Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Succeeding in the Info Economy: Assessing a Problem With the Phoenix Checklist

The Phoenix Checklist provides context-free questions that enable you to look at a problem from many different angles. Sometimes, problems aren’t as easy to understand as they may seem at face value—especially problems that are inherently multi-faceted. These questions will help you clear ambiguities and pinpoint the unknown unknowns associated with a problem.

 The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) developed this framework.
 The Phoenix Checklist is comprised of two components:
  • A list of questions used to define problems
  • A list of questions to define the plan to solve the problems
Here is the Phoenix Checklist in its entirety:
  1. Why is it necessary to solve the problem?
  2. What benefits will you receive by solving the problem?
  3. What is the unknown?
  4. What is it you don’t yet understand?
  5. What is the information you have?
  6. Is the information sufficient? Or is it insufficient? Or redundant? Or contradictory?
  7. Where are the boundaries of the problem?
  8. What isn’t the problem?
  9. Should you draw a diagram of the problem? A figure?
  10. Can you separate the various parts of the problem? Can you write them down? What are the relationships of the parts of the problem? What are the constants of the problem?
  11. Have you seen this problem before?
  12. Have you seen this problem in a slightly different form? Do you know a related problem?
  13. Try to think of a familiar problem having the same or a similar unknown.
  14. Suppose you find a problem related to yours that has already been solved. Can you use it? Can you use its method?
  15. Can you restate your problem? How many different ways can you restate it? More general? More specific? Can the rules be changed?
  16. What are the best, worst and most probable cases you can imagine?
# Side note: 
The Sunzi's Victory Temple method is one way to identifying the answers to those questions.


  1. Can you solve the whole problem? Part of the problem?
  2. What would you like the resolution to be? Can you picture it?
  3. How much of the unknown can you determine?
  4. Can you derive something useful from the information you have?
  5. Have you used all the information?
  6. Have you taken into account all essential notions in the problem?
  7. Can you separate the steps in the problem-solving process? Can you determine the correctness of each step?
  8. What creative thinking techniques can you use to generate ideas? How many different techniques?
  9. Can you see the result? How many different kinds of results can you see?
  10. How many different ways have you tried to solve the problem?
  11. What have others done?
  12. Can you intuit the solution? Can you check the result?
  13. What should be done? How should it be done?
  14. Where should it be done?
  15. When should it be done?
  16. Who should do it?
  17. What do you need to do at this time?
  18. Who will be responsible for what?
  19. Can you use this problem to solve some other problem?
  20. What are the unique set of qualities that makes this problem what it is and none other?
  21. What milestones can best mark your progress?
  22. How will you know when you are successful?
# In addition to the Phoenix Checklist, here are some other questions to aid with the problem definition and solving process:
  1. Are there other paths to the end I’m looking for? Write down the obvious way to get from where you are to where you want to go. Then ignore it. Come up with as many other paths as you can think of for getting there.
  2. Can I change any of the variables? List all the variables you see (how much time it takes, who is involved, whether to do something yourself or hire someone to do it, etc.) and play with changing them. What effect could that have?
  3. What information do I need? Sometimes problems exist because we don’t have enough information to solve them. Identifying what information you need and what information you’re missing gives you a starting point to change that.
  4. How many solutions can I come up with? As you think of more solutions to a problem, you may increase the likelihood of thinking of one that is optimally effective.
  5. How would ______ solve this? If there is someone who is known for solving things like this, ask yourself how they would solve it. What unique perspectives would that person have that would enable them to solve the problem?
  6. How many problems am I encountering here? There are many situations where what seems like one problem is actually a variety of problems bundled together. When you are trying to solve more than one problem at any given time, you are making things far more difficult than they need to be. Instead, take the time to identify each individual problem that you are facing. Tackle one problem at a time and then move onto the next.
  7. What seem to be your main obstacles to reaching the goal? Think of getting from where you are to where you want to go as a process flow. Map out a step-by-step ideal process flow of how you could get there. Then look at that process and identify the obstacles. Where are those obstacles?
  8. How can I improve this process? Instead of looking at it from a problem perspective, look at it as a process improvement exercise. What steps and processes can you make easier and faster to perform? How would you accomplish this?
  9. Who has done this before? If someone else has already invented the wheel, don’t bang your head bloody trying to create it again. Who else has been up against the problem you’re encountering? Can you talk to them? Read about how they approached it.
  10. How could ____ relate to my problem? What are some concepts that you could associate with the challenge that would most likely produce useful connections and insights?
  1. Michalko, M. (2006) Thinkertoys: A handbook of creative-thinking techniques (2nd edition). Available at: https://www.amazon.com/Thinkertoys-Handbook-Creative-Thinking-Techniques-2nd/dp/1580087736/ (Accessed: 12 February 2017).

