The Art of Strategy

Chapter 3 — Success

Erik Schön
Jan 17 · 7 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 3: Unity of purpose. Succeed together with stakeholders. Avoid interference from stakeholders. Know stakeholders and yourself. The Art of Success. Vitality and Growth. Strategy on different levels. Resilience and Fragility. Relevant doctrine and gameplays. (All chapters).

Sun Tzu

This is successful strategy:

Unite society rather than divide;
unite the organization rather than divide;
unite the team rather than divide.
Unity of purpose brings success to any engagement.

Succeed with stakeholders rather than engage competition;
create desirable outcomes rather than focus on competition;
attend to stakeholders’ needs rather than copy competition.

The skill of skills is to succeed together with stakeholders without engaging competitors rather than succeeding in a hundred engagements.

The superior strategy is to disrupt competitors’ strategies and involve stakeholders in strategy development.

Next is to disrupt competitors’ alliances and collaborate closely with stakeholders.

Next is to confuse competitors and educate stakeholders.

Next is to engage competitors.

Last is to copy competitors. Do this only as the last resort. Development start and delivery is late, and, takes time and efforts that could have been better spent on other things. Often, leadership, irritated from pressure, add even more capabilities, still without success. And, all this can never be recovered.

So, skilled leadership
succeed together with stakeholders without engaging competition;
fulfill stakeholders’ needs without copying competition;
succeed without delay;
strive for global success without risking people and equipment.

This is the art of success.

This is how to develop strategy for success when engagement is necessary:
when heavily outnumbering competition, buy them;
when outnumbering them, engage;
when equally matched, engage and divide;
when outnumbered, avoid;
when heavily outnumbered, merge or exit.

So, what works against smaller competitors fails against larger ones; assess the situation and act accordingly.

Leadership serves the organization.

Faultless leadership make the organization resilient.
Flawed leadership make the organization fragile.

Stakeholders can interfere in three ways:
order movement when impossible — this ties up the organization;
interfere in matters they do not understand — this confuses the organization;
decide things they do not understand — this brings doubt to the organization.

With such doubt and confusion in the organization, competitors will add further difficulties.

Confusion and doubt in an organization prevent success.

Use knowledge of the five fundamental factors of strategy to secure success:
unite everyone in purpose;
prepare for the unexpected;
know when to engage or not;
know how to use both large and small teams;
master leadership and avoid interference from stakeholders.

For successful strategy:

Knowing stakeholders and oneself makes success almost certain.

Not knowing stakeholders, yet knowing oneself makes success possible.

Knowing neither stakeholders nor oneself makes success impossible.


It’s ok to be confused as long as your opponent is more confused.

From A Discourse on Winning and Losing.

He who can handle the quickest rate of change survives.

The Art of Success
Appear to be an unsolvable cryptogram while operating in a directed way to penetrate adversary vulnerabilities and weaknesses in order to isolate him from his allies, pull him apart, and collapse his will to resist. Yet, shape or influence events so that we not only magnify our spirit and strength but also influence potential adversaries as well as the uncommitted so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic toward our success.

Theme for Vitality and Growth

Boyd’s Theme for Vitality and Growth (Patterns of Conflict).

Strategy for Success on Different Levels
National Goal: improve our fitness, as an organic whole, to shape and cope with an ever-changing environment.

Grand Strategy: shape pursuit of national goal so that we not only amplify our spirit and strength (while undermining and isolating our adversaries) but also influence the uncommitted or potential adversaries so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic toward our success.

Strategic Aim: diminish adversary’s capacity while improving our capacity to adapt as an organic whole, so that our adversary cannot cope — while we can cope — with events/efforts as they unfold.

Strategy: penetrate adversary’s moral–mental–physical being to dissolve his moral fiber, disorient his mental images, disrupt his operations, and overload his system, as well as subvert, shatter, seize, or otherwise subdue those moral–mental–physical bastions, connections, or activities that he depends upon, in or- der to destroy internal harmony, produce paralysis, and collapse adversary’s will to resist.

Grand Tactics: operate inside adversary’s observation–orientation–decision–action loops, or get inside his mind– time–space, to create tangles of threatening and/or non-threatening events/efforts as well as repeatedly generate mismatches between those events/efforts adversary observes, or imagines, and those he must react to, to survive; thereby enmesh adversary in an amorphous, menacing, and unpredictable world of uncertainty, doubt, mistrust, confusion, disorder, fear, panic, chaos . . . and/or fold adversary back inside himself; thereby maneuver adversary beyond his moral–mental–physical capacity to adapt or endure so that he can neither divine our intentions nor focus his efforts to cope with the unfolding strategic design or related decisive strokes as they penetrate, splinter, isolate or envelop, and overwhelm him.

Tactics: observe–orient–decide–act more inconspicuously, more quickly, and with more irregularity as basis to keep or gain initiative as well as shape and shift main effort: to repeatedly and unexpectedly penetrate vulnerabilities and weaknesses exposed by that effort or other effort(s) that tie-up, divert, or drain-away adversary attention (and strength) elsewhere.


From Wardley Maps.

Resilience and Fragility
As defined by C.S. Holling, engineering resilience is focused on maintaining the efficiency of a function whereas ecological resilience is focused on maintaining the existence of the function. In terms of sustainability, the goal of any organization should be to become resilient. This requires a structure that can adapt to constant evolution along with many supporting ecosystems. Unfortunately, most larger organizations tend to be in the robust category, constantly designing processes to cope with known failure modes and trying to maintain the efficiency of any capital function when shock occurs i.e. constantly trying to maintain profitability and return to shareholders. Whilst efficient, the lack of diversity in terms of culture and thought means these organizations tend to be ill prepared for environments that rapidly changes outside of its comfort zone.

Ecological resilience and engineering resilience for sustainability (Simon Wardley, swardley).

Doctrine for Success
Know your users. When mapping a landscape then know who your users are e.g. customers, shareholders, regulators and staff.

Focus on user needs. Any value we create is through meeting the needs of others. Even our ability to understand our environment by creating a map requires us to first define the user need as it is the anchor for the entire map. Ideally you want to create an environment where your needs are achieved by meeting the needs of your users. Be mindful that these needs will evolve due to competition and in the uncharted space they are uncertain. Also, be aware that users may have different and competing needs and be prepared to balance the conflict.

Doctrine for Success: Focus on user needs (Simon Wardley, swardley).

Set exceptional standards. Don’t settle for as good as or slightly better than competitors. Always strive for the very best that can be achieved.
Focus on the outcome not a contract. Try to focus on the outcome and what you’re trying to achieve. Realize that different types of contract will be needed e.g. outsourced or time and material based or worth based development. Along with a focus on outcomes, try and keep contracts constrained in terms of time and budget.

Gameplays for Success
Gameplays for working together with stakeholders:

Gameplays for engaging with competition if you can’t work with them:

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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