Posts Tagged ‘brilliant maneuvers’

I had started graduate studies in military history and was participating in a seminar on First World War strategy. The professor was an expert on French-British relations during that war. We were discussing the effectiveness of the French Army’s commanders, generals like Nivelle, who planned and commanded a major offensive in 1917. Like most other offensives at that point of the war, it failed, with massive French casualties. This failure was one of the causes of a near revolt in the ranks and a refusal of a large number of French generals to continue prosecuting the war in what they felt was an ineffective manner. The professor, like many historians before him, said that Nivelle was like many of his colleagues. He had no respect for the life of his soldiers and was willing to squander resources on futile and brutal frontal attacks. Now, I wasn’t an expert on the particular battle under discussion, but I did point out that it is easy to question decisions and leadership from the sidelines. In football that’s called Monday morning quarterbacking, right?

One thing that was drilled into us during our professional military training was that how plans would actually perform in battle was pure conjecture. If there is one thing that we learned from military history, it was that the best laid plans could go awry at the worst possible time, sometimes for the most inane or innocuous reasons. In war as in so many other highly risky endeavors, we seldom achieve our ends with perfect precision, and there are many random and non-random factors that can throw us off our game.

The French experience in the Great War colored the after war lessons learned and planning for the next war during the 1930s. Just like the British and Commonwealth forces, the Americans, Russians, and Germans, the French drew many valuable lessons about tactics, technology, strategy, planning, and logistics during the war. Just like the others, they also experimented a lot, until they found methods and formulas that got results. But the lesson the French seemed to learn above all others was “never again.” After all, the Great War was called the “War to End All Wars.” For four long years, most of northern France—the country’s industrial heart—was amputated and under harsh German occupation. The French high command was determined that they would never again fight a war on French soil, and allow its occupation by a foreign power. The crucial lesson of the Great War was therefore the absolute necessity to fight the war outside France, and the best place to do that was in the Low Countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, and tiny Luxembourg. Mostly flat and open, the terrain to the north of France would allow the wide, sweeping maneuvering, and mechanized battles that had not transpired in the First World War in France between late 1914 and mid-1918, between the initial German Schlieffen plan, a wide flanking maneuver meant to encircle the main French forces between the eastern border with Germany and Paris. That it had failed was testimony to French resolve in 1914 and the “heroes of the Marne.” By mid-1918, everyone was exhausted, materially and psychologically, except the Americans, Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders. British and Commonwealth forces were using tanks and other mechanized forces in greater numbers, and a war of position and attrition suddenly turned mobile again.

It was this traumatic experience that underlay France’s resolve to defend itself by forcing a future fight with Germany as far north as possible, even into Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg. So when the country invested in the massive and technologically wondrous Maginot Line, the idea wasn’t to cower passively behind it to absorb the Germany assault. It was rather an attempt to pin down German forces on the French-German border, while maneuvering further north with the bulk of the French Army’s elite mechanized divisions. The German army’s assault in May 1940 was a masterful combination of maneuver and subterfuge. The Germans knew they couldn’t possibly get through the Maginot Line. They also knew that simply replaying the Schlieffen Plan from 1914, which had already failed once, wouldn’t work.

They war gamed their options and came up with a novel solution. Send a significant armored force into the Netherlands and Belgium to create the impression that they were replaying the Schlieffen Plan, while sending token forces against the Maginot Line. The bulk of the German Army’s elite Panzer divisions meanwhile threaded their way through the Ardennes Forest in southwestern Belgium. The French High Command had estimated that such a maneuver was possible, but highly unlikely. French air force reconnaissance reported on the movements, but the French high command continued to evaluate the Ardennes thrust as a fake and the thrust through the Low Countries as the real deal. They quickly learned that it was the exact opposite. The Germans played on the French unwillingness to fight on French soil. They drew them north by playing to French expectations about the Germans’ intentions. Nazi Germany was a monstrous regime, but there is no denying that the Germany campaign to conquer the Low Countries and France in 1940 is one of the most creative and daring military maneuvers in history.

So, who learned the most from the experiences of the Great War? Can either side, France and its allies, or Germany, be said to have prepared exclusively for the last war? The situation is complex to the point that facile comparisons and pithy bromides can’t fully encapsulate the real lessons for both sides. Germany and France learned and adapted subsequent to the Great War, but they learned different things, in a different way. The difference wasn’t so much in tactics, operational art, and logistics, although these were factors. The real insight is that France and Germany had different mindsets when it came to readiness. The French were ready for a set-piece battle, orchestrated at the highest levels, and with little opportunity to reorganize on the fly when faced with a radically different battlefield situation than had been anticipated. There was little robustness or flexibility to adapt in a timely manner to German moves. When they realized what had happened and what was continuing to happen, the French high command and government became totally demoralized. Could they have continued fighting? Possibly. But they lost in their minds more than on the battlefields of northern France and the Low Countries. They were materially ready, but not psychologically or morally ready.

