Practical strategy is a skill in working with others, but it depends on understanding the other skills people have for working together. Strategic positions are a mental construct people use to compare alternatives and make choices. Part of every judgment people make about us is a judgment about what we can do, specifically what we can do in conjunction with them and others. Part of how we are positions depends upon our skills, the knowledge we have about how to do specific things in the world of other people.
Part of how we are positioned in people’s minds is based on the decisions we make, our command, but at the same time we are judged by our ability to accomplish what we choose to do. Our decisions have no value until they are executed. If we decide to build a perpetual motion machine, the decision is meaningless. The task may seem desirable, but it is impossible. Decisions that cannot be executed by known methods are worse than worthless. They are a waste of energy.
Deciding to do something requires the knowledge that it can be done and an idea about how, but skills are positioned in the context of a system of skills, that is, where they fit in working with others. Virtually all meaningful tasks require working with others. This means understanding what skill others have that we ourselves lack. The skills of any individual are limited. The skill of knowing how to accomplish things starts with the challenge of knowing how to we best work with others. People are never just judging our skills isolation, but all judgments about skills are in how they well they go together with the skills of others.
Sun Tzu called his book Bing-Fa. The term "fa" means methods, skills, and systems. His first emphasis is on mastering a known set of skills. Mastery requires practice. Practical strategy requires practicing methods and procedures that are known to work in competitive situations. We instantly make better decisions when we choose actions based on existing skills. Since we have limited skills ourselves, we are more capable when, instead of trying to do everything ourselves, we combine our skills with others.
Our positions in the minds of others are partly defined by what we can do with them.
These skills come from our knowledge. Our skills represent what we know about the laws of nature and using the resources in our environment. This knowledge first exists in our heads, but we must put it into practice before people can know it exists. People position us by what they see we can do in each situation.
We improve our competitive positions as we gain valuable skills.
The value of our skills is judged by each person in the context of their relationship with us, what they need us to do for or with them. The more we developed our skills, the better our position in their minds. We improve our position by winning the support of others over time. One way we do this is by developing and demonstrating skills they individually find valuable.
Our methods connect our position to the positions of others.
Skills and the positions based on them in people’s minds exist only within the larger competitive landscape. Our individual skills are not developed or positioned in a vacuum. They must connect to others. We must be easy to connect to. When people are looking for a particular skill, they will choose to connect with us only 1) if we offer the skills that they need and 2) make connection to us easier than the alternatives. In this world of increased interconnections, our skills are compared within an increasingly competitive environment.
People’s skills are increasing specialized over time.
We developed our skills in the context of a specific environment, interacting with specific people. Our skills cannot produce the most value unless we work with other people to do what only we know how to do. As organizations grow bigger, roles become more specialized. As competition among generic skills increase, people are force to find more specialized skills to defined their position in people’s minds more clearly.
All individuals and organizations have unique position in terms of the specifics of their knowledge and abilities.
This uniqueness arises from our unique position on the competitive ground. All positions are unique because no two things can be in the same place as the same time. Our skills are unique because no one else is positioned with the same relationships to others, developing their skills in the same specific way. While many sets of skills overlap, every set of skills is specialized in some way to fit the unique position of the individual in their organization or simply with the people around them.
Skills are embodied in our ability to use specific tools, certain established procedures, and certain people.
Our knowledge of how the world works is embodied in the machines and tools that we developed to accomplish a set of tasks. Another way to improve our position in people’s mind is to learn how to work with different machines or within different systems. The ability to mine gold depends on knowing how to work excavators and trammels. The ability to practice law depends on knowing how to work within the legal system. More important, however, are the people with whom we choose to work. Strategic positions only exist within the minds of people. Only other people make decisions about our positions. The people with whom we choose to work are the only ones who support we can win.
The skills we choose to develop must be consistent with our goals.
Positions are paths. In developing our position, both in our own minds and the minds of others, we must be guided by our mission to keep our lives on course. The skills we developed within organization, systems, and relationship have no real value to us unless they help us attain our specific set of goals. Sometimes our goals can be as simple as position ourselves so that we can do productive work with those with whom we enjoy working. A good marriage is such a goal.
Successful methods should be copied by others.
We copy the best practices of others to improve our skills. Others copy our best practices to improve their skill. We learn from each other, but only because we are constantly comparing people and their methods to choose the best possible methods for accomplishing a give task. One of the most basic functions of the mind is mimicry. People naturally copy one another. The challenge is being selective. that is, consciously choosing, who we copy and why.
Our skills can also be improved by innovation, doing things differently.
While we can improve our position by copying best practices, that method of limits us to existing knowledge. Our ability to create new knowledge, to surprise people, is also an important part of the position that we hold in people’s minds. All existing knowledge is discounted over time as it spreads. As an increased number of people know what we know, the less important our position is in people’s minds. Demonstrating the ability to innovate, that is, create new knowledge, puts us in a new in better position.