big picture of their grand terrain and the obstacles that are within it.

How does one use the strategic assessment process in their business?

Assess and Reflect
Following is a set of 13 Sunzi principles-related questions that we have occasionally given to my clients who were trying to assessing their current state of business:
  • Does my strategic assessment process included anything in the gathering of intelligence?
  • Did the act of intelligence gathering improve the decision-making points of my venture?
  • Has my current decision making process always helped me in prevailing in the various situations?
  • Was my position in those situations based on my initial understanding of the entire terrain?
  • Did my comprehension of the entire terrain show in my strategic maneuverability?
  • Did my strategic maneuverability improve my adjustment to the situation?
  • Did my adjustment enable me to prevail during the engagement of various obstacles?
  • During my engagement of obstacles, was I able to pinpoint its weaknesses and strengths?
  • After the strengths and weaknesses were pinpointed, did my strategic influence prevail?
  • Was my strategic influence based on my initial strategic disposition?
  • How much of my strategic disposition were delineated in my initial plan?
  • How much of my own plan was based on my initial understanding of the challenge?
  • Was my grand understanding of the challenge based on my initial strategic assessment?
(The list has been slightly altered for this reading audience. The context behind this topic is deeper than those questions.)

After reviewing your response to those questions, you can determine whether the specifics of your strategic assessment approach need to be improved.

After each major project milestone, you should spend a macro moment to assess your experience.

While reflecting on your overall experience, focus on comprehending the strategic disposition, the strategic influence, the weaknesses and the strengths of each relevant competitor, including yourself..

Transforming the Assessment to Relevancy
“In planning never a useless move. In strategy, no step is in vain."
- Chen Hao

Once you are able to consciously understand yourself and your strategic disposition within your settings, it becomes easier for you to build (and improve) your plan toward adjusting to the grand settings of your competing (market) terrain.

Compass Rule: The dimensions of your goals and your current settings sometimes determine the predictability of one's future settings.

The key to transforming the assessed data to something of value is to understand your goal. Knowing your goals and objectives will enable one to focus their time and effort in a positive and constructive way.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Playing Mind Games

Here is a change of topic, at Cook Ding's Kitchen, there is an interesting post on the Hakka.

Without dwelling into the operational specifics of a "Hakka", this unique tactic is used to intimidate the opposition before a conflict (or a contest) begins. Over familarization (esp. in our information economy) causes this tactic to lose it potency. There are different ways to "psych" out the opposition. It usually function better when the strategists apply variations of their best "psych" move at their own home territory.

Sidenote: The amount of success sometimes transforms the specialized strategist into an expert for this domain

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Compass360 Consulting Group's Endorsement of a Software Tool

If you are looking for a very good mind mapping tool that "transforms ideas, strategic thinking, and business info. into blueprints for action", we highly recommend Mindjet Mind Manager. From our experience, it is a very easy to use software program. ... We have always use it for our brainstorming activities and found it to be a very good productivity tool.

In summary, the combination of a good strategic process and a good software tool usually creates a force multiplier for good strategic project professionals to operate from.

Side note: This is an unsolicited endorsement.  Why?  It is one of our favorite tools and we think very highly of this software tool.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Applying the AoW Principles to the Martial Arts

Someone recently asked us if we can apply the Art of War principles to the martial arts

Without getting into a situation of espousing "fortune cookie" like quotes, we prefer to focus our effort on explaining the essence of
Sunzi's strategy classic. Fundamentally, this book greatly emphasize on the act of prevailing over the competition by finding the path of least resistance and pursuing it.

One of our favorite examples of world class martial arts experts is: Miyamoto Musashi.

Miyamoto Musashi (c. 1584–June 13 (Japanese calendar: May 19), 1645), also known as Shinmen Takezo-, Miyamoto Bennosuke, or by his Buddhist name Niten Do-raku,[1] was a Japanese swordsman and samurai famed for his duels and distinctive style. Musashi, as he was often simply known, became renowned through stories of his excellent swordsmanship in numerous duels, even from a very young age. He was the founder of the Hyo-ho- Niten Ichi-ryu- or Niten-ryu- style of swordsmanship and the author ofThe Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho?), a book on strategy, tactics, and philosophy that is still studied today. He is considered as one of the greatest samurai warriors of all time. from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miyamoto_Musashi

After numerous duels and battles, Musashi developed the Nito sword method. This technique was based on the concept of using two swords simultaneously as an complete offensive, defensive or counter-offensive movement.

While the focus of the first sword is to "control" the opposition's time and space, the second sword is used for extreme neutralization or as an add-on move to the first sword move (i.e., trapping, disarming, striking, etc.).

Symbolically, the use of both swords was his representation of the fullest use of one's weaponry. Mastering this method requires one to possesses a deep understanding of practicing each sword separately before beginning the process of utilizing them as one entity.

In summary, this method was based on Musashi's experience and his interpretation of his profession. His complete comprehension of the strengths and the weaknesses of his own process and his opposition is what enabled him to prevail.

Methods come and go. The mastery of the method is what counts. The timing and the targeting of the method is what is vital to the victory.

How does it connects to the art and science of decision-making?

One should always make decisions that are based on their understanding of the big tangible picture.

What is the "Big Tangible Picture?" It is the total understanding of the following attributes: the competitive terrain; the competitors within it; the situations; the grand process of logistics and procedures; and economies.

By understanding the Big Tangible Picture, the strategist makes various decision points based on whether to cooperate or compete. In the case of Musashi, he made the decision of evolving as a swordsman-strategist due to his belief of being the consummate warrior.

