Beat your competitors by working outside their experience

fire dragon

 What is not different, is not strategic.

This past weekend I went to Ninjutsu camp (Otompo) for two days of training and war. First we train with some training weapons and at night we play war games that are meant to test our creative and strategic thinking as well as our hand to hand combat skills all under the light of the moon.

One of the games we played is a variation of capture the flag where we had to take the opposing teams flag from their HQ and then come back to our HQ, both teams start off with teams of 5. Each team is placed at a known position in an area of about a square mile and is assigned a leader which then comes up with a strategy to beat the opponent.

We all have wooden swords and knifes and all wear our black ninjutsu suits which makes it difficult to detect at night.

I was the leader on one team and decided to play a risky game of surprise with the goal of acting unpredictable to our opponent. Logic says we should leave at least one person at HQ guarding the prize, I did the opposite and sent 3 people (including me) to capture the flag and left 2 behind 1/3 of the way.

My strategy was to take the prize as fast as possible and then surprise ambush them on our way back.

To achieve this we had to :

  • Give our opponent the impression that we had left our HQ unguarded to make them feel confident that we were going to go head to head against them. (which never happened)
  • Make them take their time by leaving our jackets behind and placing them along the way so they would stop and think before moving.
  • Run. Not walk to their HQ.
  • Leave two people 1/3 of the way from the HQ so they would be positioned to attack first and then the rest would flank around by surprise.
  • Take the flag and ambush within 3 minutes.

How I came to this strategy was:

  • Our team was less than average in hand to hand combat so in a frontal attack we would lose.
  • Our team had the advantage of being speedier.
  • Our team had the surprise advantage as their team knew we couldn’t beat them hand to hand.
  • Our team was made up of lower belt degree people so the other team assumed we were inferior strategically but also tactically.
  • I assumed they would leave their less talented guy at their HQ just in case.
  • Their leader is not a risk taker and very methodical so I had to act irrationally to disrupt him which would force him to react to changing circumstances.
  • They’ would never see this coming.

And we won the battle.

The key takeaway here is that just like people expect your behavior to conform to known patterns and conventions, in the business arena where change is constant, most organizations (especially the bigger one’s) are passive and reactive because they’re organized to be predictable.

Your task is to upset their expectations, and maneuver around them by being unpredictable and than them to break the rhythm of competition.

This is what Google does to a certain extent, they’re disruptive by nature. They don’t follow conventions and predictable patterns of behavior, all you know is they’ll do something but you don’t really know what that is.

Hit with the unexpected move by working outside your opponents experience.

P.S. Ninjutsu is a strategic and non-linear martial art, it is fluid and adaptable to changing conditions.

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