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The Art of ‘Ware (V 2.0, maxim 1:4): misdirection and stealth

February 28, 2008 0 Comments

[From The Art of ‘Ware (Version 2.0) by Bruce F. Webster (forthcoming), Chapter 1, “Starting Out”]

Successful product development required stealth and misdirection. Hide your strengths at first and appear to be weak; when actively developing, show no signs.

Any concept, once viewed, can be imitated, in appearance if not in fact. There is a real danger in exposing product concepts too quickly, though it is a risk that sometimes must be taken to raise capital. Likewise, you don’t want to tip off your competition as to what you’re doing, unless there’s an advantage in doing so.

Managing external perceptions and expectations while developing a new product is a difficult task. Revealing too much too soon can raise expectations too high while giving your competition a clear view as to what you are doing.

If product release will be soon, make it appear to be far away; if product release is far in the future, make it appear to be imminent.

With the first approach, you can lull competitors into complacency and lower the expectations of consumers. In both areas, the advantage of a soon-than-expected release can be tremendous.

The second approach is the classic FUD strategy: fear, uncertainty, and doubt. This tactic was honed to a fine art by IBM and then was adopted with success by Microsoft, at least until the Vista development effort. The danger is in loss of credibility, particularly with customers and the press, but it may work to freeze or misdirect the competition.

Entice the competition into a market segment, and then confuse them by your response. Where they are focused, strengthen yourself. Where they are successful, avoid them.

It helps to have a market niche that you are prepared to grant your competitors, particularly one that they would be interested in anyway. Talk it up, lure them in, then go elsewhere where your real strengths are.

Build strong walls where your competitors might intrude on your market share. Don’t waste resources attempting to win committed customers away from them.

Annoy their leaders to irritate and distract them. Hide your advantages to make them take you lightly.

Feuding CEOs are a time-honored tradition in the technology industry; large egos have often prevented what might have otherwise been successful partnerships and mergers. If you can get your competitors on the defensive, or at least really ticked with you, you may be able to tempt them into doing something rash.

There’s an art to making your customers (and investors) love you while having your competitors not take you seriously, but it can be done. Many successful, established companies started out as small and/or declining ones that weren’t taken too seriously; witness, for example, the Apple renaissance since 1996.

Wear the competition out by faster development.

Invest in your engineers. Take the time to give them proper training, resources, and tools. Discover the secrets of rapid product development, and when you do, keep them to yourself. In the process, be sure you wear out the competition and not your own developers.

Break up competing alliances and sow internal dissensions.

Alliances between convergence companies are constantly forming and shifting. Mergers are announced almost monthly; some actually go through. “Strategic alliances” are more common, but are less significant unless resources are actually committed. Even so, if those mergers and alliances threaten your company, you should find ways to undermine them.

Likewise, when it is your interest, look for ways to cause disagreements within a competing firm over a product and market direction. This will slow them down and may even misdirect them.

Release products at a time and in a market which they don’t expect. Do not freeze product specs and marketing approach too far in advance.

The competition will base a lot of their plans, consciously or unconsciously, on what they expect you to do. The more you surprise them, the less effective their plans will be and the less confidence they’ll have in those plans.

To compete, you need a product technology that allows you for last-minute shifting of the final specification and target market without the months of delay such changed usually entail. Companies that achieve this will have a better chance of surviving the rapid technology turnover in the industry.

Those who create an honest and well-thought-out business plan will likely succeed. Those who don’t will likely fail.

Too many business plans are an exercise in creative writing. This is often done to convince others to invest in a company, an effort of dubious ethical and practical results. The greatest danger, though, is when you believe the fantasy yourself.

Beyond that, your plan for business must be something far beyond the traditional written business plan. You must systematically address the issues raised in this chapter at the very start and lay the groundwork for success from the beginning. Otherwise, you risk wasting the time and/or money of all involved.

While success may depend part upon luck — that is, upon events and circumstances outside your control — it remains a truism that fortune favors the prepared. This chapter covered the ways in which you can prepare for success. Any resistance you and the others feel towards considering these issues and questions in detail should be a warning flag.

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Compare suntzu pingfa (Chapter 1: “Calculations”): Warfare is the Way of deception.

Therefore, if able, appear unable, if active, appear not active, if near, appear far, if far, appear near.

If they have advantage, entice them; if they are confused, take them, if they are substantial, prepare for them, if they are strong, avoid them,if they are angry, disturb them,if they are humble, make them haughty,if they are relaxed, toil them,if they are united, separate them.

Attack where they are not prepared, go out to where they do not expect. (Sonshi online translation)

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About the Author:

Webster is Principal and Founder at at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor for the BYU Computer Science Department. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at 303.502.4141 or at bwebster@bfwa.com.

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