5by5 | The Critical Path #48: Asymmetric Competition

We turn our attention to the notion of competition. It’s a concept that has many contradictory connotations. What we anticipate as sporting or fair is never the way business or war is conducted. How should you think about this and why does it matter in every decision you make professionally and personally?

via 5by5 | The Critical Path #48: Asymmetric Competition.

  • Ken Beegle

    Am I correct in guessing that you were referring to Colonel John Boyd when talking about asymmetric competition becoming an area of study in the military during the 1970’s?
    For anyone that’s interested, there are a couple of biography / business books out there on him. I’d probably recommend beginning with Certain To Win by Chet Richards, especially because he was a colleague of Boyd’s. At the same time, there’s a lot of nuance to Boyd’s work that gets missed when translating it to the business world and for really diving deep, I’d suggest Science, Strategy and War by Frans PB Osinga.

  • BoydWaters

    Great show today!

    The Guru at the top of the mountain —

    Short story images, which help illustrate a lesson, are probably “aphorisms”. I suppose Aesop’s Fables are examples of these.

    I likely have the wrong impression, but Chinese figures of speech that refer to a set of lessons that everyone knows — there are these four-word punchlines. [Chengyu]( (thank you, Wikipedia!)

    An example of American business Chengyu might be “Same Stuff, Different Day”.

  • BoydWaters

    The Guru at the top of the Mountain —

    I suppose a colloquial reference to an illustrative, pedagogical stories are “aphorisms”? Aesop’s Fables or the short, ironic stories of Mark Twain. Although it seems that American collective culture these days is perhaps more often references to movies, TV, or comic strips.

    I probably don’t get the whole story, but common Chinese figures of speech that can be rendered into four ideograms — Chengyu — carry similar lessons. (thanks, Wikipedia, for finding the word for this!)

    An example of “American Business Chengyu” might be “Same Stuff, Different Day”.

    All this is somewhat evocative of the “must-read” books for entrepreneurs borrowing heavily from lessons of military history: Sun Tzu. Perhaps that’s the best anyone could do to grasp at the notion of Asymmetric Competition in 1990.

  • Bruce

    “How should you think about this?” is not a question that the military could leave unanswered! OODA – Observe, Orient, Decide, Act; observe the results, orient to the new reality, etc. … was one way of thinking that came out of asymmetric warfare research. OODA Loop is in Wikipedia. I’m not a military historian by any means but I first heard of this associated with Col. John Boyd, who is mentioned earlier in the comments.

    • Ken Beegle

      By far, the OODA loop is the easiest concept of Boyd’s to package up and teach, but it’s almost worth forgetting until you’ve dived a bit deeper into his work. It’s been a while since I’ve chewed through his theories, but if I remember right, two major themes are:

      1) Create friction within your enemy and reduce friction within yourself (and allies).
      2) Create a situation where you’re able to gather a lot of pieces of information and then develop the skills to break the info into it’s most basic components and then synthesize them into a new strategy.

      As much of a genius as Boyd was, I’d argue that his work (and most military philosophers) shouldn’t be applied to business until the theory and underlying assumptions are deeply understood. Most of the military writing I’ve read has a frame of reference where success is a result of the destruction of the enemy. This implies that success is a fixed point in time and the continuation of it is a political goal, rather than a military one. In business, success is an ongoing goal that’s defined by relationships with customers. Destruction of competitors is a side effect.

      In recent years, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq my lead to some more theory that fits better with business because success was a political/economic goal and the enemy is harder to define. There’s a ton to be learned from military theory, but taking the time to understand why and in what situations the ideas work certainly has the biggest impact to applying them successfully to my life.

  • Suddy

    My gripe on the audio quality, too many times you could count the digitized speech

  • Jan6

    Nice to hear that there is such a thoughtful meaning behind the name Asymco. It helps to like the word even more. Nevertheless, it seems kind of redundant to me, since business is never fair and equal, competition is always asymmetrical. Or isn’t it? Can you give an example for symmetrical competition in business?

  • Les S

    What are the consequences of asymmetric competition becoming commonplace? Is there a dark-side to it?