As you may recall, the idea of playing off the expected, cheng, with the unexpected, chi, plays a major role in Boyd’s conception of maneuver warfare. Following Sun Tzu, Boyd advises engaging with the cheng, and winning with the chi. This is the strategy of deception: Go in with something the opponent believes he has figured out, ideally with some effort on his part in order to set the hook, as it were, then at the moment you believe will have the most paralyzing impact, spring the chi. Boyd has a nice summary on Patterns 132.
As I’ve mentioned before, and devoted an entire chapter to in Certain to Win, this idea translates nicely over to business. Give the customer what he expects, wants, needs. In simple terms, the product or service you provide has to work and do what you’ve told him it will do.
But customers become bored, eventually, with this approach. To hook them for the long term, you also need the unexpected, the surprising, the delightful. This may not be just the product or service itself but could include customer service or even packaging. For years, Apple was the master of this approach.
Hiroshi Mikitani had a nice cheng / chi piece yesterday on LinkedIn: “Selling distinction in the Internet Age.” Mikitani is the founder and CEO of Rakuten, the Japanese Internet retail giant that bought Buy.com a few years ago. What’s interesting about Mikitani’s approach is that he’s advising not more delightful packaging, which you could implement as well through Internet sales as anywhere else, but shifting to a new domain entirely.
What’s important is that your business think in these terms. Harried CEOs sometimes regard anything other than getting product out the door as distractions or at best “nice-to-have,” and bean counters look on them as added costs — i.e., they get points for griping about them or worse, eliminating them. Actions like these leave you open to smarter competitors.
What I recommend instead is that from the very beginning you regard your Schwerpunkt as not the chi nor the cheng but cheng / chi.