Four Steps: Advancing a Position
The four required steps in getting rewarded for advancing a strategic position.
Though we can discuss advancing our positions in the minds of others in incremental ways, in the end, the only true “advance” is one that leads to a reward. We advance, improve, or expand our positions only when we better satisfy our goals and mission. In this article, we will briefly examine the four major steps required to get rewarded, known as the four key methods of practical strategy—listen, aim, move, and claim. I call this the Progress Cycle. Each step flows naturally from how our minds work, but these steps are misunderstood by most people. Though calling them “steps” is useful because the represent progress calling them areas of focus or parts of a whole might be more accurate. In future articles we will examine each of these four steps in more detail, but most of these future articles will be only for our paid subscribers only and Science of Strategy Institute members,
The conscious mind likes straight lines; the unconscious mind prefers loops. Competitive processes are not linear, our success depending on the reactions of others, every reaction creating another interaction. Production processes are linear, dealing with inanimate objects. converting raw materials step by step into a finished product, running in one direction, ending with a finished product. We are only trained in linear thinking, so we expect competitive processes to be linear, but they are not. They are cyclic. They continually loop back upon themselves, reincorporating feedback from the environment into our next choice of actions. Their processes are never finished. They have no true end point. Whether successful or not, each advance requires another advance. The process is always a loop, advancing by both failure and success, sometimes earning tangible rewards, others earning valuable knowledge, always returning to the beginning of the four steps, always working on our next advance, always trying to maintain our current position.
Our opportunity is to embrace the loopy nature of practical strategy, enjoying the fact that we never reach an end, never completely succeeding, never completely failing, every loop a learning process, improving our position by learning even if we fail to get rewarded.
We must act to create a flow of information about our situations.
We must 1) take in information from the environment 2) make decisions about actions, 3) execute the chosen actions, and 4) gauge the effect of our action on our positions. In every cycle of this loop, we must again adjust our perspective to added information, see different potential actions, improve our execution of our decisions, and find more rewarding positions.
We describe this adapting loop simply as the steps of Listen>Aim>Move>Claim.
The action of “listening” means exactly that, listening to other people to better gauge our current position and see our opportunities. The action of “aiming” means choose the best opportunity to act up and the best way to approach it. The action of “moving” means moving into the opening created by the opportunity. The action of “claiming” means making a claim on the rewards of a better position with others. These claims set up the next cycle, beginning with listening.
We must LISTEN to put together a big picture to see openings.
We must reach out to those around us, talk to them about the elements of their position, our position, and the positions of others in our competitive sphere. The purpose of listening is to see our opportunities, that is, empty positions that we can fill, finding missions we can share. Future articles will examine the major psychological barriers to effective strategic listening.
We must AIM only at the opportunities most likely to be successful and the least risky.
We do not know exactly what will happen in any competitive move, but we do know that our resources are limited, so we must prioritize the opportunities that we explore, choosing those that are the most likely to be successful based upon our limited resources. In exploring new areas, we are going to make mistakes, but, if we understand the psychology involved, we can foresee the most common mistakes people make is choosing action. Future articles will explain the proper, but non-intuitive ways that we must compare potential moves to choose them.
We must MOVE in both proven and inventive ways to meet the challenges of the situation.
Practical strategy identifies nine common competitive situations and the best viable way to act in each of them. We must know how the defining situations and know how respond to them. However, to change people’s minds, we must also create strategic momentum, something requiring more than a standard or expected response, requiring surprise, innovation, and creativity. However, practical strategy also offers a system for creating surprises consistently when they are needed. Future articles will examine each of the nine common situations and the best responses to them. They will also examine the methods for creating innovation and, through it, momentum.
We must CLAIM to get rewarded and defend our positions.
Even if our move is successful, changing our positions in people’s minds, people do not recognize that change unless we make claims that demand their response. These claims win either rewards or valuable knowledge, but they require courage. Practical strategy also teaches that making claims requires a particular process that enables those claims to be defended in the future. Future article will example the found necessary steps to make every claim successful and every position more defensible.
Practical Strategy Based on Sun Tzu's Art of War is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.