To be first, do the unexpected


  • Business
  • Thursday, 16 Jan 2003

IN one South-East Asian country, the BMW cars were not selling well at one time. Then, the management had a radical policy change. They jacked up the price. Projecting BMW as a status car augmented the campaign. The losing venture was turned into a roaring success. 

To be first is to do something new, and therefore different, from the usual. If you want to be first, it is likely that someone who is now first would have to be displaced. You can not do the same thing as this person if you hope to displace him. Thus, Sun Tzu associates the aim of being first with doing the unexpected: 

You can be sure of succeeding in your attack if you attack those places which are undefended. You can be sure of your defence if you hold those positions that cannot be attacked. 

Hence a general is skilful in the offensive, whose enemy would not know what to defend; and he is skilful in the defensive, whose enemy would not know what to attack. 

O divine art of subtlety and secrecy. Through you we learn to be invisible and inaudible and control the enemy’s fate. 

You may advance and cannot be resisted if you make for the enemy’s weak areas; if need to withdraw, moves so swiftly that cannot be overtaken. When we wish to fight, the enemy can be forced to engage even if sheltered by high ramparts and deep moats. What we need to do is to attack a position that he will be obliged to relieve. 

When we wish to avoid a fight, we can prevent an engagement even though the battle-camp lines had been drawn. What we need to do is to divert the enemy with something odd and unexpected thrown in his way. Sun Tzu 6:12 

The above is the trick of doing the unexpected. In modern management, one could call it being innovative. But this would only come if you were very observant of the situation and creative. You have to something different from what most people would do. As it would be a departure from the general practice, it would be somewhat new.  

However, this new thing would have no precedent and will bring about a certain degree of uncertainty. So, you have to be bold to do the unexpected thing; Sun Tzu even calls it “odd”. 

It will take a talented person to study the situation. The creative innovative person would be unable to propose anything new unless he could also demonstrate its viability. Otherwise, what new things have been proposed would be just a mad man’s dreams. 

It is possible that you are a newcomer and your opponent is already established, which will make your ambition of becoming first more difficult. If your opponent knows what you are going to do, he would plan the counters to nullify your moves. Your established opponent could roll out the necessary resources to crush you. So, you have to be secretive. 

Microsoft’s Windows is the preferred operating system used in computers. Other software makers had complained that Microsoft used underhand monopolistic policies to push up sales of its Windows.  

For example, computers makers had to agree to exclusive usage of Windows, although the recent US courts had ruled this was illegal, which was a serious legal benchmark and setback for Microsoft.  

Encouraged by the US court’s rulings, other legal suits are being pushed against Microsoft. Microsoft’s attempt to make compensatory measures through donation of Window operated computers to schools were objected by other computers makers as an attempt to further Microsoft’s control of the computer world. 

Of course, Windows has gained many years ahead of its rivals and computers users are used to Windows. Still, the emergence of the Linux operating system poses a challenge and competition, principally because it is going to be a free software.  

Also, many people want an alternative to Windows. 

Lindows proposes to modify the Linux system to allow it to run Windows programs too. Lindows proposes to sell at half the price of Windows and would allow multiple uses by the purchaser, in contrast to Microsoft’s rule of one processor one software. Such a price package is likely to be attractive to computer users. Lindows is therefore adopting different approaches from Windows to push its software. 

Now, Microsoft reacts and sues Lindows, claiming that the brand name Lindows encroaches on the Microsoft’s brand name Windows. The Lindows people say this is just harassment from Microsoft and they will fight the case. Anyway, this goes to show that Microsoft takes Lindows as a serious competitor. 

However, it is possible for Lindows to become number one in the software for operating system. Microsoft’s Windows displaces nothing as it has grown into heavy use because there was a need for an efficient operating system software.  

Lindows case is somewhat different – there are already a few efficient operating system software. So, Lindows is attempting to displace Windows, in which case there will be intensified competition, friction and struggles. 

The above lesson is this: you can be first if you find that your established opponent is doing something which the customers are beginning to resent. Take advantage of this consumer feeling to forge ahead! 

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