The Art of Strategy

Chapter 10 — Landscape

Erik Schön
Mar 20 · 8 min read

What is strategy? Why do you need it? How do you do it? The Art Of Strategy provides timeless answers to these eternal questions. It is a modern reading of Sun Tzu’s Art of War using the lenses of strategists John Boyd and Simon Wardley (swardley). Chapter 10: How to approach difficult areas. Difficult situations caused by lack of leadership. Moving against the will of stakeholders. Knowledge as a prerequisite for success. Maps of mapping. Relevant doctrine and gameplays. (All chapters).

Sun Tzu

Landscape can be accessible, irreversible, deadlocked, enclosed, steep or distant.

An area is accessible if positions for engagement are easily found. To gain advantage in accessible areas, be first to find positions that maximize momentum and use climatic patterns to protect further moves.

An area is irreversible if advancing is easy but retreating is hard. In irreversible areas, if competition is unprepared, advance to engage and succeed; if competition is prepared, and movement fails, the outcome is failure.

An area is deadlocked if it is disadvantageous to move for all. In deadlocked areas, even if competition offers advantages, avoid engaging, lure them out; withdraw. Engagement here is only advantageous when competition has exposed fragility.

In enclosed areas, be first to secure the area, then be prepared and wait for competition. If competition is first to secure the area and is prepared, avoid following. If competition is unprepared, follow.

In steep areas, if first to secure it, wait for competition at positions maximizing momentum. If competition secure it first, avoid following, withdraw to lure them out.

In distant areas, when momentum is equal, it is hard to provoke engagement and engagement is disadvantageous.

These are the approaches for the six different areas. Consider them and act accordingly.

In strategy, the following are exceptions caused by lack of leadership and are amplified in the difficult areas above: turnover, reluctance, distress, collapse, chaos, setback.

Any of the following leads to failure if it persists:

Engaging much stronger competition invite turnover.

Trained people and unskilled leadership invite reluctance.

Skilled leadership and untrained people invite distress.

Reluctant senior leadership engaging with competition without understanding feasibility or purpose invite collapse.

Unskilled leadership not giving clear feedback, not arranging proper training in doctrine, not clearly communicating purpose and doctrine invite chaos.

Leadership unable to assess competition, moving small against large, fragile against resilient, not selecting people based on both aptitude and attitude invite setback.

These are the six situations caused by lack of leadership. Consider them and act accordingly.

Assess landscape and competition to secure success. Know and use these factors to be certain of success; or else, be certain of failure.

If the situation indicate certain success, although stakeholders disagree, proceed. If the situation indicate certain failure, although stakeholders disagree, withdraw.

Proceed without seeking fame; withdraw without escaping blame; aim to keep people safe and bring success to stakeholders.

United by purpose, the organization can go anywhere, together.

If leadership is compassionate, yet unclear in feedback, doctrine and purpose, the organization cannot deploy strategy.

Knowing the organization’s capabilities, yet not knowing competition’s resilience, chances of success is but half.

Knowing competition’s fragility, yet not knowing the organization’s capabilities, chances of success is but half.

Knowing competition’s fragility, knowing the organization’s capabilities, yet not knowing the landscape, chances of success is but half.

So, skilled leadership move without mistakes, act without limits.

And therefore, knowing competition and knowing yourself, success is never in doubt; knowing landscape and climate, success is complete.


Terrain does not fight wars. Machines do not fight wars. People fight wars. It is in the minds of men that war must be fought.


From Wardley Maps.

Maps of Mapping
In the figure below, I’ve drawn an extended map from my purpose and my needs through to my user and their needs.

Map of mapping including users with different needs (Simon Wardley, swardley).

From the map above:

Point 1 — we have my needs i.e. my purpose, my scope and my moral imperative. This is my why of purpose expressed as a chain of needs e.g. be the world’s best tea shop or teach everyone to map. Naturally, I’d hope that my purpose would lead to others doing something and hence there would be users. In 2007, my scope was relatively novel as few seemed to be talking about mapping. However, my imperative wasn’t quite so unique. There were many rallying against the imposed consultancy industry.

Point 2 — whilst I hadn’t expressed this before, I had an unwritten need to survive, to make revenue and a profit. This is a very common and well understood need. In my case, I hoped that I could achieve this by meeting my users’ needs of either teaching them how to map or helping them create advantage over others.

