Sun Zi’s Art of War Formula – Simple yet Comprehensive

The ‘Art of War’ of Sun Zi contains 13 chapters. The challenge is to capture the essence and yet without loosing any key details in as short a form as possible. Here is the Formula that tells you all.

I spent many weeks reflecting on how I can express the content of Sun Zi’s Art of War in as short a form as possible and at the same time not loosing any key details. The short form is good for us to remember, recall and to apply it into the many business decisions that we face.

One Chinese Word – 势 Comparative Power

It can be expressed in one Chinese Word – 势 Comparative Power. To be clearer, Sun Zi teaches us about how to 造势 Create or build Comparative Power and then 取势 ride on the wave of the created power.

‘知彼知己’ ‘Know Others(Competitors) and Know Self’.

The ‘how to’ is expressed in the famous quotation of ‘知彼知己’ ‘Knowing Others(Competitors) and Knowing Self’. This is about building our strengths relative to our competitors or in the modern management term of ‘comparative’ or ‘competitive’ advantage. Sun Zi used a bow and arrow to illustrate power and speed of action. The distance the arrow can reached is dependent on much the bow is bent (potential power or energy that we must build) and how fast the trigger, the arrow is released.

 ‘知天知地‘  Know Heaven (Weather, Season, Timing) and Earth (Terrain, Positioning)

What is frequently omitted is in the second part of ‘知天知地‘ , which is ‘knowing the timing (seasons and wealther) and knowing the terrain (or more precise, the shapes and advantages offered by the terrains such as cliff, narrow passage, water obstacle etc). Sun Zi not only tell us how to build our strength with his five factors of philosophy, timing, terrain, leadership and policies and seven measures which include the strength and skill of staff; he also tell us to make use of, or exploit the potential power from the external environment ot timing and terrains. Making use of the natural tendency offered by Heaven (Timing, Seasons) and Earth (Terrains), will allow us to have power without any of our effort! We just ride the tidal wave. Making use of nayural forces or tendencies is best illustrated with a puzzle. “How do you feed pepper to your cat?”. Hint: The answer is in the natural tendency of the cat.

Out Innovate Them

The last part then is the engagement between us and our competitors. The is for winning is to surprise them or in modern management term, out innovate them! Another way is speed. We can also sieze the initiative by out menuerving the competitors with deception, tempting, threatening, creating chaos, division, angering,  waiting while they labor and spend, attacking their weakness etc.

The Tag Line – Build Ride Innovate

The tagline for Art of War is then about build your comparative advantage over them, ride on the natural trends and out innovate them.

One More Thing – Business is a Love Affair more than War

Sun Zi was taking about war. To apply Sun Zi’s wisdom in today business world, we need to know one key thing – Business is a love affair with us customers first with our competitors being used as reference to evaluate our business value that we bring to our customers. The best way to out do our competitors is actually to focus first on serving and developing relationship with our customers. We keep track on our competitors is only for the purpose for serving and increasing our value to our customers. We make use of what our competitors are doing that we may do add even more value to our customers.

The Sun Zi’s Art of War Formula

To capture all the essential teaching of a subject, it is much clearer and simpler to express it as a fomula as shown below:SunZi Art of War Formula

Hope you can grasp the essential teaching of Sun Zi’s Art of War.

Lim Liat (c) 26 April 2014

East West Fusion Mindset as a Key and as Simple as ABC

The East and West mindset can be integrated and represented as a Key with the round base representing Eastern/Chinese circular mindset and the straight grooved pin as the Western linear and detailed mindset. The application of the fusion mindset is as simple as ABC represented using computer language statements of assignment, If-the-else and looping construct. The details of ABC can be found in my blog posts.

The East-West Key
After much study, comparisons and reflections on the Eastern/Chinese and Western(trained in high schools, university, post graduate, consultants, management books, HBRs etc etc) , I think both can be integrated into a key, represented by a physical door-key. The rounded based representing the circular, cyclical Chinese mindset, with Yin-Yang balance and harmony as objective and the pin with groves representing the linear, sequential, and detailed task oriented mindset of the West.  Here is the picture with greater details:

Fusion mindset calls neither East or West alone thinking but both, applying them in different degree, depending on the situations and the players, to achieve the right result by thanking the right action at the right time and place.  We should also be aware that the ‘right result’ is a dynamic balance of among multiple forces. The balance will and have to shift through time as situations change.

