Thursday, January 16, 2014

fight to win or you die

In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz famously notes:

'As the number of choices we face increases, freedom of choice eventually becomes a tyranny of choice. Routine decisions take so much time and attention it becomes difficult to get though the day. In circumstances like these, we should learn to view limits on the possibilities we face as liberating not constraining.'

In a small agency and often with increasingly small budgets it's easy to get the hump with imposed constraints.

Then a bigger project comes along and there can be too many options. Too many possibilities.

In both of these situations the role of strategy is the same.

Discovering which are the critical factors and designing actions to deal with them.
In both big and small challenges there's still decisions to be made about what NOT to do as much what to do.

To that note I always remember the story of General Xiang Yu, who sent his army across the Yangtze River to take on the Qin Dynasty in the 3rd Century BC.

On the night before the big battle, as his troops slept, the General ordered all of the ships to be set on fire.

The next day he told his perplexed army:

‘You now have a choice: Either you fight to win or you die.’

That's a fairly extreme strategy but it does display a degree of confidence. Never a bad thing.

In recent times we've gone into pitches that, as a small agency, we had no right to win (on paper) but came out with the business.

The appearance of supreme confidence in your presentation is often a critical factor.

So by removing the option of retreat, he switched his troops focus to the the most important thing. The battle.

If they were going to get out of there then it was only going to be in somebody else's boats.

I mention this as I read a splendid post on Adliterate this week entitled In Defence of War.

An excerpt:

'One of the ideas that has most fallen out of fashion in the face of new age marketing has been the metaphor of war. Its use is still reasonably endemic – we talk about penetration, campaigns, winning share, positioning, and the like but its all terribly unfashionable.

The dogma of new age marketing...has created a culture in which we are supposed to stroke people into having ‘relationships’ with brands on an on going basis not launch a full frontal assault on them until they buy our products.

While this nicey-nicey approach feels altogether more comfortable it does rather avoid the reality of business and marketing in which most brands and most categories involve zero sum games where any success is utterly dependent on another businesses’ failure.'

Possibly another slightly extreme view bearing in mind the Duplication of Purchases law that applies in most categories however spot on in the assessment that the fluff around 'relationships' with brands that prevails in just that, and stripping down strategy to the critical factors - fight to win or die - is perhaps not a bad approach to liberating via self imposed constrains.

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