Posts Tagged ‘offense’

by Richard Martin

Strategy is the set of actions undertaken by any entity that is striving to survive and thrive in the face of change, uncertainty, risk, and opposition.

There are two basic strategic postures: defence and offence. Defence consists in temporarily conceding the initiative to an opponent to buy time and reconstitute one’s forces.

Offence consists in seizing and maintaining the initiative to achieve one’s ends through:

  • confrontation (i.e., direct action against antagonists to resolve a conflict or otherwise achieve one’s objectives);
  • competition (indirect action against antagonists by letting a third party decide in a competitive arena); or
  • cooperation (combining forces with other actors to achieve mutually compatible or synergistic interests and effects).

These four basic options–conceding, confronting, competing, and cooperating–constitute the building blocks of any strategy.

This is important, because it entails that there are always options when confronted by opposition, resistance, or obstacles of any kind. We can build a strategy that leverages our strengths while mitigating our vulnerabilities and that is not limited to confrontation or aggressive posturing.

So, before embarking on a strategic decision, you should always consider the four options with their potential benefits and costs, as well as their possible and probably consequences.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

Strategic Readiness Bulletin Number 1 – 1 March 2017

By Richard Martin, founder and president, Alcera Consulting Inc.

Richard Martin issues Strategic Readiness Bulletins on an as needed basis to clients, key decision-makers, and other influencers, to highlight recent or evolving risks, threats, and opportunities for companies and organizations resulting from chaotic change as well as international and national situations of a political, economic, technological, or social nature.

What Is the Strategic Readiness Issue?

Asylum on Canadian flag.

Asylum on Canadian flag.

Recent events and fears in the United States are apparently pushing many resident aliens and immigrants in that country to reconsider their future there. In recent weeks, we have learned that hundreds of individuals and families, sometimes with very young children, have braved cold weather and harsh conditions to cross the border into Canada. They are arrested and detained, and then presumably further processed by Canadian government agencies after requesting refugee status. As many commentators have already pointed out, if there is a mini-surge of “walk-in” refugee claimants in the winter, what will happen when the weather improves up north (literally), and it gets worse down south (figuratively)?

We can think what we want of this situation, but the important question to ask is: Is this a risk, a threat, an opportunity, or some combination of these? Readers may believe that I’m being alarmist, but this is furthest from the truth. The essence of readiness—whether for defence or for profit—is anticipation. As the old military saying goes, “Time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted.” We can extend this by adding anticipation and planning as well. Readiness is a function of awareness, which in turn requires surveying your surroundings and making projections, highlighting potential outcomes and effects, and developing scenarios and contingency plans to react or act in a timely and effective manner.

Who Can Be Affected?

This is nothing but a quick list of businesses, organizations, and agencies that could be affected by a refugee or border crisis of some kind in coming months:

  • Manufacturers and other businesses that depend on imports and exports
  • Transportation and logistics companies
  • Federal, provincial, and local government agencies and departments
  • Ports and border-crossing facilities
  • Towns and villages near border crossings, official and unofficial, including their fire departments, schools, hospitals, and other medical facilities
  • Charitable and/or community organizations such as the Red Cross, the YMCA, local associations, NGOs, etc.

What Are the Risks and/or Opportunities?

Here are two simple scenarios to show how companies and organizations can be affected by a surge in refugee crossings and claimants.

Scenario 1: A small town near the Quebec border with the US is overwhelmed with refugees in the early summer. Available facilities are rapidly claimed by federal and provincial government agencies. There is a need to lodge, feed, and care for a relatively large influx people seeking to enter Canada as refugees. The town’s administration is overwhelmed by the influx and local citizens are increasingly enraged by the “threat to law and order,” people crossing their property, and perhaps even squatting.

Think this is far-fetched? Consider the following headline in a Globe and Mail article of 7 February 2017: “Manitoba town pleads for federal help with refugee influx.”

Scenario 2: A transportation company depends on cross-border shipping and logistics for a bulk of its business. The refugee influx gives rise to political actions by the federal government to control border access better. Even though people are crossing at secondary and tertiary border locations, or even unmanned areas, CBSA steps up searches and security at official crossings. This introduces long lineups and delays at border crossings. American officials do the same in the other direction for no logical reason.

Assessing Your Situation

You can look at any kind of disruptive scenario from two perspectives: defensive (as risk or threat) or offensive (as opportunity).

Defensive Assessment: Risk is the product of probability and consequence/impact. Reducing or eliminating the risk probability falls under the rubric of prevention. Responding to, containing, eliminating and recovering from the risk impact is called mitigation. I’ve illustrated this in the following diagram. As you can see, contingency planning is any preparation and planning you conduct to be ready for a risk should prevention fail. If prevention is your 1st line of defence against a risk scenario, contingency planning is your 2nd line of defence (recovery is the 3rd line).


Offensive Assessment: On the offensive side, it can sometimes be difficult to see what could be an opportunity, but it follows the same basic logic as defensive risk and threat readiness. Opportunities are thus the product of the probability of a positive event occurring and the beneficial consequences. In that case, your first wave of attack is the scouting and reconnaissance you carry out to detect the opportunities. These are then assessed as to their expected value (probability times benefit) and you can create various initiatives to develop them into full-blown offensive thrusts—the 2nd wave of attack—reinforcing successful ones and pulling back from unsuccessful ones—the 3rd wave of attack.

In this Strategic Readiness Bulletin, I wanted to point out the potential risks, threats, and opportunities that loom for companies, organizations, and agencies as they look at the unfolding refugee situation. It’s up to you to take steps to increase your offensive and defensive readiness.

picture1Richard Martin is an expert in identifying, assessing, and preparing for strategic risks, threats, … AND opportunities, so companies and organizations can exploit change, instead of passively reacting or succumbing to it.