The Application of Fusion Mindset is as Simple as ABC:
Using the computer language as a means of representation, the following picture show this Fusion Wisdom can be applied:

If you have only one take away, just remember the IF statement:

IF then DO A else DO B.

All the very best to your business and career.

Lim Liat (C) 13 May 2013

Branding, Innovation and Productivity for SME (SMB)

For SME (Small, Medium Scale Enterprises) to scale up and be successful, they must understand that innovation is about creating value and differentiating from others in shibumi (elegant simplicity), the multi-dimensions of customer value, the power of branding, systematic innovative methods BVITS, and the steps to take. Read on for the details….

Invited by NUS Extension to participate in a Emerging Enterprise Round-table that resulted in the publication in Business Times Business Times 2 April 2013.
http://www.businesstimes.com.sg/print/522165 on the topic “Getting a Boost from Branding”. Only the essence of my views was published but still left out many important points that I wish to present below for the benefits of all.

Branding and its Power

A brand is the summation of customers’ experience over time of what it means to them. It is more than what the company says. It is what people say about the company, products or services. These sayings are the impressions formed the customers in their encounters with the company products, services and ways of doing business.

A brand is then the trusted statement of company’s identity and values in the market by the public.

A good brand is like a flower that draws customers. Whereas for no brand companies, they have to seek out and push its offerings like the busy bees.

A good brand creates the awareness and short-cut the decision making process.

The whole marketing process of AIDA (Attention or Awareness, Interest, Decision and Action) is shortened. For unknown brand, most people may not find it, and even if they do, they will want to test and evaluate it, ask others about it, carefully consider all other options, before, if ever, arrive at the purchasing decision. It is also likely to be very a price sensitive decision reducing the profits for the company.

In addition, a good brand creates a differentiation that command higher value.

Consider the purchase of smart-phone, the typical preferences and recommendations by people are Apple and Samsung and the prices reflect that. A relative similar feature sets of Android phones to the Samsung are available in the 2nd tier brands like HTC, Sony and LG and they are priced lower. Technically, HuaWei, the China leading telecom network and phone company also produces Android phones that are similar to the Samsung but does not enjoy the same branding of Samsung so that its phones are priced much lower and yet lag in market share in Singapore.

Branding for the SME’s

  1. A Unique and Differentiated Value Proposition – Clarity Needed
    Unless one is clear on its unique value proposition, it is hard to create a brand that stands out from the pack of  similar offerings. To understand this value proposition better, we need to understand the following:

    1. Customer don’t buy products or services but the outcome of a wow experience.
    2. The Value of the experience has the following three dimensions of:
      1.  Rational, Economic or Utility such as cheaper, faster, better, safer, easier, longer lasting. People are happy when they have a good deal.
      2. Emotional (look good, feel good, trustworthy) & Social (lifestyle of class and trendiness and status of wealth and honour) .
      3. Significance of meaningfulness for a good social, environmental, health and long life causes.
    3. Need to address all contact points with customer that creates the wow experience. From awareness, interests, decision making, purchase, installation, use, enhanced usage, repair, upgrade and retirement.
    4. Shibumi (MiniMax) – Simplicity in Elegance and Depth.
      Most people equate more features as better not realizing that more choices actually create stress and errors besides adding production and quality costs. The success of Apple teaches us that ease of use and depth of use are more important. SME’s must know how to minimize the big set of features into a few key features that customers desire and implement those features well and in depth. The branding can then be more effectively done.
    5. Consider companies like Starbuck or Breadtalk, are they just selling coffee or bread only? The answer is no. Their value proposition is higher. Breadtalk said they are selling innovative and trendy lifestyles.
  2. Gap between Claim and Delivery – Alignment Needed
    1. The claim of the Unique Value Proposition must be delivered consistently across all locations, by all staff and all the time. It is in the delivery of such claims that create the customer experience. Many fail because either they lack clarity of their value proposition, or their policies and deliveries are not aligned with the value proposition. There may also be lack of training and monitoring of staff especially when there are multiple locations.
    2. It is important to note that everything, the locations, deco and layout of shops, brochures, policies, procedures, attitudes and behaviour of staff, the delivery trucks etc all contribute to creating a brand and the experience.
    3. Consider Breadtalk, its beautiful shop deco, the innovative bread products, opened kitchen, its locations at high end shopping malls, friendly staff and others are all aligned to its vision of creating the trendy and innovate lifestyles.
  3. Handing of Complains or Defects – Be Positive
    1. Most typical reactions to customers complains are to blame others and pass the bugs.
    2. Instead, one needs to have a positive attitudes towards customers’ complains. Customer’s complain is actually customer giving us a second chance to make good. If we can recover well then we will gain a loyal customer.  He or she will also tell others about your good service too.
    3. We need to understand the multiplying effect of customers complains or praise. A unhappy customer will tell many others. A happy customer may tell others too. Why not make his/her praise of telling others easy too?

