How to Aim at the Right Ground

We must be selective about our opportunities

The lessons of choosing the right ground are illustrated by a man called Todd Hoffman. He is a man in the reality series called Gold Rush, the series following several groups of gold miners, working to get gold out of the ground, mostly in Alaska. The series has followed Todd since the first season. He started without knowing anything about mining, learning the trade, starting slowly, becoming more successful over time. However, once he and his people understood how to mine gold in in Alaska, they set out for the jungles of Guyana in South America, going broke in the process. Back to Alaska, making more money than ever, Todd decided again to try new ground, this time in Oregon, where he went broke again.

For most of us, our competitive Ground exists as a social construct, a business, a marketplace, a sports league, a social circle, and so on. More abstractly, it is psychological realm existing of positions in people’s minds. In applying practical, we use physical analogies to represent many aspects of psychological spaces because our minds were developed to think about physical spaces. We can see and more easily comprehend relationships in physical space. We use this understanding to apprehend the key difficulties with our opportunities that exist primarily in the psychological space of competition.

The choice of ground is a primary concern in comparing different opportunities. Just like the gold miners, we must choose our ground based upon our existing knowledge. When we pick the best opportunities, it is often easier to use the process of elimination. We look for defects in the ground or our knowledge of it to eliminate certain possibilities from consideration. No opportunity is perfect, but some opportunities are too difficult to pursue, some form of ground too difficult.

  1. Every Ground has its own rules, requiring its own Methods.

    In it always a mistake to assume that new ground is like that with which we are familiar. The jungle ground in Guyana is vastly different from the frozen ground in Alaska. After perfecting our Methods on a one-type of ground, we must be willing to adapt those skills, knowledge, and systems to the differences in ground.

  2. The choice of ground is also a choice of Climate, which means a change in Command.

    Together, the Ground and Climate make up the environment. Learning the rules of the ground tells you nothing about the ground’s related climate. To learn climate, we must spend time in a place, see its ups and downs over time. Guyana when it is raining is a different place than when the sun is shining. Since the most important climate on social ground is the psychological feeling of a place, it relates to the Command or character of the people involved. Different climates attract diverse types of people. Those who are attracted to the tropics are not attracted to Alaska.

  3. Some competitive ground is tilted, its “gravity” favoring certain positions. 

    Physically, tilted ground describes a mountain.  In physical terms, the “height” of positions gives them advantage over lower ones. In psychological terms, gravity exists the power of command tilts strongly in one direction. These are often areas where the opinions of a few key people or organizations are much more important than those of others. Think pyramids with many layers between the bottom and top versus flatter organizations. Markets are titled as well, for example, the U.S. market for textbooks. While each state makes its own public school purchasing decisions, a few large states, specifically California, Texas, and Florida, set the standards for all the rest because the size of their markets influences publishers. 

  4. Some competitive ground is fluid, its “flow” favoring certain positions. 

    These spaces are dominated by the flow of change. Physically, fluid ground describes rivers. In human society, newer areas and organizations tend to be more fluid than more established ones, and, in these fluid areas, the new is favored over the one. When I started in computers and software, the ground was very fluid. Back then, they typical high-tech company, even market leaders, was forced to reinvent their product line every three years, making decisions about the direction of the fast-changing current of tastes and technology.  Today’s computer and software markets are calm by comparison.

  5. Some competitive ground is soft, that is, unpredictable, its areas of “stability” favoring certain positions. 

    Physically, soft ground describes marshes. In physical terms, these areas are dominated by the unpredictability of risk. In these areas, there are many more losing positions than winning ones, but the winner can win big. In psychological terms, dependability is important because most features in the environment is uncertain and easily changed. A good example is, of course, gold mining. Where is the real money in gold mining? Selling the machines. Miners come and go, most fail, some win, but the people selling bulldozers, excavators, and loaders make money on them all.

  6. Some competitive ground is neutral, where no position offers more of a foreseeable advantage that any other. 

    This is what we call a level playing field. The fairness of this ground means that Command and Methods are more important than our starting position.