Archive for the ‘Military Philosophy’ Category

Universal Commonalities in Competitive Systems and A Call for Lateral Thinking

May 21, 2009

What’s the difference between military strategy, plotting a con game, and business planning?

To a large degree, scale.

That is to say, each of these systems all follow a similar functional model, as each is built around analysis of complex systems predominantly featuring humans and their behavior, with an aim towards the analyst gaining an advantage.

That model is, roughly, as follows:

  • Acquire a target.
  • Analyze the target for vulnerabilities.
  • Exploit vulnerabilities as appropriate (to your advantage and/or the target’s disadvantage)
  • Analyze the actions you took to improve your approach.
  • Repeat.

There are ultimately deep commonalities when it comes to any system primarily characterized by individuals’ attempts to exploit each other and avoid exploitation in turn. And yet, working from the same fundamental dynamic, each of my examples developed in wildly different ways.

In the military world, this dynamic is analyzed to a great degree, and there’s an understanding that this is, in essence, a science dedicated to such dynamics in the context of war – and it’s a science of interest to many sophisticated militaries around the world.

In regards to con games, where the average person finds himself on the defensive end of the model, we find ourselves woefully unprepared. Despite having a wealth of understanding of analysis of such systems in general, we continue to find ourselves nearly defenseless before individuals who take people for hundreds or thousands of dollars, if not even more. We seem impotent to fight the “war” against systemic, illegal exploitation, which in my mind begs the question as to why this is the case – I might explore this in greater depth in the future.

And yet, the most lopsided of the three systems I noted, in terms of preparedness to work within and understand a system of competitive exploitation, is the corporate world. I find this the most fascinating example of the model out of the three, as in our society we find ourselves both the aggressors and the defenders, and yet in so many industries we find the aggressors with an unsurmountable, systemic advantage over their consumers.

How can we, as a people, understand so much about human nature and yet find ourselves so utterly powerless to prevent people from taking advantage of us with it? Is there some form of Marxist-like class structure at work, with the strategists of professional economic exploitation having removed themselves from the populace at large, which remains vulnerable to well-coreographed advertisements and litanies of fine print? Do we simply not realize that we are the targets of our own corporate voraciousness, that the organizations taking our money with military-like precision and effectiveness do so not out of any desire to provide a service, but to take as much of our money as they can while providing as little as they can get away with?

Is, perhaps, our very collective inability to identify and work against individuals who have targeted us for exploitation, itself some form of vulnerability, exploited willfully or accidentally against us?

But to get to the point – I can’t help but wonder if and how we can apply lessons from any one of these exploitation systems to others of its’ ilk. I envision the greatest obstacle there to be one of applicability – how can you apply, say, the lessons of asymmetrical warfare and apply them in the context of spam mailing campaigns of credit card offers? How do we get inside the OODA loop of a corporation that spends millions of dollars trying to preemptively predict, say, our eating behaviors to get us to purchase more of their food?

It’s not an easy problem by any means – but that just means it’s all the more worthwhile to think about it.