“The best way to lose a battle is to be obsessed by your enemy”

by Didier Marlier on Sunday September 16th, 2012

I know this is coming a bit late but, at the time when all the major media around the world, who had heavily invested into the coverage of the London Olympics were praising the opening ceremony, a courageous and dissonant voice made its way on the internet, the one of Fernando Lanzer a Brazilian born, Amsterdam based consultant (http://fernandolanzer.com/2012/07/28/olympic-games-opening-ceremony-disappointing-42-2/). He shared his disappointment about the ceremony mainly on two aspects: its pale comparison with Beijing and its British egocentricity. Of course his provocative comments attracted a lot of attention, both from supporters and detractors, of those who had honestly liked it as well as those who had been disappointed.

My point here is not to enter a passionate debate on the opening Ceremony but reflect on what the message of Fernando is for Business Leaders.

  • The ceremony was weak, in his eyes, because it was obsessed by beating the previous Games opening in Beijing. Likewise, in business, the radical change in attitude was fascinating amongst Apple’s future competitors between the moment when the Cupertino brand announced its intention to enter the mobile handset market (met by arrogance and condescendence) and the irrational wind of panic when the same competitors were trying to guess at each hiccup what would be the new invention Apple would come up with. All discussions were confining to an obsession focused on Steve Jobs’ next move… On top of challenging the orthodoxy (which at the time, before Apple’s debuts, was about designing the best handsets and equipping them with front edge technology) with its focus on inviting software engineers of the whole world to design apps for its i-phone and share the profits, Apple seems to have succeeded, strategically and psychologically at another master move: keeping their competitors on the defense and being obsessed by its supposed new strategies. Everybody probably remembers the unbelievable incident when a top R&D engineer would have forgotten a highly secret in development handset somewhere in a bar. Truth or hoax? The fact is that all the techies in the planet started an amazing buzz about the new handset. No other advertisement campaign would have been able to bring so much attention on Mr. Jobs’ next baby…
  • The Golden Rule in benchmarking is that one never should seek to benchmark a competitor or firm active in a similar field of activity as us. The reason is simple: by benchmarking the No1 in the field, one may at best hope to be as good as it, some day. And there is a lot to bet that the No1 will not have patiently waited for us to catch-up with them and will be somewhere completely different by the time we painfully and out of breath catch up with where they were… two to four years before. The rule in benchmarking is to identify organizations who excel in a domain totally different from ours but from whom we have good reasons to believe that we could disrupt our market, should we be able to apply what they do in their own field.
  •  I am sadly observing many Business Schools in such advanced countries as Brazil… They seem obsessed by the US/European model and all of the energy is to focus, compete, compare and beat-up the traditional leaders on their field. And some like the Fundação Dom Cabral demonstrate that they can do it. Unfortunately that only makes them new contenders in an outdated business model… Brazilian (and other) Business Schools would be well inspired to re-invent the business and educational model instead of competing on the old one!

 The second disappointment of Fernando Lanzer is about the perceived egocentricity of the Ceremony (Britain über alles…) But in my eyes, this is a clear consequence of the previous point and has to do Bonding vs Bridging. A healthy organization builds bridges, is curious and seeks to explore about other cultures, organizations, people. It is self assured, it relies on its proven track record and trusts it has the necessary resources to integrate what it will learn outside in its own culture. The example of the very strong, proud and adaptive Brazilian musical culture is fascinating: It welcomed and integrated the American Jazz and made it Bossa Nova, it did the same when blending African rythms and Rock n’ Roll calling it samba… One of the most famous music of the vast North east region is called “Forro” which is an adaptation of the British “For All” word, a very engaging music “for all” to dance…

Less self assured, threatened organizations are defensive, reject others’ cultures to boast about their own. Egocentrism is often a sign of the “bonding reflex”. And it is interesting this (if such is one’s reading of the opening Ceremony of course) is taking place at a time when Britain’s economy is particularly vulnerable, specially when compared to China.

Once again, my purpose here is not to share my own vision of a show I hardly paid any attention to but rather to build on Fernando’s perspective. Organizations who seek to create disruption and engagement will free themselves from obsessing about today’s orthodox leaders and will rather reinvent the rules of the game. And in order to create the right culture for it, they will encourage their people to move from bonding to bridging.

This being said, whatever opinion we may have on the opening ceremony, our British friends deserve praise and respect for the outstanding spectacle they granted us with during the whole Games! Thank you and well done!!!

Thanks for your patience during the Northern hemisphere Summer break. It is pointless to publish when everybody here is on the beach. Was in Amsterdam last week, in Geneva and Paris this one. Have a good week all.

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3 Responses to ““The best way to lose a battle is to be obsessed by your enemy””

  1. Thank you once again, Didier, for provoking our thoughts.

    The Essence of Leadership is that true leaders have the confidence to stand alone and make tough decisions with a compassion to listen to the needs of stake holders. They are like eagles, found one at a time not in a flock together.

    Reply

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