Scuttle your ships before advancing


Imagine two national armies, roughly equal in size, laying claim to an island that sits between the two countries.  What strategy should each undertake in order to a) win with b) fewest casualties?  While Army A is still thinking about its strategy, Army B moves with lightening efficiency and establishes a beach head on once side of the island.  While Army A monitors the situation, Army B completes and landing and to the amazement of Army A, burns and scuttles his landing craft!


The explicit message of communication to the men of Army B is that they are on the island for the duration – for there is no way off the island without those boats.  The implicit message to Army A is that for Army A to secure the island, they would clearly have to defeat Army B comprehensively – the likely hood being that that activity would prove costly to Army A.


For every door way that is kept open,

there is a pathway that remains closed.


Army A has all the options.  It can attack.  It can wait.  It can attack and if the going gets tough, they can retreat.  They can probe.  They can sally.  They can charge.  They hold all the cards.  Army B has but one option: they are staying put until they die.  The actual cost of the operations to Army B are the same as they were before they started; in fact the costs for Army A are now potentially higher as their only option, if they wish to secure the island, is a series of operations.  Army B “saved” money with one operation (getting to the island) and Army A will probably have to make several attempts since Army B is already entrenched and would make any landing difficult.


This increase in cost is counter intuitive.  If Army A keeps all it's options open, it would seem only natural that it has incurred little or no cost.  The point is that when there is an identified and "contentful" objective (land on the island is a pre-requisite to capturing it) then this cost increase is always possible.  When the objectives are fluid or varied, then this is only a possibility – when Army objectives overlap.


You have to enter the doorway

 in order to see beyond the horizon.


Army B might not have known about the advantages that their “cost reduction” program has delivered before they undertook it.  However, Army B also has some greater costs.  They have committed to a course of action that might lead it to destruction.  The implicit increase in the stakes of the game is the real asset that Army B has secured.  This is perhaps the riskiest approach possible.  Should two armies come to the same momentous decision at the same time, all hell will break loose.  But the chance of this for two companies targeting the same industry segment in the same approach at the same time is very unlikely.  The key for business is that the visibility of that commitment is what is needed.  The visible communication of the feat is as important if not more, than the feat itself.  If your competition does not know you have committed thus, then they might blindly launch an all out attack thinking that they are “first”.  So being able to communicate the strategy – whatever it might be – is perhaps more important than the strategy itself.



For more information, please see: Scuttle You Ships Before Advancing, by Richard Luecke, Oxford University Press, 1994

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