(514) 453-3993

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.

Since the IS-perpetrated terrorist strikes in Paris there has been surge of “advice” and debate on the best strategy to adopt against the Islamic State in the Middle East. The problem is that most of the discussion confuses tactics with strategy and then presents these as mutual exclusive. Air strikes are not effective. No, air strikes are the way to go. No, we need to put boots on the ground. Actually, no. We need to concentrate on humanitarian action.

In reality, all of those approaches are needed in order to create dilemmas for IS and its operatives. You have to take the fight to the enemy by seizing and maintaining the initiative. Air power must be combined with ground forces in order to achieve maximum synergy and effect on the battlefield. You can knock out a command post, but that only creates a delay and temporary confusion. You can buy a bit of time, but it’s all much more effective when you can hit a command post and use the ensuing confusion to launch a ground assault. Moreover, you have to realize that a command post is a physical entity, but a headquarters with its commander and staff are a team. Command, control and communications (C3) can be degraded, but it is much harder to eliminate them entirely, especially if the enemy has a very decentralized structure with competing factions.

Here is a non-exhaustive listing of other thrusts in the strategy:

  • Economic warfare to disrupt the enemy “home front” such as it is,
  • Financial warfare to disrupt and interrupt the flow of funds, because gold is the sinews of war,
  • Humanitarian aid to support the non-belligerent population and refugees,
  • Psychological warfare against foreign and home-grown terrorist threats,
  • Information warfare to degrade the enemy’s psychological and media warfare capabilities and build up domestic and foreign support to fight IS, and
  • Numerous other aspects of combat, kinetic and non-kinetic.

The basic point here is that you need a strategy that attacks and “pinches off” IS wherever it tries to operate. IS combatants in a theatre of war must be treated as prisoners of war, while those who have perpetrated war crimes and crimes against humanity must be treated as such. IS and allied terrorists operating in other nations must be treated as criminals.

Another critical point is to realize that there is no such thing as a “war on terrorism.” You can fight an identified enemy, opponent or belligerent group. You can’t fight a tactic, much less a vague concept.

Richard Martin is The Force Multiplier. He 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.

  • You learn more by moving than by staying put. The normal impulse is to stay put and defend your position when you don’t know where to go or what to do. Unfortunately, this leaves you open to rapid change in the market as well as competitive threats. Moving gradually into a new market or a new product or service category gives you time to learn and adjust your approach without over-investing at the beginning. You also get to pull back if, as often happens, you’ve made a mistake or misjudged the situation.
  • Advance on a wide (or wider) front. It’s best to send scouting parties to report back about the lay of the land and the enemy’s positions, then to follow up with more forces if you’re successful. In business, this can mean trying many, small experiments with new products or markets to see what will happen, and then preserving those that succeed.
  • Don’t put all your eggs into one basket. If you can’t make accurate and timely predictions to know what will succeed in the long run then it stands to reason that you need to diversify investments and assets. This doesn’t mean becoming a conglomerate. It is preferable to experiment in a controlled manner at the edges of the business while using profits in existing business lines to fuel that exploratory work.
  • Always cover your moves. When I was a young infantry officer, we were taught to cover our moves with a firebase that could provide support in case we came under enemy fire. It’s better to move gradually over time into a new market or with a new strategy by small steps. This can be done remarkably quickly if you keep up the pressure by making incremental changes in a deliberate and consistent manner.
  • Reinforce success with backup forces. Once you have made it through the enemy’s front lines, apply resources to reinforce the initial breakthrough. The same notion applies to experimental business efforts. Success with one or some of them can be reinforced with new resources or with resources transferred from existing business lines. The result can be better positioning for the future.
  • Maintain reserves to exploit success. All of these principles require some level of resources, first to experiment and then to reinforce success by investing in the winners. This requires the maintenance of cash reserves or access to capital either from an existing business line, by borrowing, or by attracting new investors.
    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!

I have developed a quick and easy tool to help you determine and evaluate your offensive posture. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you pick and choose the best customers or do you take what you can get?
  2. Do you set your price and deal with early adopters, or do you take the price the market sets and deal mostly with late adopters?
  3. Do you innovate new or modified products and services or do you imitate your competitors’ ones?
  4. Is your brand admired, a trendsetter; or do you just blend into the background?
  5. Are you constantly surprising competitors and customers–in a good way that is–or are you often the one with the deer in the headlights look?

If you can’t answer positively to at least 3 of these 5 questions, then you’re letting others take the lead and have lost the initiative. You’re a commodity, not a brand.

Contact me if you want the evaluation tool I’ve developed. We can also discuss how you can seize and maintain the initiative so YOU can be on the offensive.  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 The Force Multiplier. He 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.

Time spend in reconnaissance is rarely wasted. Whenever a military force is advancing against enemy positions, it always sends out scouting parties to reconnoitre the terrain, confirm enemy positions and strength, and find gaps and weaknesses in the defences.

Selling should be conducted in the exact same manner. Time spent in preparation, is rarely wasted. Even if you think you know what you’re up against, you must sound out your clientele and send out metaphorical scouting parties to size up the client, identify potential objectives, wants, and needs, as well as identify and assess the competition. You can do this through a phone call, telemarketing (if you’re reaching out to find leads), online research, or background research from your company’s own data banks and CRM software.

The key point is, don’t go in blind, even if you think you know everything you need to know. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and that’s not just good motherly (or doctorly) advice.

Richard Martin is The Force Multiplier. He 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.

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!

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