Conversely, the Germans had so much to lose going into the campaign that they had no choice but to be bold and take massive risks. That the risks paid off is a testament to the flexibility, resolve, and initiative of German leaders and commanders at all levels. The French military was larger, better equipped, had more and better tanks, guns, and aircraft. What the Germans lacked in materiel, they more than made up for in superior training, initiative, and resolve. They weren’t as ready as France materially, but psychologically, they were more than ready. That is what differentiated the two countries’ armed forces and, more importantly, high commands.


Step 7: Perform Risk Management and Contingency Plannin

Why analyze and manage risk? 

  • It exists whether we recognize it or not.
  • We are better to identify risks consciously and determine how best to accept and/or manage them.
  • That way, we can decide how much risk we wish to take on and the nature of these risks.
  • We should only take on risks willingly in exchange for potential rewards: risk ≈ reward.

What is risk?

  • Risk is the potential for loss due to uncertainty. All risks are quantifiable as the product of probability of occurrence and potential harmful consequences (R=PxC). There are generic risks, such as natural or manmade disasters, and there are inherent risks, which are specific to each course of action. Both types must be identified, evaluated, and actively managed.
  • There are two focal points of risk management: prevention and mitigation.

Risk Prevention

Prevention seeks to reduce the probability of harmful events before they occur. Accepting risks without concomitant rewards is reckless and irresponsible. Such risks can actually be considered as hazards and should be eliminated through careful planning.

Risk Mitigation

  • The second focus of risk management is mitigation, which comes into play if prevention fails and a harmful event actually occurs. Mitigation entails responding in a timely and effective manner to the event so as to minimize its evolution and impact, taking action to contain its harmful side-effects, and implementing recovery and continuity measures.

Contingency Planning

  • One part of risk mitigation involves contingency planning, so as to deal with harmful events and threats. However, contingency planning can also be used to prepare for exploitation of opportunities arising from chance or the effectiveness of our own plans and actions. In sum, contingency planning is about readiness for both positive and negative outcomes.


Recap of Business Readiness Process

  1. Ensure vigilance through situational awareness.
  2. Do preliminary assessment of tasks and time.
  3. Activate organization or team.
  4. Conduct reconnaissance.
  5. Do detailed situational estimate.
  6. Conduct wargame and decide on optimal course(s) of action.
  7. Perform risk management and contingency planning.
  8. Communicate plan and issue direction.
  9. Build organizational robustness.
  10. Ensure operational continuity.
  11. Lead and control execution.
  12. Assess performance.



Step 6: War game your options against your opponents’


The first 5 steps of the Business Readiness Process have given us a comprehensive picture and assessment of the Competitive Battle Space. Now it’s time to compare options and select the best one.


Competitors and stakeholders have goals and interests that are in conflict or disagreement with our own, so we have to understand and evaluate their intentions before deciding on a definite way ahead. The most effective way to develop insight into enemy and competitor intentions is to develop courses of action from their standpoint.


You may believe your plans are brilliant, but nothing beats seeing how your competitors could act and react given your intentions. Short of actual action, war gaming and other forms of simulation are the best means of testing your plans and predicting how they will fare in the real world before trying to implement them.







Recap of Business Readiness Process


  1. Ensure vigilance through situational awareness.
  2. Do preliminary assessment of tasks and time.
  3. Activate organization or team.
  4. Conduct reconnaissance.
  5. Do detailed situational estimate.
  6. Conduct wargame and decide on optimal course(s) of action.
  7. Perform risk management and contingency planning.
  8. Communicate plan and issue direction.
  9. Build organizational robustness.
  10. Ensure operational continuity.
  11. Lead and control execution.
  12. Assess performance.


My name is Richard Martin and I’m an expert on applying readiness principles to position companies and leaders to grow and thrive by shaping and exploiting change and opportunity, instead of just passively succumbing to uncertainty and risk.


© 2016 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

Last week I introduced the concept of self-similarity and showed its relevance for power law distributions. In this post I discuss the applicability of self-similarity in S-curves.

To recap briefly, self-similarity implies that a structure looks essentially the same at all levels of “magnification” or scale. You can zoom in on any part of a “power curve,” and it will look like… a power curve, with basically the same appearance as at the higher scale.

