Competitive Ground

Where we are now dictates where we can easily go next.

When we talk about a competitive position, we see a place. A strategic position may be a mental artifact, but strategic ground is connected to physical space if only in the way our minds work. Strategic ground is a mental map of a competitive space. Our positions are where we fall on the mental map that others carry of their situation, but the physical place we occupy in relation to others is part of that map. The path of a position is grown and advanced through time, but at any point in time it is also located in space, the space we occupy in people’s thinking. The space can be large or small,

Where we are now doesn't dictate where we can go in the long-term, but it does dictate where we can easily go next. We are confined by our position's location. We move according to the laws governing space. The challenge is understanding the laws that govern strategic space and opposed to physical space. However, since our minds were formed to think in terms of physical space, many of the ways we think about people positions are analogous.

Every strategic situation has its own shape and form. Every strategic place is connected through space to nearby places. Place is inherently much more complicated the time, which only moves in one direction. Strategic ground has more directions, more dimensions than time. Understanding the complex nature of strategic ground and its many characteristics and capacities is at the heart of practical strategy.

The benefit of every location on is the resources that it offers. Every physical location offers resources, some good, some bad, some ground good for farming, some ground good for mining, some ground good for commuting, some ground good for the view. Every strategic ground also offers different forms of resources. Much of our strategic challenge in recognizing them. One basic resource that every position offers is its proximity to other positions. Proximity decreases our costs in making contact and providing services.

Practical strategy allows us to expand our control over our space on strategic ground. This means growing a position by expanding it or advancing it by moving to better ground. The more successfully we compete, that is, the more people choose to support us rather than oppose us, the more ground we control. Without the resources that we get from strategic ground, we could not continue to survive, much less compete. In a modern world, we make a mistake in taking these resources, such as food and water, for granted, not recognizing the work that has been required throughout history to produce them as well as attain them.

  1. Ground is the term we use to discuss space, place, and location.

    Ground describes all external conditions of a competitive space that persist over time. In the complementary opposite climate, which describes what changes over time. The ground describes what persists despite the changes of time.

  2. Ground is the store of all persistent resources.

    Owning a piece of land, a job title, a bank account, and a reputation is all aspect of controlling ground. The ground is a source of resources that persist over time. These resources can be physical and but in today’s economy, they are mostly social. That is, they are derived from the positions that we hold in a social structure, that is, the consensus view a given group of people have about their associations and who owes what to whom. These are all initially mental maps, but the get codified in legal documents, contracts, and agreements. These resources are the rewards we get from controlling a position in the social structure, a position that gives us ownership over part of its ground.

  3. We earn control over ground through successful claims. 

    Our claims over the ground are successful when others choose to reward us. We can give ourselves any job title we like, but that title is only real to the extent it is recognized by others. I can call myself a heart surgeon, but no one should be foolish enough to pay me for operating on their hearts. In business, we define the ground in terms of marketplaces. Competing business win control over the ground by winning customers. To gain resources from any strategic ground, we must first win control over it, that is, people must choose to recognize us. This control allows us to use the ground productively. We win control of the ground through successful claims that others recognize. In other words, we win ground by winning the support of others. We are rewarded by using our ground productively, delivering the products and services they expect.

  4. Our minds are attuned to see competitive ground initially in terms physical analogies.

    Those characteristics start with physical space itself and its proximity to other locations. In terms of defending and advancing positions, the condition of any competitive ground can be evaluated in terms of distances, obstacles, and dangers. We see different forms of competitive ground in terms uneven, fast changing, and uncertain they are. Some competitive grounds are wide open. Others are barricaded. Some are slippery. All these physical aspects of competitive ground go into forming our unconscious judgments or feeling about competitive positions on them.

  5. Competitive ground also has psychological dimensions and emotional resources.

    We judge competitive ground by how well we think we know it, how familiar it is, how well we know the people that form it, and so on. One of the main things we look for from ground psychologically is stability and certainty. While changing emotional attitudes create climate, which is expected to change, people prefer grounds that are associated with a predictable climate.

  6. The resources available in any one position on any competitive ground are limited. 

    This fact is obvious, but it needs to be stated because it becomes so important in making good strategic decisions. No competitive ground is boundless so no position on ground is boundless. All ground is finite. All positions limited. Only a certain amount of value can be produced over a given period from a given position on any given competitive ground. This limitation is partially driven by our limited knowledge, but our knowledge is always limited. The fact is that we must make decisions with limited information. All decisions must conserve limited resources.

  7. Our control over any position on competitive ground is also limited. 

    We never have complete control over the ground because our knowledge of nature is limited and because we compete with others. People will inevitable capture some of our ground. All control is limited by time. For a sports start, for example, their position in the sport is limited by their physical durability. Some competitive grounds get “played out,” like a mine that has surrendered all its gold. Over time, the value of any ground tends to decrease.