Sunday, 31 October 2010

Clausewitz, Sun-Tzu and…

It has recently been published in the press that Germany has just finished paying World War I reparations.

In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles, which ended that war, left Germany into actual bankruptcy, its mainland violently severed, virtually no Armed Forces, no colonies, no heavy industry. About 20 years later, Germany was able to defeat France, the greatest of the victors, in just four weeks, turning continental France is basically a virtual colony for Germany until it was liberated by Anglo-American forces in 1944.

In May 1940, France had the mightiest Army in the world. It was apparently safe behind the Maginot Line (a masterpiece of military technology of the time) set along the border with Germany, from Switzerland to Belgium. Still, the German Flag was unfurled on top of the Eiffel Tower before the end of the month, and stayed there for four long years.

What had happened in a devastated and ruined Germany that made it possible for she to dominate Europe from France to Poland, from the Mediterranean coast to Cape North in Norway?

First: Overall general feeling of having been unfairly treated. That was a common feeling in the German peoples after World War I, who felt betrayed.

Second: A determinant change of leadership with a clear plan to be strictly followed in the years to come. In 1933, Adolf Hitler became Reichskanzler, and in 1934, after the death of General Hindenburg, he became Head of State too.

Third: Focus on niche strengths. Since 1933, Germany’s industrial and economic potential was fully concentrated in rearming the nation towards the ultimate objective of conquering Europe: Ultramodern and powerful tanks, vessels and, especially aircraft. Germany reached levels of product excellence almost unknown to the rest of the world.

Fourth: Selective cooperation from former enemy powers. Since 1933, Western World financers and Soviet military were swiftly used by Germany to structure its preparations for war in the coming years.

Fifth: A carefully planned set of small degree conquests, annexations and political alliances with two targets: To position Germany strategically in the best way to develop its war plans and to add technological and industrial capacity to support future war. The Rhineland, Austria, the Czech republic were invaded and integrated into Germany’s Empire; Balkans and Italy were political allies. Even the Soviet Union initially cooperated with Germany when Poland was invaded.

Sixth: An overall passiveness and appeasement policy played by the old victorious powers of World War I, who basically left the filed unopposed to Germany.

Seventh: A revolutionary set of tactics that changed the military rules of warfare as it was known until then. It was the Blitzkrieg, the super-innovative way of fighting war, based in cooperation between tanks and aviation to be followed by traditional infantry.

Eighth: Surprise effect. Germany always attacked in the most unimaginable place and time, following careful plans that had been designed from scratch specifically for the situation of the moment.

Ninth: Complete autonomy and freedom to act to leading generals and strategists. Many of them are well known in the military circles for their military achievements.

Tenth: Absolute faith in themselves, in their ability to execute their plans, and absolute convincement of what they were doing.

We have recently read about what has been described as The Greatest Comeback Story of all Time, and we are amazed.

First:The dramatic situation of Apple in the 1990s generated the feeling of unfair treatment in the current and former employees of Apple, including Steve Jobs himself.

Second: In 1997, after several years of exile outside of Apple, Steve Jobs was elected interim CEO of Apple, just a few years from being elected absolute CEO (2000). He, too, had a precise plan to be executed systematically in the years to come.

Third: Focus on niche strengths, such as Mac OS, iTunes, iPod. Apple led in those product segments, almost unknown to the rest of the world.

Fourth: Selective cooperation from former enemy powers. The cooperation from rival Microsoft was determinant to support Apples recovery in the late 1990s. Both from a financial and infrastructural perspective.

Fifth: A careful planned set of apparently smaller degree conquests: NeXT, Pixar are just the best known of a series of many, which, apparently look somewhat innocent, but have been strengthening Apple once and again.

Sixth: Dominant brands in all the market segments Apple has stepped into have underestimated them. In PCs, in Operating Systems, in music player devices, as well disregarded have been Apple’s inventions or creations, like iTunes, who now everybody tries to copy, as they have set market models and standards.

Seventh: Apple’s own blitzkrieg, developed through tools like iTunes or AppStores, have revolutionized the market rules, and were based in cooperation of all the aspects of product life cycle, from product specifications to packaging, delivery and support.

Eighth: Surprise effect. Apple strikes when and where they want, turn the market upside down, and maximize results during all the time it takes for competition to catch up.

Ninth: All management levels were given autonomy for operational decisions on the spot. Similar to Sun-Tzu’s third maxim, if you want, “the commander in the field is not always bound to his sovereign’s orders”. 

Tenth: Absolute faith in themselves, in their ability to execute their plans, and absolute convincement about what they were doing. No wonder Steve Jobs detractors even say from him that he lives in a reality distortion field

The German War Flag stood in the heart of Paris for four years. Apple’s Flag is in the heart of Paris too… and will stay for longer, we believe. Apple Store at OpĂ©ra, Paris.

Sun Tzu and Carl von Clausewitz are known for having been military theoreticians and strategists whose works, still in print, have influenced many world leaders in politics, philosophy, history and ultimately business and economics. Their texts are thoroughly read, studied and ultimately learnt in all business schools around the world.

We think the third philosopher, the third strategist, the third theoretician, whose job and works match the level of the formers, is, precisely, Jobs.


Footnote: This post is dedicated to one of our best friends, who patiently enough cared to take us to our first visit to the Eiffel Tower, and showed us how beautiful Paris can be, and not only in springtime, as the song said…