Attacking Strategy

One thing I learned from Robert was that you always attack the strategy of your enemy. This sounds simple, but it’s not. Most of the time, you’re attacking the tactics–or just trying to beat them in the game they chose. (We have to outrun them to that hill as opposed to, what if we made that hill a worthless target) In general, a of his stuff is difficult to apply as a real, regular human. I don’t dispute that absence increases fondness, but just getting up and leaving in the middle of relationship is complicated when you actually care about the person. But one thing you can always do in life is attack strategy. Figure out what it is, and then find a way to to interrupt it.

I found a perfect example when I was reading Wikinomics over the weekend. The writers talk about how in the 90’s there was a huge push to patent gene sequences and research in the race to develop blockbuster drugs. From what I gathered, the idea was to isolate the gene that caused the disease and then develop and monopolize the drug that treats it by keeping the data locked away.

Merck was just one player in this scramble. Inevitably, it would have been a war of attrition to see who could grab the most patents and keep them the most secret. The strategy of their competitors was to be better at this than Merck was–to cut costs, be more efficient at it, invest more and to slowly gather patents as possible.

Instead of playing this game, Merck shocked the world by releasing 15,000 of their proprietary human gene sequences to the public and announcing that they would release the rest of them as they came about. And then the dynamics utterly changed. Merck’s strength was never in researching genes, it was in developing and marketing drugs. So they attacked their competitor’s strategy by making it obsolete–making it no longer a commodity. They turned their weakness in research–a battle that if they won, would be Pyhrric–and took it off the table. And then competed where they were strong–marketing, distribution and other infrastructure. Most important, they got access to everyone else’s research when they were forced to follow their lead and make their patents public. And from what I gathered (although it’s still ongoing) that’s where they won.

Attacking strategy is a long-term plan. It’s getting inside and disrupting. It’s how you understand that even if you win otherwise, your victory is defined by the fact that you’re reacting against someone else. That means you’re focusing your energy in a lot of directions that you don’t necessary wish to; it’s full of waste and costs and friction. I am trying to to look at situations and go “what is their strategy?” and “can you I go around it?” instead of just accepting it as a given.

*More coming from Wikinomics, but you should read it if you haven’t yet.

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.