Monday, March 28, 2011

Assess, Position and Influence (5)

Most competitors are focused on their strengths not on the weaknesses. They hide their weaknesses and "will" the implementation of their strengths into the mind, heart and spirit of their opposition. Tim Lincecum, a former Cy Young winner believes in that.

"... Lincecum doesn’t watch a lot of pregame film, as many pitchers do, to look for vulnerabilities in the hitters he’s about to face. “I stick to my strengths as opposed to going after everyone’s weaknesses,” he told me. “If you can hit it, come hit it. ... ”

Statistics on Tim Lincecum

Here is some interesting data about Tim Lincecum from
Lincecum has had the highest strikeout rate among qualified starters in each of the last three seasons. ... His K/9 topped 10.4 in 2008 and 2009, and even though it dropped to 9.79 last year, he was still the best strikeout pitcher among starters. Given his age and abilities, it would be surprising if Lincecum did not again top 260 strikeouts and a K/9 of 10.

Rumination from the Compass Desk
In a predictable setting, the successful strategist usually deploys their strengths while concealing their weaknesses. At times, he/she enhances their strengths through practice and other means. As age and other factors become prevalent, the strength factor diminishes. The competition identifies the tendencies and the flaws. The rest is obvious. Nothing lasts forever.

To be continuously successful, the "mindfully aware" strategic implementer evolves by pursuing the approach of matching their strengths to the opposition's weaknesses.

In any competitive terrain, the successful strategist mindfully knows the circumstances for using the situation to their advantage. He plays the optima strategic option by taking what the terrain and the opposition offers to him. When the advantageous position is achieved, the exploitive strategic option is usually implemented. This mode of prevailing in a highly competitive setting is the norm.

The Compass Process
The successful strategist assesses the tangibility of the big picture. Then he positions himself strategically into a competitive disposition of power and authority through planning and preparation. When the opportunity arises and the timing is right, the influencing of the target begins.

  • Finesse before Force
  • Read the Big Tangible Picture before implementing a strategic move
  • Always assess before position and influence

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Lessons from the Life of Zhang Liang (2)

(updated in 03.12.2015)
This picture is from Oriental Treasures

Zhang Liang is one of our favorite examples of the professional strategists who failed early and made successful comebacks. He resided between the final period of the Qin dynasty (221 to 206 BCE ) and the earlier years of the Han dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE).

Some of his many strategic trademarks were:
  • Strategizing the multiple threads of different operations into one's Big Tangible Picture;
  • Thinking in completeness; 
  • Understanding the grand connective concept of civil fundamentals; martial fundamentals; leadership; tactical essentials and tactical specifics.
  • Understanding the concept of conspiring to collaborate;
  • Gaining cooperation and collaboration from a diversity of principals; and 
  • Controlling any strategic operation from many thousands miles away.

Following is some more historical data on Zhang Liang's life:

Meeting Huang Shigong
As a wanted man by the government, Zhang travelled to Xiapi and stayed there for some time, using fake identities to evade the authorities. One day, Zhang took a stroll at the Yishui Bridge and met an old man there. The man walked towards Zhang and chucked his shoe down the bridge on purpose, after which he yelled at Zhang, "Hey boy, go down and fetch me my shoe!" Zhang was astonished and unhappy but obeyed silently. The old man then lifted his foot and ordered Zhang to put on the shoe for him. Zhang was furious but he controlled his temper and meekly obliged. The man did not show any sign of gratitude and walked away laughing.
The old man came back after walking a distance and praised Zhang, "This child can be taught!"[2] and asked Zhang to meet him at the bridge again at dawn five days later. Zhang was confused but agreed. Five days later, Zhang rushed to the bridge at the stroke of dawn but the old man was already waiting for him there. The old man chided him, "How can you be late for a meeting with an elderly man? Come back again five days later!" Zhang tried his best to be punctual the second time but the old man still arrived earlier than him, and he was scorned by the old man once more and told to return again five days later. The third time, Zhang went to the bridge at midnight and waited until the old man appeared. This time, the old man was impressed with Zhang's fortitude and humility, that he presented Zhang with a book, saying, "You can become the tutor of a ruler after reading this book. Within ten years, the world will become chaotic. You can then use your knowledge from this book to bring peace and prosperity to the empire. Meet me again 13 years later. I'm the yellow rock at the foot of Mount Gucheng."

