Corporate Strategy from Military warfare

A couple of days back, I watched a documentary, “When Aliens Attack”, in National Geographic Channel. To brief the theme of this hypothetical documentary, when aliens attack the earth and start decimating the population, how the humankind fight the aliens back. The documentary guessed on how the aliens attack and assumed that they are much more advanced species than we are. The argument that backs this theory is, if they can come from a distant planetary system from possibly a different star, then they must be much more intellectual than we are as our technology couldn’t achieve it. So in this fight Aliens are like Goliath and we, humans, are like David. In other words we are a weaker opponent to a much stronger opponent. Documentary discussed the military warfare strategies that humans adopt to win over the aliens.

OK, now let’s jump into the actual topic of the article and see how this theme is related to corporate strategies. While watching the documentary, I got a question what if the same strategies are applied in the corporate world. I started listening to the strategies the documentary discussed and tried to apply it to corporate world. Three strategies that were discussed in the documentary are 1) Instead of one big attack several smaller attacks cause more damage to the opponent. 2) Distributed Leadership 3) Win Aliens before they make the Earth their place.

One big attack vs. Several Smaller attacks – This could have a psychological effect on the opponent. If we apply this to competition in market, if a smaller company has to be fight a much bigger counterpart, then they have to concentrate on winning several smaller deals than winning one large deal. The smaller company can leave the bigger deals to the opponent and divert all the resources to smaller deals. By snatching several such smaller deals, it could make the bigger opponent feel insecure. Decisions made in insecurity and anxiety could go wrong to the opponents.

Distributed Leadership – Another strategy is distributed leadership. Instead of staying in one place and work as one large group, it makes sense to work as multiple and independent smaller groups. One larger group could be wiped out by one major attack. If the same head count is divided into several smaller groups and each group is operated under different leadership, then it would be difficult for the opponent to get a hold of us. Often decisions made by the leaders reflect their personal traits. A hasty decision maker of course makes hasty decisions. A slow mover makes decisions lately. As each group is operated under a different leader, each group’s strategy would be different. For opponent, it will be a lot mode difficult to figure out the strategy of each leader and come up with a counter strategy. As a result, the opponent might lose control on the situation.

Recently, there has been a lot of buzz on distributed leadership. Organizations are moving towards this concept and trying to develop leaders at every level of the organization. If implemented successfully, distributed leadership could create wonders. However, the problem would be to find out efficient and talented leaders, not one but several of them. To become a leader, one has to know what the current status of the organization is and where the industry in which the company is operating is heading. There has been a research going on at MIT’s Leadership Center. Their web page mentions that to become a leader one has to possess four qualities. Sense making – Knowing the context in which the organization is operating, Relating – Relating oneself with several people within and across the organization, Visioning – Ability to understand the future market developments, and Inventing – Defining new ways to work together to realize the vision.

There are several examples to prove the potential of distributed leadership. In early days of Southwest Airlines, frontline employees helped the company to come up with a strategy that gave lifeline to the company. In my opinion, franchising is the best example of distributed leadership. Franchisees do NOT belong to the franchiser. They are owned by individual owners who operate them mostly independently. Owners are free to define their own marketing campaigns and promote their businesses as long as it doesn’t hurt the brand. There are instances where an idea came from one of the franchisees and gave life to the franchiser. Have you heard of Subway’s Five Dollar Footlongs? Have ate one? Or at least have you watched its commercial either on TV? It’s so popular that most of us are aware of it. This wonderful idea has forced its competitors such as KFC to come up with a Five Dollar Meal promotion. This idea was originally originated and implemented at a Subway in Miami, Florida by its owner. His sales went up almost instantly and the parent company has decided to take it up to all the branches. We all know the result.

Win Aliens before they make the Earth their place – If the Aliens conquer the Earth, the first thing they do would be to accustom the Earth to their needs. They make Earth their place. Once they achieve it, it’s hard for us to get it back. Companies can do the same thing. Once they become market leaders, they need to define the market going forward. Make their strong areas market’s de-factos. Drive the market developments as per their strengths. One example of this, that I can see, is in Technology sector. In enterprise software world, IBM is more or less a leader. Now we see IBM heading most of the future versions of the specifications. They drive the upcoming features in the new versions of the products. That way they can stay on top.

I felt, there are many warfare strategies that can be applied in corporate world. Of course, corporations have been doing this for a long time now. Nonetheless, this is my two cents.