"Using a huge army in battle success is very expensive.
Long delays create a dull army and sharp defeats."
Sun Tzu The Art of War 2:1:12
We are taught to think we must put everything we have into every effort. While there are competitive situations where we must use all of our resources to survive, practical strategy teaches us something different about making moves to improve our position in the minds of others. Moving to explore new opportunities requires restraint. Moves exploring new opportunities require minimum rather than maximum force. When we consistently invest too much in pursuing each opportunity, we soon find ourselves out of resources.
We must clarify the separate concepts of strategic "power," "strength," and "force."
Strategic power comes from unity and focus, all resources sharing the same goal, all targeting the same opportunity.
Strategic strength arises when using our unique capabilities to fill an opening. We are strong when the needs of others require our abilities.
Force is simply using an abundance of resources to address a challenge or problem.
Force is a matter of the size of the effort.
When we talk about the size of a strategic force, we are talking about the size of the investment we make in a move. Different moves require different types of investments measured in hours, emotion, money, reputation, relationships, and so on.
Force can complete a move, but the costs are always too great.
This is based on the simple economics of opportunity. We use minimum force in exploring opportunities to reduce our costs. The bigger our investment, the less likely it is for any opportunity to return more benefits than its costs. Many opportunities are an illusion, offering no return at all. The hours, emotion, money, reputation, and relationships invested in them are wasted.
The use of force limits the number of opportunities that we can explore.
Our resources are always limited. The more force we use, the fewer opportunities we can afford to explore. Too much use of hours, emotion, money, reputation, and relationships eventually depletes what we need to defend our existing position. Many small probes win more than a few larger ones.
Most opportunities produce limited returns so the use of resources can never be repaid.
We can hope each opportunity will provide a huge step forward, but we know that most will disappoint us. Most advances that we make in our position are small. Often all we gain from our efforts is a better picture of our positions in the minds of others.
The use of force alone often generates an escalation of opposing force.
This is Newton's Third Law: "To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." In competitive situations, the use of too much force tends to create resistance. The harder we push, the more people push back against us. In trying to improve our position in the minds of others, we must avoid such conflicts.
Small advances can be profitable if we limit our use of force.
Each small advance can improve our position, even when they fail if we don't risk too much on any one of them. People judge us both by our willingness to try and our willingness to accept failure, especially when failure doesn’t prevent us from trying again. Over time, we will also succeed. The accumulation of these small impressions, graceful failures followed by eventual success, dramatically improves our position in people’s minds.
Using a large force undermines speed and quickness.
The more resources we use, the longer it takes us to respond to an opportunity. Assembling large forces takes time. It is more difficult to make large moves quickly. The more slowly we respond, the more often we will fail. Since all opportunities are limited in time, the more force used, the more likely it is that the window of opportunity closes.
Small probes can gather information, communicate it, and discover the lay of the land much more quickly and efficiently than more forceful moves. Exploring an opportunity for a new position is not the same as developing a position once it is won. If an opportunity proves to have a very large potential, we will have time to add to our efforts, building up a new position in people’s minds once won. Ideally, we let the opportunity itself pay for its own development.
All strategy depends on the judgments others make about us. Our position in life comes from the positions we develop first in the minds of others. We want to make our failures small enough so they don’t matter. We build on our successes so that they are all that people judge us by.