The old man was Huang Shigong (黃石公; literally: "Yellow Rock Old Man") of the legendary "Four Haos of Mount Shang" (商山四皓), a group of four reclusive wise men. The book was titled The Art of War by Taigong (太公兵法) and believed to be the Six Secret Teachings by Jiang Ziya, while some called it Three Strategies of Huang Shigong. In legend, Zhang returned to the indicated site 13 years and did see a yellow rock there. He built a shrine to worship the rock and the rock was buried with him after his death.

Reflection Points
The two lessons that the reader can learned from this Zhang Liang's experience are:
  • the importance of pre-positioning (projecting, planning and preparation) before a significant event; and
  • the cause of every personal action can be assessed in terms of fortitude and humility.

After extensively study of the Six Secret Teachings essay and other strategic classics, Zhang Liang learned the importance of knowing and understanding the Big Tangible Picture (BTP) and later became the principal strategic advisor for Liu Bang, the future emperor of the Han Dynasty.

Zhang Liang continuously made quality strategic decisions and was an excellent collaborator with the other strategic advisors of Liu Bang. He always credited the people who presented valid ideas to the Liu Bang's court.

We will discussed more about the life of Zhang Liang, the Six Secret Teachings and his strategic decision management process in our future posts

Click here and here for more historical notes on the life of Zhang Liang.

# # #

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Assess, Position and Influence (4): The Compass Concept

Concept 1: The Fundamental Concept
Whenever the Compass Strategist sees the Big Tangible Picture, he or she begins the process.

Concept 2: The Process
When one project stage is completed, the Compass Strategist proceeds to the next step. When the influencing is over, he returns to assessing.

This is the Dao of Assessing, Positioning and Influencing

© 2008-2011 All Rights Reserved

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Spreading the Message of "Knowing the Big Tangible Picture"

I did a presentation on strategic decision-making through the use of the Chinese strategic principles at a local MBA school this past week.

Most of the lecture encompassed the fundamentals behind the Art of War, the seven strategic classics, the basics of our Compass process and the importance of assessing the "Big Tangible Picture."

I asked the students the following question, "... Have any of you ever spent one hr per week, assessing the 'Big Tangible Picture?' ..." There was only one person who responded with a yes. (I expected that number was going to be no more than one or two.) She was immediately rewarded with a hardback copy of Ralph Sawyer's Art of War.

Later on, two of the students talked to me about the importance of planning. I responded with this question, "How can you plan (efficiently) for anything when you don't know what's around you? ..."

One of them told me that the philosophy of his operational group was based on Liddell Hart's maxims of strategy.

My view on the Liddell's strategic principles was, "... Planning against a weaker opponent is usually easy. When you are competing against competition who has the same amount of resources (as you do) and a larger manpower, what is your strategic counter? ... Would you be fully prepared against them as you would be against a smaller opposition? ... In Asia, the smaller and medium-sized companies utilized the principles of the Seven Strategic Classics and other relevant strategy classics (in their ventures) . ... They assessed the "Big Tangible Picture" before deciding anything strategically. ... They are focused on not committing macro errs. ... Are you doing that? ..."

Their response was, "No matter what, we are going to out plan them."

Compass Rule:
Assessment precedes planning and preparation. ... Preparation precedes performance.

Comprehending your terrain and the participants within it, is usually the first step. Knowing their goals, their objectives and their time cycles is the next step.

# Side bar: Liddell Hart's book presents eight good points on planning offensive campaigns. It is a good guide for the novice strategic planners who possessed an abundance of resources. For those who compete against larger opposition (with an abundant of resources), we recommended the Seven Military Classics of Ancient China and the 100 Unorthodox Strategies.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Achieving Maximum Effectiveness in a Complex World

Achieving strategic power begins by building a strong intelligence gathering network and having a well-devised strategic assessment process. Historically, this objective has enabled the budding competitor to slowly build their strategic power and to incrementally subjugate the predominant paradigm of the competition.

Knowing the end in mind and the "Big Tangible Picture" sometimes allows one to become methodical by style and subtle in action. Practicing that process consistently is important. It is how one starts on the path of maximum effectiveness.

From my own experience, getting into the mind set of maximum effectiveness will focus oneself into making strategic moves and advantageous moves not tactical moves.

Compass Rule: Maximum effectiveness is the goal of being strategically effective.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Applying the AoW Principles in the Real World

Governor Jerry Brown has been known as a major implementer of the Art of War (AoW) principles.

The Process
In his past political campaigns, Governor Brown and his team usually assessed the big picture within his grand terrain and the massive participants within it. Once the situation and the prevailing influences are recognized, they examined the advantages and the disadvantages and then quietly adjusted to the relevant points with solid planning and preparation.