The same phenomenon can be seen in s-curves, with the difference that the scale invariance is less apparent, at least initially. The following diagram shows how each phase on an s-curve can be broken out into smaller, constituent s-curves at the next lower level. By extension, each of these subordinate s-curves can be parsed in the same, self-similar way. The structure is recursive and nested. If you want to grow, develop, or improve in any way, you must see it as a succession of s-curves at all levels of scale.


This is why I’ve titled this post “Growth is a stairway, not a high jump!”. You make progress in increments, climbing from one step to the next in a succession of achievable bounds. This breaks progress and improvement into (to paraphrase Neil Armstrong) a series of “one small step” moves so you can make “one giant leap” for your bigger purpose… or goals.

This is more manageable from a psychological standpoint as well as logistically. It also makes risk more manageable. As I illustrate in the following diagram, there are risks at each transition to a succeeding s-curve. Risk can arise from making a jump–even a small one–to a higher level of performance and engagement. It can also arise from a drop in performance at this critical juncture. We can seldom know and do everything that is needed at the new level. We need to learn–which is why progress is depicted as an s-curve in the first place. We start out with low performance at the new level and a high potential for mistakes. If we’re focused on learning from our mistakes and on improvement, we get progressively better until we hit the rapid growth stage, and continue up the “learning” curve from there on in. When we hit the inevitable plateau, we must jump–or drop–to the next curve.


The final point is that performance or growth can bog down or slip at any point, for any number of reasons. We can stop or slip back down the curve we’re already on. I call this regression. Even more consequential is when we drop back to a previous curve. I call this retrogression, and I’ve illustrated it in detail in the following diagram. It shows how you can fall from any performance level to any other, usually through neglect, over-confidence, smugness, or simply through inattention to changing conditions in the environment. For instance, new technology, new competitors, changing demographics, all these can make our current success or standing shaky or even irrelevant.


I don’t say this to be overly pessimistic, but rather realistic. Stasis is death. Movement is crucial. Business, life, performance, everything, they are what is called a “red queen” race. You have to work just to stay in place and work even harder to make progress, grow, develop, get better.

We’ll address these issues and many more in my coming posts under the topic of “Ideas,” so stay tuned to this space.

My name is Richard Martin and, as indicated by the title of this blog, I’m an expert on applying readiness principles to position companies and leaders to grow and thrive by shaping and exploiting change and opportunity, instead of just passively succumbing to uncertainty and risk.

© 2016 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

Monday STAND TO!

By Richard Martin, Expert in Business Readiness and Exploiting Change

Do you try to mould your future and create the conditions for your success, or do you instead remain passive while others seize the initiative?

The whole point of Business Readiness is to “take the bull by the horns” and shape your competitive battle space for you and your customers. This isn’t simple P&P (preparation and planning). It’s about vigilance, preparedness, and robustness so you see, assess, respond, act, and pounce on opportunities before others see them.
Situational Awareness
Step 1 of the Business Readiness Process (BRP) is…

Vigilance through constant Situational Awareness. Situational awareness requires systems, procedures, and mindset to be on the lookout for changes and trends at all levels–strategic, operational, tactical–of your business and organizational environment. This includes keeping eyes on:

  • Changing customer needs and wants
  • Changing political, social, demographic, cultural milieu
  • Technology, finance, economic factors, etc.
  • Competitors and other stakeholders, including changing alliances, support, and opposition to your goals and strategies
Think of how effective non-business opposition to Keystone XL,
Northern Gateway, and other pipelines has been.
Could this have been anticipated?
Could the companies involved have managed the situation better?
Could they have assessed their courses of action better?
You need…
  1. A consistent and constant watch and evaluation system.
  2. A method and the right mindset and motivation in you and your people.
  3. To decide if this changes your mission and objectives or whether you need to update them.
It starts at the top. If you’re not open to change and ignore signs of imminent disruption, how can you expect your team members to be engaged and motivated for it?
Business Readiness Process (BRP)
1.     Ensure vigilance through situational awareness.
2.     Do preliminary assessment of tasks and time.
3.     Activate organization or team.
4.     Conduct reconnaissance.
5.     Do detailed situational estimate.
6.     Conduct wargame and decide on optimal course(s) of action.
7.     Perform risk management and contingency planning.
8.     Communicate plan and issue direction.
9.     Build organizational robustness.
10.   Ensure operational continuity.
11.   Lead and control execution.
12.   Assess performance.

