How to Win a Race
It’s 1930. It’s in the dark of night, near the end of the famous Mille Miglia (Thousand Mile) day/night endurance road race that started and ended in Brescia, Italy. Renowned Alfa Romeo driver Achille Varzi is comfortable in his lead. His nearest competitor has disappeared from his rear view mirror, his engine is running well, and his car is handling fine. Now all he has to do is ease back on the throttle a little to protect the engine, and finish the race in the lead. As he backs off his throttle about 3 Km from the finish line, another Alfa blows past him from out of nowhere and wins the race! My God, what happened? What happened was that the guy behind him, one Tazio Nuvolari, had a winning strategy. Nuvolari knew his rival would block him and never let him pass. He didn’t have enough extra speed, and no amount of artful driving would get him past Varzi. He had to think his way past. So the resourceful Nuvolari devised a way: turn off his lights to make Varzi think he had dropped back in the race, and so reduce his vigilance. Creep up on Varzi in the dark so he’d have no suspicions, and run in Varzi’s slipstream to position himself for passing. Then, when near the finish line, use the slip-stream advantage to sling-shot past for the win. And that, according to the Nuvolari legend, is what he did.
It was an example of a simple strategy that completely determined the outcome of an important event. Nuvolari had set his intention on victory, he recognized the major barriers in front of him, and creatively devised a strategy to get past them to win. He couldn’t win on the strength of extra speed from his own Alpha, and he couldn’t hope to win with better driving technique. He needed an edge, and the only way to get that edge was with a strategy
… as so often it is in life, at all levels.
Strategy Facts of Life
Life at all levels: all living things have strategies. All of them. There have been strategies since the beginning of life. All organisms have evolved strategies for surviving at a minimum, and prospering if possible.
Non-living things, on the other hand, don’t have strategies. Rocks don’t have them.
Some smart animals not only have strategies, they devise them. Just think of whales, chimps, ravens, or dogs. For example, the extraordinary ability of whales to devise hunting and feeding strategies sets them entirely apart from other sea animals.
We scheming humans devise strategies so incessantly, and often so well, that it differentiates us from all other species, and makes us the most dominant. There are a lot of other species that can run circles around us. But we can think circles around them, and it turns out that thinking wins.
And what kind of thinking is that, friends? It’s devising strategies.
The Ubiquity of Strategies
Let’s put on our strategy glasses and see what we can see. As we tune in to our surroundings, we quickly notice that we’re immersed in an environment of strategies. They’re everywhere around us. We’re in a soup of strategies. We’re often asleep to them, but their effects constantly fill our senses and impact our lives.
Chair design strategies. Viral and bacterial strategies. Get-across-town strategies. Cell phone design strategies. Cell phone purchase strategies. Pollen-producing plant propagation strategies. Fellow-worker strategies and boss strategies. Husband strategies, wife strategies. Sales clerk strategies. Deception strategies. Attention-getting strategies, attention keeping strategies. Insurance company strategies. Plausible deniability strategies. Mosquito feeding strategies. Baby strategies and teenager strategies. Political strategies. Boom box amplifier strategies. Attract-the-other-sex strategies. Advertising strategies. Obvious strategies and disguised strategies. Passive/aggressive strategies. Dog barking strategies. Clothing manufacturer strategies. Find-a-decent-bottle-of-wine-you-can-afford strategies. Product innovation strategies. Profit-making strategies. Competitive strategies and cooperative strategies; good strategies, poor strategies. Make-it-cheap strategies. Simple strategies, complex strategies, helpful strategies, detrimental strategies, choose-a-movie-to-go-see strategies. … (this list has no end).
Yes, strategies are found everywhere on the planet (which, by the way, uniquely differentiates our planet from others we know about – life, right?), embodied in worms in the depths of deep sea trenches, to micro-organisms living in the stratosphere, and all around us seen in the activities of every sort of organism.
Not least ourselves. In our unceasing pursuit of strategies, consciously or not, we create an environment of strategies for ourselves and others around us, now and in the future. We, ourselves, apply strategies to every imaginable field and activity: business, war-fighting, house cleaning, house cleaning avoidance, design, games, mating, relationships, gardening, accounting, farming, shopping, investing, cooking, negotiating, margarita mixing … (this list has no end, either).
We devise them almost incessantly, from small personal strategies to get people to do what we want, to making a buck, to momentous strategies for accomplishing major life goals, winning a war, or saving the planet.
We’re immersed in the effects of strategies, active and passive. We can’t get away from them; we have to learn to live with them. Strategies, strategies, strategies: they’re operating everywhere around us. 24/7.
And our own strategies?
We all have and devise strategies, consciously or not. A lot of your strategies have been handed down to you genetically. A lot have been learned from listening to, and watching others (consciously or not). And a lot you’ve devised yourself (also consciously or not).
Keeping your strategy glasses on, you can see that you’re a walking embodiment of a phenomenal number of strategies, from microscopic to macroscopic. Every system in your body represents the compiling of a phenomenal number of functional survival-related strategies built up over time in an evolutionary process. Strategies embodied by organs, functioning together, make up the physical you.
We live in a world of limited resources – a world that takes effort to get what we need and want. How well we perceive external strategies impacting us, how well we apply the strategies we’ve got, and how well we devise the other ones we need, has a huge influence on what life is like for us.
Good strategies make what we do cheaper, easier and more fun – and often make what we want to happen possible at all. They give us an edge.
Poor strategies make what we do more expensive, harder, and a real pain – and often fail to make what we want to happen, happen. They cut with a dull blade, if they cut at all.
So what to do?
Times are hard and getting harder. We need to be conscious of what’s happening around us, and what’s happening to us. We need to be able to readily recognize strategies that impact us (including our own strategies).
We need to be able to easily devise good strategies that deal with any and all kinds of situations important to us, and give us a better shot at our objectives. And that means we need a simple framework and a set of skills that easily handles strategies from simple to complex, and is independent of what kind of strategy we’re devising.
That’s what this blog is all about.
The blog is long on stories. Stories from my travels, stories I’ve been told or read. Strategies are a part of lives being lived. And seeing strategies in their living contexts helps make them concrete for us.
We all have a stake in good strategies and I hope that, as this blog’s posts are published, you’ll chip in with some comments based on your own strategy experience and thoughts. After all, you’ve been a strategist all your life.
Readers are encouraged to add comments to this post.
And if you’d like to share or recommend this post, click on your preferred way in the left margin sidebar.
Watch for the next post: What Strategies Are, a simple, scalable concept, not dependent on field of use.
If you’re not currently being automatically notified when new posts are published, then please Follow Real Strategy (top of right hand column on this page), and indicate how you’d prefer to be notified.
For other posts of interest, look in the Smart Menu.
Photo credit: Tazio Nuvolari, blog of Dennis David & Family. Visit this auto racing site at at: http://www.ddavid.com/formula1/nuvo_bio.htm