Steps for the Branding

  1. Put in a Branding Process to be led by the CEO and involving other key staff. The objective is to create their unique brand and work out the tasks, staff, budgets and timelines with monitoring of the progress. Branding is not a one off exercise. The brand is the company’s identity and value statement to the world and should be a prime concern for top to bottom.
  2. Work out the Unique & Differentiated value proposition and communicate it throughout the company.  Sessions with the key customers should be arranged to ensure the value proposition is also welcome and experience by the customers. A common error is to think what the customers would like rather than finding out from the customers. The Value Proposition should be viewed from the customers’ eyes.
  3. Ensure all staff understand that branding is more than just marketing but more importantly, it is the delivery of the value proposition at all contact points with the customers.  Every staff has a role to play. Find and show the right behaviour for that role. A common error is to state the objective. like serve the customer well, without telling the how, resulting in every staff having their own interpretation of what ‘serve well’ means and creating inconsistency of service.
  4. List out all the potential contact points with customers and work out how should the delivery be done such that customers can have a wow experience. The delivery could be the key product features, service levels, the ways business are done, the environment of the engagement, the right behaviour and attitudes of staff.
  5. Beside training the staff, managers should lead by examples, showing staff what are the right behaviour. Managers should also praise staff when staff exhibit the right behaviours so that other staff may know too. Correction should not be just saying what were wrong but also what are the right way. Managers should also show staff how to behave towards nasty customers. Managers should also celebrate successes.
  6. Engage the very satisfied customers and involve them in coming out with reference-able case studies and suggestions for new innovations. Engaging the very dissatisfied  and former customers also give us valuable information on how to improve our offering.
  7. Have a Social Network Presence with dedicated team  to engage with the wider audience base. Carefully monitor its content, activities and response positively to criticisms and complains. Make the work of customers giving feedback and recommendations easy for them.
  8. Collect and review customers feedbacks at all contact points regularly. It serves two purposes. Firstly is ensuring alignment to the company value proposition. Secondly is to detect if customers preferences and trends have changed.

Innovation for Higher Value and Profits

Innovation is the way to break free from the fierce commoditized competition of low margin and price cutting. However, one must understand ‘Innovation’ well in order to create the innovation that bring in the value and productivity.

Innovation is about converting intangible ideas into tangible products (including information content) and/or services that are valued by certain group of users called customers that they pay money for. Innovation is essentially business value creation.

Business value is more than just rational utility or economic values of cheaper, faster, better, safer, easier and longer lasting. There is also value in the emotional trigger of look good feel good and social values of lifestyle and status. There is the significance or meaningful value of contributing to the social community, protecting the environment, making life healthier and longer. By looking at the various dimensions of this value, there are much an SME can do in improving the emotional, social and meaningful value of their offerings.

Furthermore, innovation is not just restricted to products or even services. Innovation can occur through out the entire supplier chain, to production and operation, management and the distribution chain to the final customers or users. There can be innovations, such as a better or cost saving production methods, or finding a better source of supply, or better organization of tasks and team.  Re-thinking about our offering and finding new meaning is also innovation. Consider lights as not just giving brightness but also creating the right ambient to create the right moods bring the lights into new markets.

By seeing innovation as creating a wow experience for customers, the company can workout and improve the engagement with customers at the various contact points to increase the delights of the customers resulting greater customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Innovation brings value and is easy. Have a right understanding of innovation and then workout the details will enable the SME’s to create differentiated offering of higher value and reduced costs.

