“Make war without a standard approach. Water has no consistent shape.”
Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, 6:8:8-9
“All fixed set patterns are incapable of adaptability or pliability. The truth is outside of all fixed patterns.” Bruce Lee
We must choose actions that allow us to respond to unknown conditions and unforeseen events.
When choosing to pursue a specific opportunity, we narrow our focus, moving in a particular direction. But, in narrowing our focus, we must keep our eyes open, seeing the new options that present themselves. In every move, we discover new doors, new possibilities as we move forward, but we have to keep looking around to see them. Adaptability requires testing the surrounding conditions, flexibility in adjusting our path, and the ability to overcome obstacles we encounter if we cannot go around them.
We should not plan out all the specific moves or actions that we will use to pursue an opportunity beforehand. Creating such plans blinds us to new possibilities. Detail planning creates blinders that we put on without realizing it. Executing our plans puts us on an imagined path, not the actual path. This imagined path blinds us to other options. Blinded by expectations, we cannot truly see where we are and where we are going. This narrowness decreases our chance of discovering how to make the opportunity pay.
Adaptability requires not only the ability but the desire to find a better path, one with fewer obstacles, requiring less time, and less effort. at any time. Exploring an opportunity means expecting unforeseen discoveries. Exploration takes time, so we must be open to the unforeseen shortcuts that may emerge. We must choose our initial actions so that we can easily adjust them to emerging circumstances. Success in moving to new positions requires both our commitment to the goal and flexibility as to our methods. Our goal of exploring an opportunity remains the same, but we want to be free to choose a different path of exploration at any time.
To use adaptability, we must expect anything and everything.
We have to admit that we do not know what we will find when we explore a new opportunity. We do not see the future. Exploring an opening requires opening ourselves up to the possibilities. Discovery always lies outside of our expectations and assumptions. This is the fun and excitement, and terror of practical strategy. Any given step may discover a shortcut or a dead-end. In either case, the faster we adapt, the better our situations. We commit ourselves to take the next step with this in mind.
To improve our adaptability, we choose initial activities that give us a better vantage point.
To find the best route, we must sometimes first climb to the top of the nearest hill. Even if it is difficult, we must attempt tasks that will tell us something more about the conditions of the environment around us. From the better vantage point, we can get the lay of the land. Every step forward into an opening is experimental. The goal of our first experiments is to discover the nature of the opportunity. With a broader point of view, we can pick better and better follow-up activities to explore the terrain we discover.
To maintain our adaptability, we choose activities that allow adjustment to unexpected events.
This means we must not commit all our resources to a given approach. The straightest path is usually not the fastest or easiest. We do not bull ahead. We adapt to the environment, step by step. We d not fight the environment. We cooperate with what we find. This is why we choose to explore in short, quick steps. We must choose actions that give us the greatest possible flexibility to adapt to these unforeseen events and discoveries. Situations will change in expected ways. Especially when opportunities require us to navigate complicated ground forms, we must choose activities that minimize the common types of problems we will encounter as the situations change.
To improve our adaptability, we choose directions that open up new options.
Exploration is a learning activity. Every choice closes some doors, but we should pick activities that open more doors than they close when we have the option. The best activities usually get us over a small barrier that blocks other options. We try to avoid getting walled in where our only course is straight ahead and predictable. Predictability makes us an easy target for competition. In a competitive environment, we never want others to know exactly where we are going.
To get the most out of our adaptability, we must not lose our focus on our goal.
A journey of a thousand miles always starts with a single step, but there is an inherent difference between making progress and wandering around. Adapting to an opportunity means taking what the situation gives us, but we cannot get so wrapped up in the situation that we lose sight of our goal. In a sense, our steps are experiments to discover the path of least resistance, but we cannot let ourselves go in a circle. We only have limited resources, and we don’t want to waste them without advancing our position. The goal is always to establish a new position and prove its value by making it pay. If our steps are not taking us there, they are leading nowhere.
In future articles, we will explore the nine common competitive situations we encounter in a long campaign. We will examine how exploring a given opportunity evolves naturally from one set of conditions to another. However, such movements are best on a certain mindset: the desire and ability to adjust to our situation and improve it.
It doesn’t matter where we start. It doesn’t matter where we want to go. We can always make progress, improving our situation over time if we listen, aim, move, and claim. Every move can be broken down into these four steps. Every step requires some form of movement. All movement requires adaptability.