Simon Terry

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Exploit Their Strengths

Turn your competitors strengths into a weakness.

History is full of example of how clever strategists turned an opponent’s strengths against them. A military strategy list includes Alexander at Gaugemela, Hannibal at Cannae, Marlborough at Blenheim and Napoleon at Austerlitz. Ali’s rope-a-dope in the Rumble in the Jungle and many martial arts disciplines use the strengths of an opponent. In a time of rapid disruptive change, there is a long list of ever changing business examples to add.

How do you make your enemy’s strength your opportunity?

Study their strengths: acknowledge your competitors have strengths and you will be better than many. Study them intently and understand their strengths well, if not better than they do. Don’t rely on your own views. Research their history. Ask others and get a rounded view. Their strengths are also your greatest risks. It is better to understand them well

Encourage overuse: a strength overdone can be a weakness. Overuse of a strength can blunt its impact and even become counterproductive. In many of the examples above the successful strategy was to encourage an opponent to overuse their strength either to create a moment of weakness or to constrains the impact of the strength on the result.

Weaken their focus on facts: a big danger comes from any organisation’s biggest past success. That big success and the strengths that drove success tend to become mythical. Myths are rarely bound to reality’s harsh competive landscape. Leaders can go on trying to recreate a past success leveraging myths when the strategy no longer applies to the situation at hand. Past strengths are often first used and the hardest things for organisations to give up.

Let your competitor be predictable: using strengths is often very predictable. Predictability doesn’t offer any strategic advantage.

Focus on the next competition. Let your competitor win the last competition: strengths are usually built for the last victory. An agile opponent who seeks to change the game can make those strengths a liability in the next competition. This is particularly true where the strength may take a big investment, involve big scale and limit an organisation’s ability to adapt to new competition.

Take calculated risks: every one of the examples above involve calculated risks to go head to head with an opponent’s strength. Many were ‘a close-run thing’. However given in most cases the underdog triumphed against more powerful forces a close competition was already a district improvement in strategic terms.

Persist and ignore doubters: make sure you don’t defeat yourself.

Plan an exit: because these battles involve risk, allow for mitigation. Be ready to flee and fight another day if need be.

If you want to disrupt an opponent, don’t run from their strengths. Focus instead on finding a way to use that momentum against them.


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