Productivity, Higher Salary and Less Staff Turnover

With the right understanding on innovation (as in Q4),  SMEs have to construct and look at their business model in terms of value consumption(values used by customers), value delivery(the distribution to customers), value creation(the manufacturing or production model) and value capture (the financial model) and reallocate the manpower, skills, tools and automation costs.

Some very basic question have to be asked:

  1. What features are really important to customer and can we offer less to cut production costs or offer more to increase the price.
  2. What are easy for us and hard for others to do? We should do more of those.
  3. Who does it best? Is it better to automate or for the staff to do? Can we ask the customers to do it (e.g. self-serve or self assembly)? Can our suppliers do it for us (suppliers configure, pack, and ship directly to customers)? etc.

BVITS Creative Thinking for Breakthrough Ideas

Here is a list of ten BVITS (Bvotech’s Innovation Thinking System) operators to challenge us to think out of the box.  Apply the following operators to the 6M factors of Man, Machine, Materials, Methods, Measurements and Environment to re-engineer the Business Model to gain productivity:

  1. Take out
    • remove some features and offer lower end offerings
    • remove offerings that are not needed or valued by customers
    • do lean methodology or go JIT
  1. Divide
    • break down into sub-components and reassign features or jobs to get better productivity
    • specialize for greater productivity and skills
  1. Outsource
    • contract out work to someone who are better than us.
  1. Irregularize
    • From standardized one size fit all to custom-made or personalization.
    • As an example, a very successful start-up called Littlemissmatch of USA sells shocks in package of three in different colours and patterns instead of a pair of same colour and pattern.
    • Flexible working hours and locations for staff.
  1. Invert
    • reverse the roles e.g. customers self-serve, self-assembly.
    • staff pick their team leaders to lead them.
  1. Multiply
    • Make two or more copies of some key components like dual or quad core CPUs, triple or Quattro blades razor etc.
    • Staff acquired more skills to be more flexible and can work at different jobs at different times according to needs.
  1. Acquire
    • offer an offering that is better than the market.
    • hire staff from companies that are closing down.
  1. Combine
    • one product for multiple uses e.g. Smartphone
    • put diverge skills people into a team for general problem solving.
  1. Extremitify
    • serve the people at the edges e.g. baby, old age, odd sizes.
    • make product usable at extreme conditions e.g. ruggedized.
  1. Learn from others
    • practices in other industries and even from natural science e.g. Biomimicry.

Finally, increase the value of job so that the staff can enjoy higher pay and job satisfaction.  Staff turnover is a big cost not just of hiring but also lost of expertise, retraining, re-deployment and adaptation into productive teams.

Lim Liat (c) 4 April 2013

The War of Tablets – Who will win?

The statement by Jeff Bezos of Amazon tells us that the war of tablets is not just about hardware. It is about the digital Eco-systems in which the tablet is only a link. It not just the initial purchase but the usage of it to gain access to the vast digital world of content and social connection that matters more. Who will win or loose will depend on how it is used. The digital world Eco-system is presented first. It is follow by my 4D Innovation Ecosystem model to help entrepreneurs to come out with their strategies for survival and growth. Looking at the leaders such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft, and seeing their views, we get to understand their competitive position and advantages. Should Facebook join the war?

It is Not about Hardware Only

Invention doesn’t stop with the hardware…. We want to make money when people use our devices, not when they buy our devices. If someone buys our devices and puts them in the drawer and never uses them, we don’t deserve to make money.- Jeff Bezos, Amazon.

The Digital World Ecosystem

The 4D Innovation Model and Strategies for Success

The Views of the Leaders

Amazon – Tablet as Extension of eBook Readers and Entrance to e Shopping
As shown in the mind-map above, Amazon is in the tablet game from its very successful eBook readers. But its specialized eBook readers can be easily replaced by the general purpose tablet like the iPad just as the successful Philips word processor equipments were replaced by PC’s later. But Amazon’s Android tablets are built for eBook reading as first priority. As entrance to its vast amount of content (besides eBooks, Amazon is now like a super mall), it must be cheap and good from the eBook and e Shopping points of view. Amazon will tilt its tablets to create an enchanting experience for e-shopping at its sites and for greater reading and watching pleasure.

