Monthly Research
& Market Commentary

Of Wonders and Disruption – The Peace, War and Wonder Cycle

Identity/Strategy / 01 Dec 2014 / By Simon Wardley

The key to success in chess is anticipation. A good player can picture many moves in advance (both in attack and defence) enabling more refined, more beautiful and ultimately more aggressive strategies. It's our ability to sense change, to understand the landscape and to exploit the behaviour of competitors which is crucial to our success.

This is no different from other forms of combat. In 480 BC the great Athenian general Themistocles faced a mighty foe in the form of Xerxes and the Persian army. Themistocles had many choices e.g. defend around Thebes or defend around Athens? Ultimately he decided to block the straits of Artemisium, forcing the Persians along the coastal road into Thermoplyae. Here at the 'Hot Gates' the smaller numbers of Greeks were able to use the surrounding landscape against overwhelming odds to slow the advance of the Persian army for many days. It was through an understanding of the landscape and through anticipation of the competitor’s moves that this was achieved.

But imagine if you were standing there on the eve of battle and Themistocles announced that he had no map, he had no understanding of the landscape, he had no means of picturing the environment but not to worry, for he had a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunity and threats) diagram? Which do you think would lead to the better outcome - map or SWOT?

Map or SWOT?

Now, ask yourself - what do we use in business? Map or SWOT?

It's with this in mind that we undertook a research project to examine whether there were common repeating patterns which we missed in business. Starting from the point of mapping, we looked at known economic patterns; what was predictable, what could be anticipated and what effects this would have. The conclusions and techniques used are provided in our paper, Of Wonders and Disruption, but to summarize:

  • 1. There are common repeatable patterns such as the peace, war and wonder cycle.
  • 2. The patterns can be anticipated through weak signal detection.
  • 3. The impact of these changes will vary with industry.
  • 4. Most companies have little to no situational awareness, and are unaware that such patterns exist.

In the competition between companies, there are things that we all know, there are things that are unknown to all of us, but there are also things that are knowable to the few. It is in this latter category that advantage can be gained, but that can only be achieved through improving situational awareness.

To anticipate the future, to see the wonders and avoid the disruption, then you first have to look at the chessboard.

Create and save your own business maps today via our Mapping App (MaPP). Sign-up for an account and see how mapping can encourage you to think about USER needs, to think about CHANGE, to COMMUNICATE, to CHALLENGE, to PLAN, to LEARN, to MITIGATE risk, to COMPETE and many other activities.


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