Did you know that an infantry battalion only needs about 3 to 4 hours of prep and planning time to be battle ready? What are you waiting for to get the same benefits for your outfit?
Feel free to contact me at any time to discuss your objectives and needs.
And remember… STAND TO!!!

© 2016 Alcera Consulting Inc.

This article may be forwarded, reproduced, or otherwise referenced for non-commercial use with proper attribution. All other rights are reserved and explicit permission is required for commercial use.

Monday STAND TO!

By Richard Martin, Expert in Business Readiness and Exploiting Change

“Stand to!” is the order given to put troops in a high state of readiness. It comes from the trenches of the First World War, when forces on both sides would stand ready for action at the parapets just before dawn and just after dusk in case of surprise enemy attack. The practice continues to this day, although adapted to the realities of modern warfare and conflict. The order to “stand to!” encapsulates the whole theory and practice of military readiness, which is about awareness, anticipation, and preparation before, during, and after operations, in war and in peace.

It’s time for a change. My book Brilliant Manoeuvres came out in the fall of 2012 and since then I’ve been issuing Brilliant Manoeuvres just about every Monday morning to help, you, my faithful readers manoeuvre successfully to achieve outstanding growth in your business and leadership capacity.

I’ve decided to change my focus to generating and building your business readiness. This is also in line with my latest writing project, tentatively titled, Stand To! Military Readiness Principles to Thrive in Business and Propel Your Growth.

Why is military readiness relevant for business? In my practice as a business consultant, I’ve noticed that many, if not most, executives and entrepreneurs are well prepared to fight the last war, but not well positioned to fight the current one, much less the next one. They frequently have limited situational awareness, poorly adapted decision-making, planning, and communication processes, and are sluggish in leveraging opportunities, responding to threats, and mitigating risks. After all, change is permanent; the real question is whether a business can exploit it and shape it to its advantage, whether it is positioned to seize and maintain the initiative or to reel from successive blows of evolving markets and competition.

From Awareness to Robustness–What Is Business Readiness?

Business readiness is the capacity to exploit change by maximizing opportunities and minimizing risks and threats in order to grow and thrive.

The first level of business readiness is situational awareness, which I define as the ability to discern an organizational shock or environmental change that may lead to crisis, and to take a measured approach to avoiding, leveraging, or resolving it.

The second level of business readiness is preparedness. A well prepared organization is one which has identified a number of risks and threats beforehand and has taken measures to mitigate or even eliminate some of these through active prevention. Many organizations have contingency plans to deal with various disasters, emergencies, and crises due to technological or natural hazards. The quintessential ready organization is the fire department, which has a well-defined set of threats and risks and is structured, trained, and equipped exactly for that purpose. There are others, however, such as airports, hospitals and other health-care facilities, law enforcement agencies, etc. Firms such as builders, manufacturers and mining companies also must have plans and procedures in place to deal with accidents, technological hazards, competition, and socio-political opposition.

The highest level of business readiness is robustness, which I define as the ability to absorb change and shocks by shaping the environment and leveraging the inevitable risks, threats, and uncertainty. Not many organizations operate at this level of readiness. Military forces come to mind as singularly robust and they can be used in a number of areas beyond combat because of their built in resiliency, flexibility, and access to logistical and human resources anywhere, at any time. While they can provide a useful example of what is possible, the reality is that most organizations are currently not very capable in this regard.

What all of these levels have in common is a certain level of resiliency, the ability to bounce back from adversity and shock and to continue functioning adequately. Further to that, however, situational awarenesspreparedness, and robustness are functions of increasing flexibilityredundancy, risk-taking, resourcefulness, and individual/collective initiative. All of these capabilities can be built into an organization and inculcated into its leadership and employees.

I hope you’ll join me as I develop this theme over the coming weeks and months. Feel free to contact me at any time with suggestions, questions, or comments.

And remember… STAND TO!!!

© 2016 Richard Martin. Reproduction, forwarding, and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

Military strategists and tacticians know that combining the characteristics and capabilities of different weapon systems and types of units has a synergistic effect in battle and operations.

This is mainly due to the force multiplier effect—a kind of leverage that results when combining different capabilities—and the dilemmas that result for the enemy. Infantry can hold ground and resist tanks to a certain extent, but enemy infantry can dislodge them and use artillery, engineers, and other capabilities to counter their strengths and exploit their vulnerabilities.

How can you combine your different capabilities to generate synergy and force multipliers? How can you combine your “arms” to create dilemmas for opponents or competitors, or otherwise exploit their weaknesses and vulnerabilities and counter their strengths?

© 2016 Richard Martin. Reproduction, forwarding and quotes permitted with proper attribution.