Source: Idea genius

Click here for previous "Phoenix Checklist" posts.

Selling Magic in the Consumer Economy


Are the stereo speakers inside of the iPhone really magic?

So, what is magic?

Magic is about illusions.  ... It is a misdirection of attention.  The illusion is that it is an implement that does everything. 

People taste varies while technology evolves.   

Some technology has a way of influencing people to become more tactically and less strategic.  

Monday, February 27, 2017

Automated Robots Will Be Taking Your Job, So, What's Your Next Best Move? (Part 2)

(updated at 21:00 hrs)

Click here on what are the first five jobs that will be taken by robots 

What is Your Next Best Move
If you are in one of those five jobs, learn to read the Big Picture before pinpointing the problem in your setting. 

This would enable you to become a creative problem solver. 

We will discuss the process of becoming a creative problem solver in a future post.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Automated Robots Will Be Taking Your Job, So, What's Your Next Best Move? (Part 1)

Source: Wikia.com
(updated at 21:10 hr)

Wendy makes the first move and plans to use self-ordering kiosks at 1,000 locations.

" ... Wendy's chief information officer, David Trimm, said the kiosks are intended to appeal to younger customers and reduce labor costs. Kiosks also allow customers of the fast food giant to circumvent long lines during peak dining hours while increasing kitchen production.

Trim estimates the company will see a return on its investment in less than two years. ..."  
- Business Insider

The Two Questions of the Day
  • What is the probability of most people losing their job to a machine? 
  • What is the probability of that person evolving to a occupation with a higher professional position?

So, what is your best move? 
Learn to recognize the matrix of your situation.  Identify what is the macro order within that terrain before pinpointing the disorder that prevents the terrain from being strategically efficient.   Those who are strategically perceptive, will understand this unique concept.  It is all in the Dao.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Question for the Perceptive Strategist

Source: Random

Sunzi essay states that there are  five general types of obstacles that the perceptive strategist could encounter in any strategic endeavor. 

Mountains, valleys, rivers, flat lands and salt marshes are those five.  (Some translations have categorize mountains and valleys as one type.)

Regarding to specificity, there is a difference.

The Question of the Day
How  does one applies this perspective to their strategic endeavor? 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Applying Physics to Strategy: Staying Covert While Avoiding Being Overt

Source: Science20.com
(updated at 09.23.17,  2100 hrs)

"The more precisely the POSITION is determined,  the less precisely the MOMENTUM is known"  - Werner Heisenberg and the Uncertainty Principle

How does this applies to strategy?

The momentum of an object is always moving. Therefore the position is varying.

The strategic state of change is always in play.  … Knowing the rate of change can be challenging.   

When the competition knows that you know their position or that they know that you know something about a forth-coming opportunity.  Depending on their leadership and the efficacy state of their strategic foundation (economics,  logistics, etc.) they could change their course  of action, which then adjusts the macro state of the given strategic situation.  

Capitalizing on the multiplier of exploiting "inside" intelligence while preventing the competitor from getting the informational advantage that you know something relevant about them is the essence of superior strategic maneuvering.

Lesson: When competing in a chaotic setting, the perceptive strategist usually stays covert while avoiding being overt. ... 

Side Note
Whenever we decide to publish our Strategic Assessment/Positioning book, there will be a few examples on applying physics to strategy.   ... 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The New England Patriots Win!

Offense scores and thrills the crowds. Nonetheless, it is always the defense that wins the championships.

Regardless of the 28-3 deficit, the Patriots defense held their position on the third quarter, preventing the Falcons from increasing their lead while scoring the necessary points to tie the game. The Patriots later scored on a running play during overtime and prevailed in this "uber celebrated" sporting event.

Click here and click here for the NY Times perspective of this game.  ... Interestingly, they predicted the Falcons as the possible winner of the Super Bowl game.

It is time to return to the reality of life. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Assessing Super Bowl 51 (Scenario Analysis) Updated

Source: Sox and Dawgs
(updated 02.05.17)

Those who are statistical fanatics, would prefer to examine specific data like the ranking of the receivers on 3rd down passing situations (based on the various field positions) and the quantity of knockdowns and sacks in a progression mode from the first game to the 18th game.

