Last week Target announced that it was shutting down completely its Canadian operation, all 133 stores, and taking a $5.4 billion writedown. What was originally supposed to be the beginning of a glorious international expansion has turned into a lesson in humility and hubris. There was a lot of talk of how they had poor merchandising, high prices, lack of stock, etc etc. This is all true, but the main cause of this was arrogance. They appeared to think they could launch across Canada en masse without learning about the market(s), building a solid supplier network and logistics, and experimenting to adapt to the Canadian marketplace and competitive dynamic.

A military force that’s fixing to cross a major obstacle into new territory always starts with a bridgehead. The aim is to secure a foothold that can be defended and to build up strength and supplies of fuel and ammunition. Only when you’ve done so successfully do you extend the beachhead by probing and seeking gaps in the enemy defenses. You can then attempt a breakout. We can’t be sure Target would have been ultimately successful, but if they had started with a few stores in various parts of the country, experimented, generated experience and lessons learned, and only then tried to expand in phases, they would probably have done a lot better and would still be expanding instead of retreating humbly back to their home base in the US.

I’m never too busy to discuss your needs or those of anyone else you feel may benefit from meeting or talking to me. So feel free to contact me at any time!

Richard Martin is a Master Strategist and Leadership Catalyst. Richard brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

The Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman was fond of saying that the easiest person to fool is oneself. One of the main reasons for this is that we lose sight of our aim, what we’re trying to achieve. If you forget your objective, then it’s easy to become sidetracked into doing the wrong things, or at least things that don’t contribute directly to the aim. You can also get drawn off course and manipulated by others. This is why we always need to come back to our original aim by asking the following questions:

  • What was my original objective?
  • Has the situation changed?
  • If so, how?
  • Is the original aim still valid?
  • If yes, will my current plans and activities get me there?
  • If not, what do I have to do to adjust them to get back on track?

I’m never too busy to discuss your needs or those of anyone else you feel may benefit from meeting or talking to me. So feel free to contact me at any time!

Richard Martin is a Master Strategist and Leadership Catalyst. Richard brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

Innovation and competition are always at the forefront of my discussions with my prospects and clients, specifically, how to make them work together so a company or organization can thrive.

I used to think the motor of innovation was trial and error experimentation, but my thinking has been evolving. Experimentation is how innovation takes place, but it is competition that is in the driver’s seat. In other words, the motivation to invent and tinker is what is driving people to innovate, not the mechanism of experimentation.

I enjoy history; so a few historical examples will illustrate my point. The Italian Renaissance was based on the discovery and spread of the ideas and writings of Classical Antiquity. But what drove people to look for, translate, and disseminate ancient works by philosophers, scientists, architects, and playwrights? It was competition between Italian city-states, and their sponsorship of thinkers, researchers, creators, and innovators. The Florentine Medici’s were probably the most active in this regard. It was their arrogance, egotism, and power-hunger which drove them to encourage and provide commissions artists and humanist intellectuals in their midst. It’s that flowering of rivalry and civic pride that drove the flowering of arts and philosophy that created Leonardo and Michelangelo. As an aside, the latter were always in competition with each other for commissions and repute.

The humanist ideals and thinking of the Renaissance couldn’t have spread to Northern Europe though without the impulse of the Protestant Reformation. It was anger at the abuses of the Catholic Church that led Martin Luther to lead the initial religious reforms. But it probably wouldn’t have happened without the political and economic fragmentation that reigned in the German Holy Roman Empire. Local potentates were eager to break free of papal and imperial authority, and this generated religious competition and political competition. This in turn created a market for ideas and writings.

By the late 16th and most of the 17th centuries, the Calvinist Dutch provinces became a magnet for thinkers who wished to work and publish with minimal hindrance from political and ecclesiastic authorities, Protestant or Catholic. It is no accident that the originators of modern science and thought, luminaries such as Descartes, Gassendi, Galileo, Hobbes, and Locke, either chose to settle in Holland or to publish their works there. Yes, there were incessant wars, revolts, and other forms of social struggle throughout Europe. Millions of people died for the sake of ideas about freedom, justice, or just plain hubris. But it was this state of confusion and intense rivalry that fuelled the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution.

Other examples of innovation and creativity driven by competition and hubris abound. For instance, Darwin came up with the essentials of his theory of natural selection and natural evolution about 20 years before he decided to publish it. It was when he learned that Alfred Russell Wallace was about to scoop him that he rushed The Origin of Species to the publisher. Darwin was constitutionally anxious about upsetting established ideas and making enemies. It was the threat of someone else getting all the credit that outweighed his fear and anxiety about rocking the boat. And rock it he did.

I bring up these examples because we sometimes feel compelled to be “team players” and avoid rocking the boat. We don’t want to upset the perception of good feelings within an organization or company. However, as we see from history, it is ego-motivated competitiveness that drives innovation. Creators, tinkerers, inventors, and artists of all kinds want to be recognized and get the credit and glory that go with their products and ideas.

Free market economies with minimal regulation and interference are conducive to growth, creativity, innovation and development. The previous government of the Province of Quebec had created a program to choose economic “gazelles” for state support. Thankfully, the current Liberal government canned that idea as soon as it assumed power and the project was stillborn. How can you choose which companies and which ideas will work on the economic front? You can’t. It is free choice and competition that does this. If some companies fail at the attempt, that’s the price of innovation and economic development. Protection only works for the seemingly well-ensconced privileged few, and even then over the short term. That doesn’t just include “capitalists,” but also protected guilds, trades, and various commercial oligopolies.