Point 3 — my users had needs themselves. If my needs (i.e. purpose) didn’t fit in some way with the needs of my users, then this mismatch was likely to cause problems. For example, if my highest purpose was to make profit rather than explain topographical intelligence, then I would be focusing on extracting money from my users (this is not one of their core needs) rather than providing a means of learning mapping and creating advantage (which is a core user need). You should always strive to generate revenue and profit as a direct consequence of meeting users’ needs and providing value to them.

There are few other subtler things worth noting about the map above. First, my purpose is part of a chain of needs and as such it is influenced by the underlying components as they evolve. Over time, if mapping and the related activities become more industrialized then a scope of “demonstrate the concepts of evolution and mapping” ceases to be relevant. Even my moral imperative might disappear if the world becomes one where everyone maps, learns about their environment and has rebelled against management consultants with their 2x2s. If you think back to the strategy cycle, this is simply a reflection of the issue that as you act, as your landscape changes then your purpose, scope, moral imperative and even how you survive have to adapt. Nothing is permanent.

The second thing to note is that everything is evolving. At some point in the future, I will need to adapt my scope not only because the underlying components have evolved but also that my scope has become industrialized. There would be a point that you will be able to read endless free guides on how to map and even wikipedia articles. If at that point might scope isn’t something else designed to meet users’ needs and provide value to them then I’ll be attempting to survive against free.

The final issue is the balancing act between different user needs. I thought I had learned that lesson in my past doomed attempt to build a platform future by ignoring one set of very powerful users (the board) but I repeated the same mistake in my strategy consultancy interview. I was trying to engage in a discussion on the environment whereas they needed a financial and HR analysis of impacts caused by a disposal. Whether it was the right or wrong decision wasn’t something they cared about and I wasn’t thinking about their needs. Any play I created may have been right but without support of these users then it didn’t matter.

Mapping is itself a means of exploring and learning about new forms of context specific gameplay i.e. there should be a constant pipeline of new forms of gameplay as long as we are willing to learn.

I’ve drawn this map up in the figure below. Whilst teaching mapping will ultimately industrialize (point 1) there is also a constant pipeline of gameplay (point 2) with new forms of gameplay emerging. I could create a business, with a strong purpose and though it would have to adapt as components changed, there would be other opportunities for me to exploit. Even if I open sourced the mapping method to encourage it to spread (which I did by making it all Creative Commons) then I knew that I could create a future as an “arms dealer” of gameplay.

Map of mapping including a pipeline of new forms of gameplay (Simon Wardley, swardley).

Your map is always part of a wider chain of needs, it is no more than a window on an industry. A perfect map covering an entire industry and all its components is probably as unusable (Valéry’s paradox) as a perfect map of France (i.e. 1 to 1 scale). You have to accept some compromise.

You can draw many organizations onto a single map. The value chain is only a guide and higher up the value chain simply means more visible to that user. You can always draw chains of users e.g. the user needs for a gun company breakdown into the user needs for a bolt company.

Maps are a communication tool. Don’t be afraid to modify or clarify the terms on the axis if it helps in the discussion. Key is to keep within the bounds of what is a map, particularly position (e.g. value chain) and movement (e.g. evolution)

The map of mapping figure above contains components which are also the axes of the map i.e. the idea of evolution is itself evolving along the evolution scale. Mapping can be applied to itself. It also means that these current maps are little more than Babylonian Clay Tablets. Someone will make a better map.

There are many different things which we call innovation — this includes genesis of an act, feature differentiation of a product and a shifting business model from product to utility. They are very different despite our use of a single term to describe them.

Doctrine: Exploit the Landscape
Use the landscape to your advantage, there are often powerful force multipliers. You might decide not to take advantage of a competitor or a change in the market but that should be a conscious choice.

Positional Gameplays
General forms of playing with the future market

  • Land grab: Identifying and position a company to capture a future market space.
  • First mover: Exploiting first mover advantage especially with industrialization to component services.
  • Fast follower: Exploiting fast follower advantage into uncharted spaces.
  • Weak Signal: Use of common economic patterns to identify where and when to attack.

All Chapters

Chapter 1 — Assessments
Chapter 2 — Challenges
Chapter 3 — Success
Chapter 4 — Setup
Chapter 5 — Momentum
Chapter 6 — Deployment
Chapter 7 — Engagement
Chapter 8 — Adaptations
Chapter 9 — Movements
Chapter 10 — Landscape
Chapter 11 — Situations
Chapter 12 — Disruption
Chapter 13 — Intelligence
Annex — Wardley Mapping Examples

This is provided as Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International by the author, Erik Schön.

Erik Schön

Written by

Hacker turned software researcher turned system engineer turned manager, leader & navigator; developing people, teams & organizations in complex, multi-site R&D

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