More adventures of zheng and qi

One of the pillars of Boyd’s framework is the idea of playing off the expected (zheng) against the unexpected (qi).  It’s an ancient principle, a component of shih, the title of the fifth chapter of the Sun Tzu text.  In some form or another, it is incorporated into all frameworks that descend from Sun Tzu, including the Marine Corps’ maneuver warfare doctrine and the various forms of lean.

Occasionally the principle itself gets rediscovered.  You may be familiar with the “Wow! Factor” or Tom Peters’ “the Pursuit of Wow!”

Here’s one of these from the Wall St. J. last Friday.

A couple of comments:

1.  “Exceeding expectations” is OK, but it makes it sound like “expectations” is a linear scale and all you have to do is score higher.  He’s on the right track, but there’s more to zheng / qi than a freebee every now and again.  For one thing, if that’s your approach, then customers will come to expect it.

2.  And there’s something I don’t like about “under-promise, over-deliver.”  Something about it just makes me uncomfortable.

Still, his conclusion that “… when you give them something more than they expect — faster service, extra help, more options, early delivery and so on — you end up with the loyal, raving fans you need to propel your business into the stratosphere” is certainly consistent with what we expect from zheng / qi.

How to Turn Customers Into Loyal, Raving Fans


Do you want satisfied customers or do you want customers who are so thrilled with your company they become loyal, raving fans? I’ll take option No.2. Satisfied customers may come back a second or third time; they may even become regulars. But unless you exceed expectations, your satisfied customers could just as easily become your competitors’ satisfied customers.

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About the Author

Mike Michalowicz is the author of “The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur.” He is an advocate of a business philosophy by the same name, believing the greatest business successes come from underfunded, inexperienced entrepreneurs. His website is

One thought on “More adventures of zheng and qi

  1. I presume, the unexpected will mean that the opponent is unprepared and therefore will take longer and more resources for countermeasures. Some of the excuses for cyber/hacker attacks have been that they weren’t serious and will motivate the victim taking action so that they might be prepared for serious attacks.

    The theme of rediscovering customers sort of goes along with the theme that corporate America has been pre-occupied with satisfying Wall Street … as opposed to any business fundamentals; this is especially true when top officials have their compensation tied to Wall Street measures. This results in various kinds of oddities. In the mid-90s, there was lobbying to allow retirement funds to be moved from liability to asset, giving bottom line a one-time boost (and corresponding spike in executive compensation; downside is that retirement fund becomes vulnerable in a bankruptcy).

    In the past decade, apparently because GAO didn’t think SEC was doing anything, GAO started doing reports showing uptic in public company fraudulent financial fillings (even after SOX). A common scenario was that the fraudulent financial fillings boosted executive compensation and bonuses, and even if the financial fillings were later corrected, the executive compensation and bonuses weren’t corrected.

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