by Alan Louis, PhD in Commerce.
The Element of Surprise
When engaged in business conflict, a good strategy is to surprise, to meet your adversary in a way which he/she is not expecting. The skill here is to be able to study your adversary with care, to recognise the individual’s or corporation’s strengths and weaknesses, and then to respond in a manner which they do not expect.
In the world renowned book, ‘Art of War’, the author Sun Tzu exhorts us to: “Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder and crush him.” He explains this further by noting, “If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them.”
A True Story
The principle of surprise is illustrated in the true story (extracted from the online article entitled: “All Warfare is based on deception” by Patrick Lefler, 2009, as quoted from Chet Richards the author of “Certain to Win”) of how the confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest was able to secure the surrender of a much larger Union force by providing some of the information and allowing the opposing force to make the wrong assumptions based on this partial information:
“In May 1863, Confederate cavalryman Nathan Bedford Forrest was chasing a regiment of Union cavalry across a wide swathe of northern Alabama, finally cornering them a few miles west of the Georgia border near the town of Cedar Bluff. Forrest demanded surrender, and the Union commander, a colonel named Abel D. Streight, refused. At that point, while they were negotiating, one of Forrest’s men rode up and asked for orders for his regiment, which was coming from the north, followed shortly by another requesting orders for a regiment approaching from the south. Streight, who could also hear sounds of large amounts of equipment moving in the distance, figured the game was over and honourably surrendered his 1700 men to what turned out (to his horror) to be Forrest’s 350, less than one-quarter of one fully manned regiment. He was still demanding his guns back when Forrest put his arm around him and uttered those immortal words of strategy, “Ah Colonel, all is fair in love and war, you know.”
The Intimidation Tactic
There are many sinister forces in business who are adept at living according to this principle. They intimidate you and make your position look tenuous by pressurising you into signing long contracts which are written in a language which you do not understand.
Merely consider banking agreements, the length and complexity of these documents already makes one feel in some way inferior to the Banker. Then, if you fail to meet your obligations in terms of their contract, they start to harass you with letters from law firms, who use their sheer size and financial weight to coerce you to meet their demands, where they might not even be able to make a real case, let alone win the battle in a court of law.
We can, however, defend ourselves against unjust attacks by following Sun Tzu’s advice. He said that when you are faced with an attack from a sinister force/corporation, you should carefully study their strengths and weaknesses and find a gap in their defences. We can use their perceived strength and our perceived weakness in our favour.
For example, the very size of a Bank makes manoeuvrability and lateral thinking more difficult, whereas smaller organisations do not have the associated bureaucracy in place and can consequently manoeuvre more easily and faster.
A Biblical Analogy
In 1 Samuel 17, the biblical example is given of where David, a young shepherd boy, faced the giant Goliath in the field of battle. Goliath was a huge man, experienced in war and armed with a large sword, a spear, a javelin and thick armour, while David was young, inexperienced and without any armour. David, perhaps feeling a lot like you and I as we face the big Corporates, shouted out to Goliath, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”
Goliath challenged David to defeat him and instead of using the conventional weapon of a sword or a spear to do so, David used a small slingshot that he had been using to protect the sheep he usually cared for. The stone propelled by this slingshot found a gap in Goliath’s armour, hitting him on the forehead and knocking him down, allowing David to cut off Goliath’s head with his own sword. David had held out the bait of sure victory but Goliath had entered the battle laughing at puny little David. We know who the victor was in the end.
In a similar way, it is possible to hold out the bait to your adversary even though you may not feel like David initially. Be assured, you can still win the battle.
Another example of this is a true story where a small business had signed surety on another’s debts. The latter business went under, leaving the small business responsible for $5 million owed to the bank. The bank then took this small business to court to retrieve the money. At a certain stage in the court proceedings, the court asked to see the original of the signed surety document. It then turned out that this document had got lost in the banks’ internal mail while being sent from one branch to another. As a result, the entire court case fell apart.
About the Author: Dr Alan Louis is a third generation entrepreneur in a family with a 100-year business history. He devoted his life to Christianity since the age of 7. He was awarded a PhD in Commerce, is an Ironman Triathlete Gold medallist and was inducted in the IBC Hall of Fame for entrepreneurship. Internationally he has served on more than 100 private corporate boards, and has experienced the ups and downs of commerce for 3 decades.