Using dividing strategies against a larger opponent

  • Business
  • Thursday, 23 Jan 2003

WHEN going up against a big bully, especially if you are small sized, take courage. The businessman who is starting out would wonder how he could compete with the big shots.  

It is difficult to sue a larger firm which would use its battery of lawyers to delay things and wear down the smaller firm. Hence, a major reason why some fear to make moves is because the op- ponent looks very big. 

Empires have fallen and new ones risen. Major organisations have disappeared from the corporate scene and new ones emerged. All these show that there are processes by which large organisations would fall to originally much smaller organisations.  

It takes courage for a smaller organisation to take on a larger one. But while courage is a starting necessity, one must have the skills and strategies to take on the larger opponent. Therefore, learn these processes and strategies of how the small can defeat the big. 

To win, the smaller organisation could use dividing strategies against a larger opponent: 

By discovering the enemy's dispositions and at the same time concealing ours from him, we can concentrate forces while he must divide his. We can form a united body, while the enemy will have to spread out his forces to defend every point. Hence a total strength pitted against a part, which means we are many to the enemy's few. 

If we are to use my superior strength to attack an inferior one, they will be in dire straits. (Sun Tzu 6:13-15) 

A superior enemy can be persuaded to overstretch himself and divide his forces trying to defend every spot. Then, you could attack him in his weakest spots. Many large firms overstretch themselves by trying to grab everything. They become jack-of-all-trades and master of none.  

They delude themselves that they can do everything and violate the concept of core-competencies. They think they compose one big unit but the components within are actually divided and badly coordinated. The weakness arises owing to failure to prioritise and trying to cling to everything. 

The place we intend to attack must not be known; the enemy must prepare for possible attack in many places; and his forces shall be so spread out that those we have to fight with at any point will be few.  

When he defends the front, the near will be weak; when he defends the rear, the front will weaken; similarly, left to right and right to left. If he defends everywhere, he will be weak everywhere. Numerical weakness comes from having to defend against possible attacks; numerical strength from making the enemy prepare for defence. 

If we know the place and the date of the battle, then even for a thousand li, we can march forth to engage the enemy. 

But if knowing not time nor place, then left wing cannot protect right wing, right the left, our front the rear and rear the front. How much more if troops are distanced by a hundred li, or even separated of a few li? (Sun Tzu 6:16-20) 

The obvious counter is to prioritise and give up on the unnecessary frills. Do not defend everything and find out what not to defend against. The remedy includes moves to streamline, improve co-ordination and have core-competencies. 

Microsoft began as a computer software firm whose useful trade product is Windows. It tried to move into other software products, like the Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer. As Windows is a rather essential operating system, Microsoft used this to force hardware computers to favour Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer, creating a sort of monopolistic policy. Its opponents hit back by initiating successful legal action against Mi- crosoft. The government also shied away from Microsoft by buying products of its opponents. Microsoft is fighting on too many fronts, and its opponents are rather united. 

The opposition was also favoured by public resentment against the high prices Microsoft insisted on its products. People had hardly any choice on the use of Windows and even Microsoft Office and those who used pirated products were persecuted.  

People feel that Microsoft was high-handed. The opposition cleverly launched a campaign to divide Microsoft from the public. Linux came out with its free operating system and Sun Mi- crosystems offered the free Star Office; these free products made the public even more resentful that they had to pay high prices for Microsoft products. 

The lesson is similar to that given last week: find where your established opponent is doing something that the customers are beginning to resent. As it has often occurred with giants, they be- came arrogant and used hard tactics which offended the public and the customers. Take advantage of this consumer feeling to forge ahead! 

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