Getting Rid of Your Center of Gravity

A beaten wing which is put out of joint decides the fate of all that was connected with it. Von Clausewitz’ On War

But what is the center of gravity for an insurgency or any guerrilla movement? In Iraq, on which joint does the rest hinge? I would assert that they don’t have one. Maybe because they are not a “they.” It’s like saying “what’s the center of gravity of capitalism?” Marx said it was the means of production. That you could seize them and the system would crumble. What he didn’t understand is that factories and private property, those are all just expressions of capitalism, not capitalism itself. For insurgents in Iraq, there is no center of gravity. And it’s why they are an enemy we can hardly understand, let alone defeat.

That’s the parable facing newspapers as they try to fight blogs and the internet. “How can we undercut them?” THERE IS NO THEM. What you’re fighting isn’t a group with ideas or a vision or even a goal, you’re fighting progress. You’re fighting people; people who have an inevitable drive towards power, status and wealth. People act on that impulse. Corporations do not. if you read Gonzo Marketing, he really drives that home. A corporation can’t care about a cause, or love or hate something or even want to make money. A corporation wants nothing but to exist. People, obviously, want more than that. So as you get further from that core, efficiency diminishes.

Maybe it’s because in an office or in a company, you become less concerned with your position in the world as a whole and entirely focused on your position within that microcosm. You lose the forest for the trees–and big movements and change can’t work that way. For instance, I spent pretty much all of yesterday trying to find a bathroom key so I wouldn’t piss myself and pondering why it needs to be locked in the first place. That doesn’t happen at my house. A terrorist in Iraq doesn’t focus as much on rank or stars or procedure, it’s about killing, going home and then killing some more.

What is so fundamentally revolutionary about the internet is that it has made it possible to scale without size. (Or have a military without mass) You can have the reach of a huge company without the politik and the strife and the stupidity that comes with the whole ‘a person is smart but people are not ‘concept. What technology does it is allows for individuals to wield the power and force of thousands but by themselves. It harnesses individuality and collective strength at the same time. Military Intelligence stops being an oxymoron.

Over the last two thousand years, guerrilla warfare has continually shown itself to be the most efficient of all military strategies. It’s not the highest form, it is formlessness. Without a center of gravity, there is nothing to attack. That leaves the enemy with two options: Withdraw or Engage on the new plane.

Both personally and strategically, how do you remove your center of gravity? Simply being aware of them is not enough. Hierarchical decentralization is the worst of both. Howard Dean was this, not big enough for mass but concentrated enough that a scream decimated him. For many companies I think that is going to mean an utter restructuring of the business or in most cases, dying and then starting over. More relevant to us, how does a decentralized company refrain from the pressure to centralize?

It is actually the same question. And that’s what Tapscott meant when he said that companies become ossified in their own success. Today, in the newspaper analogy blogs are not a thing and bloggers are not a they. It is just the force of progress and innovation, something that is impossible to defeat. But as it develops and certain models because successful, people who take the easy route will imitate and follow. That is, they will become the enemy–dependent on a single stream or the status quo. They will form around a center of gravity. They will no longer be part of an amorphous, decentralized network and become corporations or armies. They commit strategic suicide.

The smartest people I know are trying to avoid that. I think you probably should to.

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.