For this post, we decided not to dwell into the statistical specifics (the injuries, the quality of opposition, the depth, the offensive efficiency, the defensive efficiency, the individual offensive vs the opposing defensive match-up, the coaching comparisons, etc) of both teams, lets focus on a simple projection of this Super Bowl game.

The Grand Projection
Source: Fox6

Currently, the odds favored the New England to win this Championship game. 

The Pro-Patriots Scenario
Patriots win if the two or more of the following three conditions occurred:
  • the Patriots scores first while implementing a slowdown methodical run game that prevents the Atlanta offense from getting on the field;
  • the Falcons running backs cannot consistently penetrate toward the 2nd line of the defense; and
  • the Falcons passing game is nullified if the Pats pass rush influences the Falcons quarterback.
We are surmising that the Patriot's game plan will be similar to these two following approaches
Approach#1: Influencing the opponent to implement their alternative offensive option
The Bill Belichick's Patriots defended the St Louis Rams by implementing a defensive backs-based defensive approach in 2002. Challenging them to run the ball while preventing them from passing the ball.    

Approach#2: Influencing the opponent to play defense
In 1991, NY Giants defended the Buffalo Bills by keeping their high scoring offense off the field.  They effectively ran the ball into the heart of the Buffalo's defense while preventing the Bills from getting the ball. Bill Belichick was the Giants defensive coordinator who ran a defensive backs-based "bend but don't break" defensive alignment where they dared the Buffalo offense to run the ball because they understood the tendencies of the opposing QB and the limitations of their offensive scheme.

Andre Reed, a former Buffalo Bills player also believes in this possibility.

While Atlanta possesses the capability to play "the comeback and catch up" offense,  we doubted if their defense can dominate the New England's offense.

The Pro-Falcons Scenario 
The Falcons could win as long if they score first and dominates the ball possession time factor by passing the ball and completing intermediate routes and long passes consistently with the tactical approach of numeric mismatches.  The consistency of positive passing will not only spread the opposing offense, but it will stage them to execute inside run plays

Atlanta could surprise New England with a hurry up no huddle offense approach on the first two drives of the game. If they score on both drives and if Patriots offense is not able to respond with their own scores, the NE fans will be expecting a long day.    

If Matt Ryan (Falcons QB) consistently hits his receivers on those intermediate to long routes, we expected Falcons to win. However, if the Pats defense are able to influence Ryan to run and pass or influences the Falcons to execute their run game , their chances to shutting down the Falcons offense increases.

The lynchpin of the Falcons offensive success begins with the center of the offensive line.  ... If the all-pro center Alex Mack is unable to play 100%, the Falcons passing game will falter. ... One can expect the New England's defense's to pressure him to break.  Do not expect the second string player behind Mack to perform in the same level as the starter.  ...  Historically, most second string players are usually unable to play up to that level in a championship game of this magnitude.
Predictions of Possible Scenarios
This game is a contest between the top scoring offense vs. the top scoring defense.

If the Falcons takes a minimum of 10 points lead into half time, the advantage favors them. 

If the Patriots takes a minimum of 10 points lead into half time, they will be grinding their opponent by running the ball into the heart of the Falcons defense.

If the game is even or near parity, the special teams on both sides become quite relevant.  Experience-wise, New England has a slight edge in this category.

In this competitive terrain, securing the two second advantage is the name of the game.  Research tells us that both teams have been able to adjust on the fly, especially if the game goes sideways for them.

If the New England Patriots win, the total score will be under 58.5 points.
However, if the Falcons win, the total score will be over 58.5 points (if the game becomes a shootout).

/// If the game did not go overtime, the total points would have been under 58.5.  Final Score:  NE Patriots 32  Atl. Falcons 28 

In summary, the Falcons possesses the grand advantage of winning regardless of the score because of their high powered offense, where the Pats would only prevail in an "under" game.

The Grand Football Maxim
Offense scores and thrills the crowds. Nonetheless, it is always the defense that wins the championships.

Side Notes
Before watching the game, wear your blue or gray hoodie and/or read your copy of Sunzi's Art of War. :)   This might evoke your strategic mind.  ... It might help you in the practice of knowing the next three moves in any endeavor that one pursues.  ... By knowing the next three possible moves, the successful strategist is ahead of the curve.