The Uber threat has done more for competition and innovation in the taxi industry in one year than happened in the last three decades! Taxi companies that were sitting in the warm sun like fat cats have decided to launch competing applications, open up to some competition, maybe even including quicker service, cleaner cabs, nicer drivers, and demand-driven fees. Who knows what can happen next?

I have my money on hover cabs like they showed in the movie The Fifth Element.

I’m never too busy to discuss your needs or those of anyone else you feel may benefit from meeting or talking to me. So feel free to contact me at any time!

Richard Martin is a Master Strategist and Leadership Catalyst. Richard brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

  • Do you find yourself continually responding to competitors’ actions or do you instead initiate changes that your competitors must respond to?
  • Do your competitors find you predictable? Is there something you could start doing that would be out of character, but that would put them on the defensive and give you back the initiative?
  • How do you define your mission and business? Is it a narrow view-providing a particular category of product or service-or is it a wider view-searching for ways of fulfilling customer needs at a more general or abstract level? Could you widen the scope of your business by redefining your business and mission?
  • Is it likely that you will still be serving exactly the same customers in the same way in one year, two years, five years, or even ten years? What would have to happen for this situation to remain the same at those time intervals? This will give you an indication of how realistic your forecasts are.
  • Are your decisions today likely to hem you in in the short, medium, or long terms? What can you do to innovate while maintaining your freedom of action in the longer term?
  • How fast can you move to implement new strategies and tactics?

I’m never too busy to discuss your needs or those of anyone else you feel may benefit from meeting or talking to me. So feel free to contact me at any time!

Richard Martin is a Master Strategist and Leadership Catalyst. Richard brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

So we finally come to step 6 in the abbreviated battle readiness procedure I’ve been describing: Execution.

In the army we always said that “a plan is only good until you cross the line of departure.” Eisenhower said something very similar: The plan is nothing, but planning is everything (or words to that effect).

We have to be ready to adjust our execution to the exigencies of the situation and the reality on the ground. Competitors, clients, suppliers, distributors, other stakeholders, no one does exactly what we were expecting them to do. Things go awry and plans go off track. We have to anticipate, react, and shape the battlefield. We have to manoeuvre to get things back on track, and get our opponents to react to us rather than the other way around.

The best way to do this is to keep our objective(s) front and center. When all else fails, we can still achieve our aims by focusing on the outcome we’re trying to achieve. If we’ve exercised sound leadership and implemented the fundamentals of sound battle readiness I’ve been writing about, then our people (and we ourselves) will be able to adapt and thrive in this demanding, ever changing, environment.

I’m never too busy to discuss your needs or those of anyone else you feel may benefit from meeting or talking to me. So feel free to contact me at any time!

Richard Martin is a Master Strategist and Leadership Catalyst. Richard brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2014 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

Step 5 in the Battle Readiness Procedure we’ve been covering is Rehearsal and Preparation. The key to this step is to ensure everyone knows the plan and what role they have in it. Military leaders are taught to give their direction and plan using the SMESC format:

S–Situation: What is the friendly and enemy situation? What is the lay of the land, the climate and weather, etc?
M–Mission: What is the essential role of the team or organization in the higher unit’s plans?
E–Execution: How will the mission be achieved? What are all the moving parts, the tasks of each element, and the resources they have to achieve their part of the plan?
S–Support & Logistics: What are the special supply and logistical arrangements to support the overall plan, including personnel and medical support?
C–Command, Control & Communications: What is the chain of command and succession? Are there special communication and control measures (including codewords, etc)?

Rehearsals and practice runs are the key to ensuring everyone fully understands their own role(s) as well as those of others in the unit. There are many forms of practice and rehearsal, from “chalk talks,” to war games to full dress rehearsals to get all the parts of the machine synchronized and in full working order.

I’m never too busy to discuss your needs or those of anyone else you feel may benefit from meeting or talking to me. So feel free to contact me at any time!

Richard Martin is a Master Strategist and Leadership Catalyst. Richard brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2014 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

Step 4 in the Battle Readiness procedure we’ve been examining is the estimate and plan.

  • The estimate is a sequential process for assessing the situation and determining key factors, options, and consequences of actions (friendly and enemy). The result of the estimate is a plan.
  • This might seem a bit obvious, but the estimate always starts with a clear understanding and statement of the AIM. You have to know your objective before you can analyze your courses of action and decide on the best one. Omitting the aim is ALWAYS the biggest mistake people make.
  • The key factors to consider in formulating options and plans are:
    • Climate & weather (social, economic, and political environments)
    • Enemy (competitors, big and small, old and new)
    • Terrain (markets)
    • Friendly forces (products and services)
    • Time & space (when, where, how long)
    • Speed & surprise
    • Resources at your disposal (and any gaps)
    • Logistics & support
    • Command, control, communications (who’s in charge, etc.)
  • Generate different courses of action, both for you and for COMPETITORS and other STAKEHOLDERS (whether supportive or hostile). Select the optimal course of action.
  • Your plan should be based on the optimal solution to achieve your aim. Discarded or sub-optimal courses of action (friendly and enemy) may provide input for contingency planning and risk management.

I’m never too busy to discuss your needs or those of anyone else you feel may benefit from meeting or talking to me. So feel free to contact me at any time!

Richard Martin is a Master Strategist and Leadership Catalyst. Richard brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2014 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.