Apple – Tablets as filling the gap between iPhone 4″ and Mac Big Display
Apple iPhone comes from iPod (music player), iTouch (no need for PC to buy and play songs). iPhone is but iTouch with phone communication add-on. iPhone is a cloud device and not a phone. Nokia saw the world as phone and expanded from phone but was too slow to reach the cloud of digital content and social connection. iPad is just filling up the gap between the small display of iPhone and the large and not too mobile Mac Notebook. Steve Jobs did not think there was a need for a smaller device in between. Cook thought they should protect themselves from others and come out with iPad mini. But iPad mini is still slightly larger than the other, 7.9″ vs 7″ and it was intentionally for preserving the display of iPad 2 experience (smaller but no loss of display content), showing Apple’s tight adherence to user’s experience. Smaller, lighter, cheaper but no other inconvenience caused. A good guide for all others to follow.

Google – Tablet as a device to Connect to its Organized World of Information
Google is still very much information base rather than quality music(Apple) or quality video(Amazon’s intent) base. A great strength is its open standard based vs Apple more proprietary iOS and iTunes store. It is expanding in many directions to establish itself as the main key player in the digital world since its search engine is under challenged from many others, like Microsoft’s Bing and others. Google with its innovative culture will continue to come out with many offerings and may be one of them will make it great like their search engine. For Google then, the tablet needs to be as flexible as possible to do all the wonderful things that they are coming out with. Their mind-set is still very much consumers base and one way of expansion is go into the corporate business with better security and management tools and give Microsoft and IBM some challenges. However, being an open platform, there will be some new entrepreneurs that will fill up this gaps well.

Microsoft – Extending from PC Desktop
Microsoft is trying very hard to extend its dominance on and from the PC desktop. The Apple and Android phones and tablets show that you don’t need the complexity of the PC to get things done. Windows8 is integrating phone types apps on the old windows. I am not sure you need to integrate them for the general users; may be for the developers for ease of development of apps. If any user find the phone or tablet apps are not powerful enough for their use, I don’t think anyone want to go into the Windows to get the things done. He could just look for and buy a better apps that can do the job. It any job cannot be done easily on a 4″ or 10″ screen, then go to the PC or Mac to do the job. The job is not for the tablet or phone. Microsoft is an incremental innovator as many have shared. They may not be the first but they have the track record to outdoing the first. eg IE over Netscape, Excel over Lotus 123, Word over Word-perfect etc. Can it do it again with Windows 8? It is a very long and hard catch-up for Microsoft and its partner like Nokia to do.

The Value of Social Connection and Network – Should Facebook join the war?

We don’t just go into the Cloud to get information and buy things. One of the killer apps of the internet is eMail. The greatest past time now for most people is chatting and connecting with other people. The leader of this Social Network is Facebook. I did not mention it in an earlier post of this because Facebook is not yet in the Tablet War. Does Facebook need to be into the hardware device as well? The common wisdom of the past tell us that hardware is a cut-throat commodity business and businesses are advised to go into software and services like IBM, Xerox etc. But recent stories show that Samsung, Apple and even Microsoft Windows 8 Surface are having great margin of 50%+. Samsung is have great success with its Android devices. So should Facebook go into the hardware game as well like Microsoft? Apple Steve Jobs is famous for integrating software, hardware and design. Google acquiring of Motorola Mobility may show that they also ascribe to Jobs’ view too.

The Advice – It all depends

My advise is that it all depends. It depends on where you want to play in the big digital Eco-system market place. It depends on your relative strengths with respect to the market you want to play in. Our strengths are not what we think but should be measured externally from the market, against our competitors and from the eyes of our customers. Our strength is not just because we can do it but rather we can do it better than others. It is easy for us but difficult for others.

Back to Facebook, for the time being at least, its business is social connection, the bigger the world the better for him. The more the devices that can access it the better. The keys then are for Facebook is to continually offer better social connect experience, new ways of non-intrusive and embedded ads, and define standard interfaces for all others, hardware or software vendors,  to connect to them. The greater the size of those who can access Facebook, the greater the size of the potential market, and with its large installed base, the greater is its ability to fend off the competitors like Google+.  There is perhaps no need to come into the hardware game unless there some new innovation that need that … but such devices is really against the spirit of social connection. Let others build the roads and bridges, the cars, boats and planes into your wonderful kingdom of best social connection experience.

Lim Liat (C) 9 Nov 2012 on a Windows8 machine.

Revision 2 10 Nov 2012.