The pinnacle of any professional strategist is to prevail over the situation (or the competition) in minimum time, with limited usage of resources and the least amount of effort. Idealistically, the avoidance of direct confrontation is the focal point. He/she can only achieve that through one's understanding of the big picture.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Dao of Strategy: Making Decisions (3)

Occasionally, some people based their decisions on their immediate emotional needs and wants. They usually think about the benefits of the current moment, not about the future-based consequences. In summary, They rarely think beyond their situation.

Taking time to understand the tangibility of their big picture would have enable them to make better decisions in their personal life and in their business.

We at Compass360 Consulting Group believes in the grand strategic action of understanding the big picture before deciding on anything is the key. ... How do you make your decision?

Click here for an interesting article on why many people cannot make decisions.

Our interpretation of the Chinese strategy classics tells us that understanding the settings (in details) determines when to think in black and white and when to understand the level of grayness.
... One typical step of our Compass AE strategic decision process is to prioritizes the core values first. Then,
determining what are the risk rewards and risk consequences.
how it can be affected at a later time frame.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Abstract Behind The Compass Decision (1)

We have occasionally met with chief decision makers of all sorts and discussed about the different matters regarding to their views of what strategy is about. During the course of our conversation, we asked them about their strategic decision-making process . Some of them have told us that they have a tendency to implement their strategy regardless of the circumstances. They are rarely process-driven and feel that the concept of "assessing the big picture before acting" takes too long and that it is technically irrelevant. The only thing that counts is their ability to make things happen and lead their team to capitalist glory.

The Flaw Behind Their Strategic Decision Management Process
Due to a lack of complete information, they do not understand whether the grand situation is stable or chaotic. Their absolute focus is to understand of the immediate risk/rewards, not the risk consequences that are derived from the outcome of their decisions. .

A breakdown of different strategic decision-making styles

Regardless of their style of decision-making, we usually emphasized to them the importance of increasing their understanding of the big tangible picture before implementing any strategic moves. Conclusively, it usually leads to a better decision.

Following is a list of questions that might provoke some thoughts:

  • What is your view of the big picture?
  • How do you use it to your advantage?
  • What is your process to transform your assessment to a tangible plan?
We will further touch on this topic at a later post.

side note: We will discuss the matter of "when to make contingency moves" in our future book.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Strategic Decisions Without Borders (5)

We have always noticed that some of the so-called motivational-driven leaders have a tendency of focusing on inspirational speeches and their own (petty) causes. They rarely ever focus on the larger picture.
Whenever they ever focus on a challenge, their solution is quite abstract, idealistic, vague and intangible.

These leaders are idealists who usually have not spend anytime assessing the big tangible picture. Regardless of the reasons, their decisions are usually political-driven, limited in scope and intangible in most cases.

The big picture of these non-strategic leaders is usually quite limited. In most cases, he or she does not have the "real" capability to make a sound strategic decision in five min. or less. They do not possess the aptitude and the attitude to either evolve and let the professionals do their job. ... He/she occasionally do not know the way of trusting. .It ultimately lead them to fail in the task of delegating. ...

In spite of the situation, are they willing to to put their reputation on the line if their decisions are wrong?

The Dao of The Strategist
The "true" strategy professional looks at "strategy" as one thing and many things. He or she observes the big picture from different angles and knows the various attributes that are involved (i.e., the time line, the spacing, the resources, etc.) . In general, the strategist
gets the most out of the situation by knowing the full scope of the big picture. What is meant by the full scope is the advantages and disadvantages of the specifics behind the big picture.

This strategist only makes decisions when he/she knows the state of their informational picture.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Our Current Progress on The Book Project

We are currently debating on whether to include a section that introduces the black art of quantified estimates to our Strategic Assessment book project. Your suggestions are appreciated.

This section is based on the following quotes from the Art of War:

"Now if the estimates made in the temple before hostilities indicate a victory it is because calculations show one's strength to be superior to that of his enemy; if they indicate defeat, it is because calculations show that one is inferior. With many calculations, one can win; with few one cannot. How much less chance of victory has one who makes none at all! By this means I examine the situation and the outcome will be clearly apparent. " - AoW 1 (Griffith Translation)

What set of calculations have you used to assess the big picture of your business terrain? ... If you are not properly assessing the big picture, what good is your plan?

More to come.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Assess, Position and Influence (2)

A Counter Point For Every Offensive Point
Some believed that there is a counter play for every offensive play. That concept works as long as he/she is able to anticipate that move. Foretelling the move is the signature move of a very good strategist.

Regardless of the strategic situation or the called play, some believed that the strategic act of execution is the key. Other people think that the choosing the right approach at the appropriate moment is the answer. The key to that approach lies in the latter chapter of the Art of War.

Making the Strategic Decision
One usually prevails by choosing one of the following four strategic approaches at different stages of the competition:
  • Take what the opposition offers;
  • Dominate by the "Force of Will";
  • Use the "Force of Will" approach to set up the deception (play-fake); and
  • Use the "Take what the opposition offers" to set up the "Force of Will."
Assessing the configuration of the competitive settings and knowing the timing points for implementing those approaches are the keys to gaining strategic leverage.

The Basics of Assessing
1. Identify the strengths and the weakness of the terrain and the opposition within it.
2. Determine its tendencies.

Regardless of those steps, most people forget to examine whether the competitors are able to
properly execute their plan from start to finish.

Recognizing the decisiveness of each chief decision maker (of each competitor) behind the execution is the key to the art of "quan" (weighing the factors)

This process of assessing strategic data is usually long and deep. The quantity of quality data (intelligence on the business terrain and the competitors within it) usually increases one's probability of succeeding greatly.

As a chief decision maker, do you know the relevant strategic assessment points that enables you to understand the big picture?

Without having the conceptual framework for strategic assessment, your strategic team is just guessing.