The New Breed of Competition

Metaphorically speaking, football is the perfect game for the industrial age. It is controlled mayhem within a relatively stable and predictable environment.  It  values linearity, muscle, optimization, prediction, and statistics — all key values and cultural assumptions of the 20th century.  It is as iconic to as the assembly line, the smokestack and industrial engineering.

There is a strict division of labor between offense and defense. Each has different skill sets, different objectives, and different strategies for achieving those objectives.  Football is a “rule bound” game.  The Official NFL Rule Book is 289 pages devoted to setting limits, reducing ambiguity, and allowing the game to be conducted within well defined boundaries of play.  The “business model” for individual teams is based on specialization, i.e. having the best quarterback.  Innovation, when it happens, is quickly copied or countered. Strategy is based on a playbook where move and countermove are gamed out, “threats” are assessed, and contingencies accounted for.

But times change.  Globalization adds an entirely new context for conducting business and along with it new assumptions about complexity, stability, and what it means to compete and “win.”  Here the Ironman Triathlon is the iconic game.

The Ironman was first run in 1977 in Hawaii.  Each athlete received 3 sheets of paper listing a few rules and a course description: “Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles!  Run 26.2 miles!” In this sport everything is about resilience. The goal is to survive and finish the race.  You develop muscle strength to avoid a debilitating injury. You build lung capacity so you won’t run out of steam going up that last hill.  Multitasking is more important than specialization. Nothing is silo’ed here.  The athlete is an integrated, tightly connected whole…a complex adaptive system, with the emphasis on “adaptive.”  Forget about predictability. You cannot predict whether or not you will get a cramp halfway through the 2.4 mile swim.  Maybe there’s a sudden opening while you’re cycling up the mountain…either you have the capacity to make your move or you don’t, and someone else takes the lead. The Ironman is a metaphor for globalization.  It is all about your capacity to adapt to threats and opportunities, and to take the unexpected and unpredictable in stride.

#1 fallacy is that you can predict the future and anticipate change

Were any of these on your radar?

  • ISIS and the Syrian Immigrants
  • Ransomware, Spyware, Microchip Malware
  • Re-boot of the Cold War
  • The Internet of Things, The Cloud, Mobility
  • Credit Default Swaps and Sub-Primes
  • Driverless Cars
  • Donald Trump & Bernie Sanders Demolishing a Decades Long Political Paradigm

There is a big difference between “did not” and “could not.” The former implies a lack of insight, competency, or skill.  The latter speaks to the impossibility of the task.  Prediction is impossible in complex adaptive systems.  That’s precisely why resilience is so important.

The Roy Rogers Solution 


Roy Rogers was a cowboy star whose popularity stretched from the 1940’s well into the 1960’s in movies, television shows and music. His theme song was “Happy Trails.”

“Some trails are happy ones, others are blue. It’s the way you ride the trail that counts, here’s a happy one for you.”

Roy nailed it. It’s the way you ride the trail that counts. In other words, it’s how you adapt to that makes the difference.


“We have  identified the need for resilient strategies. We were equally certain that solution did not lie with the traditional tools of risk management or continuity planning.  Resilience is not new, but it has never been part of the management lexicon. It is multi-disciplinary science, drawing from physics, ecology and biology. With it we can reduce exposure and improve performance in supply chains, capital markets, operations and sustainability.

We need to start thinking about hedging our bets! 

Resilience strategies are designed to be “fault tolerant and management forgiving.”  We are currently taking this science “to the streets” in the global war on terror.  We can also bring its benefits to your clients. 


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