the unexpected move (& why ‘zag when they zig’ is stupid)

 

============

“The unexpected, always the unexpected.

If they expect you to move right, move left. The first law of survival in this jungle that you’ll inhabit.

The unexpected move. “

—-

The Avengers

========

“She was already learning that if you ignore the rules people will, half the time, quietly rewrite them so that they don’t apply to you.”

Terry Pratchett

============

Well. Far too often in business we talk about making an “unexpected move” to gain an advantage as “zig when they zag.”

 

So … lets’ take a minute and talking about the whole “zigging when they zag” bullshit. To be clear. On a football field zigging when they zag can be effective, but in business it is bullshit.

Look.

I am all for running with a temporary advantage when given the opportunity <and, yes, about 97.385% of advantages are temporary — I made up the 97.385% number>. But that is not ‘zigging’.

I am all for hunkering down on a specific distinctness when it appears the rest of the category is bumbling around in an array of meaningless claims. But that is not zigging.

I am all for leaping through a window of opportunity when the window cracks open. But that is not zigging.

Suffice it to say … zigging, in general, is a stupid strategy.

Let me explain why.

Most industries, once they have a fair number of competitors, is more like a 7 zig zag highway unexpected businesslane superhighway where everyone is driving in the same direction within the same guard rails.

Not everyone will like thinking that, but the truth is that most businesses have smart people who see the same information and do all the necessary research with people who are likely, and not likely, to buy whatever it is they are selling and therefore strategies are in the same realm and everyone is pretty much competing in the same arena.

This means a couple of things.

  • Everyone is speeding toward the same approximate destination.
  • If something is obvious to you, it is most likely obvious to them.

What all of this means is you have to move, but most moves have to be done artfully.

So maybe despite the fact I balk at the whole ‘zig when they zig’ and ‘unexpected’ anything in business gives me heartburn it is possible I could discuss the art of the unexpected move.

I call it “art” because unpredictability as normal behavior is bad. No one likes someone who is unpredictable 100% of the time and organizations <alignment, operations and ‘day to day doing’> tend to respond poorly to unpredictability (so do customers).

unexpected changeIn my highway metaphor unpredictability most likely means either <a> a crash or <b> slowing down and you get passed or <c> you are now on a completely different road than all the other competitors speeding toward sales, & customers.

As for predictable? Yikes. Boring. Lack of creativity. Bad <in a different way> … let’s just call predictable “lack of any art.” In my highway metaphor this most likely means you are cruising in one of the right lanes, the slower lanes, and people are passing you all the frickin’ time.

This suggests making a move in your industry take more art and artfulness to navigate the path you desire or take advantage of the opportunity that may open.

This suggests, in the business world, you sit up and pay attention just with a little more focus when someone pulls out the “maybe we should zig when they zag” tritism. You do so mostly because anyone who says that who is not on a football field most likely has their head up their ass <but want to say something catchy in a meeting to be noticed>.

I say that, again, because most time in a business industry companies are going in a direction for a reason … that is where the sales are. So ‘zigging’ when everyone else ‘zags’ more than likely means they are heading toward sales and you are not <but, I guess, you can always say you zigged when they zagged>.

Ok. Now. If you want to tie ‘unexpected move’ to survival … well … that is a different story. Survival does have a nasty habit of forcing some unexpected maneuvering. Ok. Maybe out of desperation the predictable in us decides that maybe being ‘unexpected’ may actually be called for.

I would suggest that if you find yourself in desperate times rarely is anything artful in that moment. But I would suggest that in a desperate survival mode I can offer two lists you should write up on some big board in some big conference room and make sure you discuss. There are basically 4 basic responses to a threat <or opportunity I imagine>:

  • Fight
  • Flee
  • Deceive
  • Submit

Any move you choose to make will be derived from one of these four spaces.

Choose wisely.how we survive makes who we are

Once you have chosen <wisely> effectiveness in a survival fight basically comes down to 4 things <in the order of importance>:

  • aggression and willingness to hurt your competition
  • willingness to get hurt yourself
  • skill and knowledge
  • strength and power

Some may haggle with my order but the top two will dictate your success regardless of how you stack the last two. And of the last two is would suggest most of the time knowing what to do is more important than brute strength.

Choose wisely <but always choose the first two or you will get crushed>. I offer these two lists because when anyone suggests zigging when someone zags I bring these out.

Shit. I bring these two lists out almost any time a business wants to talk about effectively competing in an industry.

Why?

Because nothing really matters if you do not figure out these two lists.

Why?

Temporary as long asGoing back to what I said earlier … advantages are temporary   and the other guys/gals you are competing against are as smart as you are. You don’t zig just for the sake of zigging <that is wasted organizational energy> and if you do have to take an unexpected move it is most typically a response to something in the situation <opportunity or threat>.

While we like to talk about zigging and zagging the reality comes back to the highway. You have to move forward and keep moving forward <or get run over>. The only zigging anyone should ever talk about is either moving into another lane to pass someone or another lane to let someone pass you or change lanes to avoid a crash.

================

“Desperation is the raw material of drastic change.

Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in can hope to escape.

William S. Burroughs

==============

Unexpected moves just to do something unexpected is … well … stupid.

It is in the same category as change for change sake.

It is in the same category as zigging when they zag.

Now. Unexpected moves made in the search for something incredible waiting to be known <some desired destination>? Well. That isn’t stupid.

===========

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”

Carl Sagan

===========

.......... zig zag mistake ................

……………. zig zag mistake …………….

Unexpected moves made to survive on the competition highway? That isn’t stupid.

Unexpected moves made to veer through a window of opportunity that arises? That isn’t stupid.

But zig when they zag? C’mon. That’s just stupid.

It is stupid because more likely than not it just means you will have not left the competition behind but rather just left the competition.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Written by Bruce