Qi Pad?

The ancient principle of playing the expected against the unexpected — zheng /qi — applies to both war and business. In chapter 5 of the Sun Tzu text, we are advised to engage with the zheng and win with the qi. In business, the formula is more like “bring’em in the door by meeting their expectations, and keep’em coming back by surprising them with delight.”

The key point, though, is that surprise is in the mind of the surprisee. As Boyd put it, you can’t surprise anyone. All you can do is try something with the intention that the opponent/competitor/customer will be surprised. Maybe, maybe not.

So how do you surprise people, like Apple customers, who are expecting to be surprised? Over and over again?

As Brook Crothers observed in a recent column on cnet, most potential customers were puzzled about what the new iPad was supposed to do for them.”Yeah, I kind of see what you mean,” was a common response to a new feature.

Other reviewers, though, seem absolutely blown away be at least two of the new capabilities. One, for example, said that after experiencing the new retina display, he could never go back even to an iPad 2. Another was entranced by the speed of the new iPad’s true 4G connection: There was no lag. Apps functioned instantaneously, even faster than on a wired broadband connection. The wait for data to download, which has plagued computing since the days of the telephone modem, is now over. And all of this (and more) for the same price as the iPad 2.

Is this unexpected? Delightful? Only you can answer that, and the success of the device, and the sales fate of future devices, depends on how many people decide that it is. If it just meets expectations, even if those expectations are high, then a marketing opportunity is opening. For someone.

For now, at least, Apple is riding the wave of its past zheng / qi successes:

So, this confirms my Apple Shiny Slab Theory. In short, certain buyers will, zombie-like, march to the Apple store and part with their cash. Yeah, they have vague ideas about new cool tech, but it’s all very vague.

And, come to think about it, it’s still a little vague to me as well. That’s never stopped me, though.  [“Do consumers really understand why they need the new thing from Apple? No, they don’t, in many cases.”  Brooke Crothers, March 17, 2012, http://news.cnet.com/8301-13924_3-57399321-64/some-people-dont-have-a-clue-as-to-why-they-need-the-new-ipad/]

[As an aside, zheng / qi used to be written as “cheng / ch’i,” which has the advantage of being pronounceable in English.]

Real OODA loops and IWCKI

New in our Articles section (see menu bar above):

Boyd’s Real OODA Loop.  I’ve been working on this thing for about a year now, and I think it finally meets the definition of a masterpiece: not finished, just abandoned. The original purpose was to point out that the most popular version of the OODA loop–observe, then orient, then decide, then act–is not wrong but is incomplete. It is, in fact, a subset of the complete “loop” that Boyd drew in “The Essence of Winning and Losing” (also available in Articles) that accounts for the generation of novelty and is a key mechanism in keeping the orientation process humming along smoothly. It is not, however, particularly useful for initiating actions in the heat of battle.

If We Can Keep It. The folks at the Center for Defense Information have kindly assented to my posting the pdf of IWCKI. Published in January 2008, it was the latest in the trilogy that began with A Swift, Elusive Sword. I tried to push the envelope with this one, but I’m afraid that time has pulled it into the mainstream (see, for example, “The Top 10 Lessons of the Iraq War,” by Stephen M. Walt in Foreign Policy).  I mean, even Newt is saying things like “We need to understand that our being in the middle of countries like Afghanistan is probably counterproductive.”

Down the Sky

by W. Patrick Lang
FT Review by Chet Richards

Did you know that late in the Civil War, July 1864 to be exact, Lt. Gen Jubal Early and his Confederate army made it to within six miles of the White House, coming down from the Maryland side? Well inside the Beltway, as we say today.

Would you like to ride along? How about accompanying the Union counterstrike a few months later, when feisty Phil Sheridan’s famous ride turned the tables on Early and for all practical purposes eliminated his army as a fighting force? Want to know how the Confederates could have saved Ft. Fisher, which defended their last remaining port (and what really destroyed it after the battle)?

Still demand more? I don’t blame you — how about following a Confederate spy as he worms his way into the confidence of the President of the United States? Now, I have to tell you that the spy in question, Claude Devereux, is not a totally likeable person. What kind of man would cheat on his mistress, while also still sleeping with his wife? But spies are not like you and I, and Pat Lang should know. As one of the country’s premier spymasters, when it comes to intelligence, he knows whereof he speaks.

Down the Sky is Lang’s third in the “Strike the Tent” trilogy. Although he says that it stands alone, I think you’ll find the experience much more satisfying if you start with The Butcher’s Cleaver and proceed through Death Piled Hard to this one.  There are a lot of characters, and like in any good spy novel, they do a lot of confusing things. There is a list of characters in the back — bookmark it.

So you’ll get a great intelligence thriller, a vivid work of historical fiction, and a lot of maps and pictures of real people.  You’ll also get some insight into the motivations of the ordinary people of the period, particularly in the South, and including both blacks and whites. You’ll understand better why the poor farmers of the South — few of whom owned slaves — fought on, desperately, long after the Confederacy had any chance to achieve its goal of independence. People just don’t like to be occupied, a lesson we might pay more attention to today.

Is it good literature? I’ll tell you this: I downloaded it from iUniverse to my iPhone and read it on a recent trip to New York. Late into the night. When I was supposed to be preparing presentations. It works fine as an ePub on the iPhone, but a larger screen would make the maps more legible and cut fewer generals in half.

Thinking Like Marines

Mike Wyly’s classic article, Thinking Like Marines, on applying the concepts of maneuver warfare to business, is now available here on Fast Transients (it was one of the first pieces I posted on belisarius.com in about 1999).

Contains this classic line, which resonates with successful leaders in any field:

I should interject here that control is not what maneuver warfare is about. In fact it is not what warfare is about. As a commander in Vietnam I wanted to unleash my marines on the enemy, not control them.

It will be available through the “Articles” button on the menu bar.


Cheng, ch’i and the new iPad

Nice article by Josh Lowensohn and Jim Kerstetter over at c|net: How Apple keeps them lining up.

What’s Apple’s secret for turning these launches into a cultural event? It’s consistency, and it’s surprise. You believe that Apple product you’re about to buy will be like the last one, but how will it be better?

Cheng and ch’i, a subject I treat in Chapter 6 of Certain to Win. Sun Tzu suggested that we engage with the cheng, win with the ch’i. Or, in business, something like “bring’em in with the cheng, lock’em in with the ch’i.”


to teach a couple of classes at Baruch College.

I’ll be doing an evolution of maneuver class for Dr. T. J. Obi’s military history students and a session on Sun Tzu & John Boyd for his honors course.

Good to be back in New York after about 30 years, but just to be sure, I brought my South Carolina Low Country weather with me (it’s nearly 60 out there now).

Toyota gets its mojo back

But unfortunately Jaguar, Mercedes, and oddly, Porsche do not.

Toyota took five of the 10 categories listed by CNN Money as Consumer Reports Top Car Picks:

  • Family sedan: Camry Hybrid
  • Small SUV: RAV4
  • Van: Sienna
  • Green car: Prius
  • Family SUV: Highlander (disclosure — I have a 2008 Highlander)

No other brand received more than one recommendation.


On the other hand, in the category “Worst Value Luxury Cars,” Jaguar, Mercedes, and Porsche each had two “winners,” and all were dinged for mediocre or worse quality.


This is particularly strange in the case of Porsche, which had been making great strides in quality by adopting lean production.

Speaking of which, this post might have been subtitled “The Toyota Production System is Back.”