This practice of the process has put Jerry Brown into a strategic position of near-political invincibility.

During the 2010 campaign, Jerry Brown consistently displayed the political image of wisdom, benevolence, credibility, discipline and courage while adjusting to the political voice of his terrain.

Then and Now
Governor Brown is currently trying to influence his fellow politicians and his constituents on the benefits of his tax extension measure. Getting the votes behind it while countering the argument of the possible drawbacks has been a grinding challenge for him

Photo from

Ruminations from the Compass Desk
The key to strategic success is to understand the Big Tangible Picture (BTP) in terms of the prevailing influences (political, economic, social, etc.).

There are many approaches to viewing the BTP. Some people prefer to see it from a result-oriented outcome view. Others would rather look at it in terms of different categories (i.e., the civil factors, the martial factors, the leadership, the tactical essentials and the tactical specifics.) Whether they can connect those categories of data together and see the risk-benefits and the risk-consequences, that is a different story.

Certain situations demand different view. It all depends on one's own skill and the specifics of that situation.

In our world of instantaneous demand, the only thing that counts is the results. Whether the people are able to achieve their ends is a different story.

Side note
Interestingly, there are some strategic implementers who prefer to espouse the virtue of the Art of War principles by using one or two principles (from a pool of 360+ principles) at a time.

Serious strategy professionals usually prefer to read the Seven Strategy Classics (Seven Military Classics of Ancient China). It gives them a grander perspective of the following points:
  • grand strategic view;
  • macro strategic view;
  • operational strategic view; and
  • tactical strategic view.
In our future posts, we will elaborate on how to connect those points into one big tangible picture.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Importance of Preparation (2)

The preference of the masses is to react, not to anticipate. They would rather view their situations while disregarding the rippling effects of the global influences. Their general strategic approach is based on their intent and their other priorities. Some has a tendency of forcing their will into the situation, thinking that they can "will" a win. They occasionally utilized the wrong rules for the inappropriate situation.

"The will to prepare is greater than the will to win." - Bobby Knight

In summary, the true professional understands that the strategy is a process not a byproduct. He knows that the proper execution of the process that supports his principles, usually prevail at the end of the venture.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Importance of Preparation

One of the most difficult challenges for most strategists is to stay focused and remain prepared,

Click on this link on an interesting article on how one professional prepares himself.

"In planning, no useless move.
In strategy, no strategy is in vain." - Chen Hao

"I try to act like I'm a starter because I don't want to be put in a situation where I'm not prepared. ... That's the last thing I want to do." - Eli Whiteside, S.F. Giants backup catcher

# One must always plan ahead and be prepared. It begins by becoming focused on one's own center.

“One who excels at competition will await events in the situation without making any movements. When he sees he can be victorious he will arise; if he see he cannot be victorious he will desist. Thus it is said he doesn’t have any fear, he doesn’t vacillate. Of many harms that can beset any organization, vacillations is the greatest. Of disasters that can befall an army, none surpasses doubt.” – Paraphrased from Six Secret Teachings, 26

The successful strategist (the compass strategist) is one who skillfully assesses the "Big Tangible Picture" and knows how everything connects. ... He is then one step away from being strategically effective.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Art of Reading and Leading

I recently saw an interesting article in the Economist on how to respond to a rumor. Some of the reader's comments were quite predictable and narrow.

Professionally, we have seen too many people who make decisions without ever looking at the "Big Tangible Picture" or ever considering the after effects of their decision. They usually use a "kitchen sink" approach to solve their problem. They rarely worry about the repercussion until it happens. Depending on the status and their resources,

Without a good understanding of the Big Tangible Picture, one could miss the profit opportunities while accumulating more costs. From our experience, we have seen this type of occurrence happening repeatedly. While larger business can afford the cost of this oversight, small to medium-sized businesses should always be able to anticipate new opportunities.

Read the Big Tangible Picture
Following are some of our questions that we have utilized to read (or assess) the big picture:
  • Was the outcome of the situation predictable or not?
  • Does it put you ahead or behind your competition, now and in the future?
  • Does it connect or disconnect you with your customer base?
  • Was the entire information true or false?
  • What were the intended and unintended targets?
  • What was the source of the influence?
  • Was it effective in terms of impact?
The Compass Principles
Following are some of the general principles behind our Compass Process:
  • Always read the big tangible picture before leading strategically
  • Know the advantages and disadvantages of the situations
  • Record your moves in terms of the outcome and the process

Ruminations From the Compass Desk
To make a good decision, you must properly read the big tangible picture and lead with your solution. It is that simple.