Steps Towards Business Agility

The Art of Strategy: Success

3. How to succeed together with your stakeholders

Photo: Guille Álvarez on Unsplash

What is strategy? Why do you need it? How do you do it? And, how can you be more certain to succeed? 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). All parts. Other reading formats.

Sun Tzu

This is successful strategy:
unite the team;
unite the organization;
unite society;
avoid division.
Unity of purpose brings success, division brings failure.

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

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

The superior strategy is to disrupt competitors’ strategies.
Next is to disrupt competitors’ alliances.
Next is to engage competitors.
Last is to copy competitors; do this only as the last resort.
Development start is late; delivery is late.
Delivery takes time and efforts 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
unite and avoid division;
succeed together with stakeholders without engaging competition;
strive for global success without risking people and equipment.

This is successful strategy.

勝 (Shèng) Success. Calligraphy © Hisayo Oki

This is strategy for engagement:
when very much larger, beset them;
when much larger, engage them;
when larger, divide them;
when equal, ably engage them;
when fewer, ably evade them;
when weaker, ably avoid them.
So, when smaller, elude them; when larger, ensnare them.

Leadership serves the organization:
faultless leadership brings resilience;
flawed leadership brings fragility.

Stakeholders can interfere with the organization:
ignorant orders entangle;
ignorant decisions confuse;
ignorant appointments cause doubt.

With such confusion and doubt, difficulties from competitors intensify,
creating chaos and preventing success.

So, the following five conditions secure success in advance:
knowing when to engage and when to avoid it;
knowing how to act when larger and smaller;
uniting everyone in purpose;
preparing for the unexpected and waiting for the unprepared;
mastering leadership and avoiding interference from stakeholders.

Knowing stakeholders and oneself ensures success;
knowing oneself without knowing stakeholders enables it;
knowing neither stakeholders nor oneself prevents it.


Sun Tzu tried to drive his adversary bananas while Clausewitz tried to keep himself from being driven bananas

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
Unifying Vision: A grand ideal, overarching theme, or noble philosophy that represents a coherent paradigm within which individuals as well as societies can shape and adapt to unfolding circumstances — yet offers a way to expose flaws of competing or adversary systems.

Ingredients needed to pursue vision [IOHAI]

  • Insight. Ability to peer into and discern the inner nature or workings of things.
  • Orientation. Common outlook to encourage initiative yet realizes uperior intent in pursuit of vision.
  • Harmony. Power to perceive or create interaction of apparently disconnected events or entities in a connected way.
  • Agility. Ability to shift from one orientation to another in order to cope with new or unforeseen circumstances.
  • Initiative. Internal drive to think and take action without being urged

Aim: Improve fitness as an organic whole to shape and expand influenceor power over the course of events in the world.

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. Source: C. S. Holling and 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. Illustration: Simon Wardley (swardley, CC BY-SA 4.0)

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:

  • Alliances: working with other companies to drive evolution of a specific activity, practice or data set.
  • Co-operation: working with others. Sounds easy, actually it’s not.
  • Co-creation: working with end users to drive evolution of a specific activity, practice or data set.
  • Co-opting: copying competitors move and undermining any ecosystem advantage by interrupting data flows.
  • Two factor: bringing together consumers and producers and exploiting the relationship between them.

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

  • Threat acquisition: buying up those companies that may threaten your market.
  • Directed investment: use a venture capital approach to a specific or identified future change.
  • Fragmentation: exploiting pricing effects, constraints and co-opting to fragment a competitor’s market.
  • Sapping: opening up multiple fronts on a competitor to weaken their ability to react.
  • Tech drops: creating a ‘follow me’ situation and dropping large technology changes onto the market.

The Art of Strategy: All Parts

Contents: A very short summary of each part
Introduction: What is strategy and why do you need it?

  1. Assessments: How to assess, prepare and shape
  2. Challenges: How to use and reduce inertia, entropy and friction
  3. Success: How to succeed together with stakeholders
  4. Setup: How to create resilience
  5. Momentum: How to use creativity, focus and timing
  6. Shaping: How to shape and avoid being shaped
  7. Engagement: How to engage using surprise
  8. Adaptations: How to adapt to shifting situations
  9. Movements: How to move to optimize momentum
  10. Landscape: How to approach difficult areas
  11. Situations: How to handle difficult situations
  12. Disruption: How to disrupt and avoid being disrupted
  13. Intelligence: How to use intelligence to create foreknowledge

Annex: Wardley Mapping Examples
Glossary: Explanation of key terms and symbols
Acknowledgements: Standing on the shoulders of giants
Sources: Where to learn more
Other reading formats: Hardcover, paperback and PDF

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

Wardley Mapping is provided courtesy of Simon Wardley (swardley) and licensed as Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International.



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Erik Schön

From hacker, software researcher and system engineer to leader, executive and strategizer. Writer: #ArtOfLeadership #ArtOfStrategy