It behooves me to start by saying that speed and deception are critical elements of conquest and success in warfare and in competitive business. If your adversary knows what you are going to do, he can move to counter your efforts and even defeat you by turning the tables. By moving quickly and in complete secrecy, you can gain tremendous advantage and win great battles.
On June 25, 1950, the North Korean People’s Army, numbering one hundred thousand well-equipped troops, invaded South Korea in a surprise attack that sent the Allies reeling back down the Korean Peninsula and forced them into a small enclave, around the city of Busan. This offensive by North Korea conquered three quarters of South Korea, destroyed half of the South Korean army, and largely demoralized the American and Korean forces.
However, one military surprise triggered another. The North Korean did not count on the military brilliance of General Douglas MacArthur. Against considerable odds and tremendous resistance from other commanders, MacArthur organized on September 15, 1950, a seaborne invasion at Incheon, well behind the North Korean forces, aimed at cutting the North Korean supply lines and taking back the offensive.
The landing was a brilliant success. Within a few days, it had accomplished all of its objectives. The North Koreans, taken completely by surprise, were cut off and quickly disintegrated as a fighting force. The war went on for two and a half more years before ending at essentially the same place it had begun. But the surprise attack of the Incheon landing was the decisive turning point in what had initially appeared to be an American defeat.
Surprise is a most effective and powerful weapon in war and it can decisively shift the balance of combat power. With surprise, success out of proportion to the energy exerted can be achieved. Surprise results from striking the enemy at a time and place for which he is not fully prepared. Speed, cover, deception, effective intelligence, effective counterintelligence, variation in tactics, and variations in methods of operation are some of the factors that contribute to the game of surprise. Surprise is an absolutely indispensable principle of success and conquest in warfare. If the actions of the attacking commander are not conducted in complete secrecy, the opposing commander will anticipate where the attack is going to occur and prepare against it, often turning the tables on the attacker.
In your business and leadership, surprise is an important tactic that you can use to achieve competitive advantage in rapidly changing markets. Surprise in business and leadership today can be summarized in one word: speed. The elements of speed, deception, and surprise are so important to the successful conduct of military operations that most wars begin with a surprise attack, only followed later by a formal declaration of war!
The first major war of the 20th century, the Russo/Japanese War, opened with a sneak attack by Japanese ships on the Russian fleet anchored off Port Arthur in China on the night of February 8-9, 1904. War was officially declared two days later! Five Japanese divisions landed above Port Arthur on May 5 to attack the Russian defenses on the heights of Nanhan. Soon the Japanese had more than eight thousand men surrounding Port Arthur, which was defended by fewer than forty-two thousand soldiers!
The battle took seven months, but finally, on January 2, 1905, the Russians surrendered Port Arthur to the Japanese. The Russian defeat in this war was a direct result of the element of surprise achieved by the Japanese in their initial assault on the Russian fleet in Port Arthur. “Everything which the enemy least expects will succeed the best (Frederick the Great).” Sun Tzu also wrote, “Rapidity is the essence of war; take advantage of the enemy’s un-readiness, make your way by the unexpected routes, and attack unguarded spots.
Also, one of the most devastating surprise attacks in history took place on December 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the advanced base for the US pacific Fleet. The military historian John Prados wrote, “Pearl Harbor represented the largest mass use of aircraft carriers up to that time, the farthest-range conduct of a naval attack, the largest air attack against a naval target up to that time, and one of the most elaborate efforts to coordinate simultaneous attacks by aircraft and submarines.”
The Japanese strike hit soon after dawn. Eighteen America warships were sunk or damaged. More than 2,400 Americans died and 188 aircraft were destroyed. The successful use of the elements of surprise, speed, and deception by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor are still studied today.
The customer’s appetite for speed today is insatiable. Customers want both instantaneous and simultaneous gratification. In fact, for most customers today, instant gratification is no longer fast enough. Often the customer, who did not even know that he wanted your product or service until today, now wants it yesterday.
Loyalty today is won by dramatically serving your customer better and faster than anyone else can do it. Your job is to satisfy your customers in “real time.” Real time means immediately. It means now, at this moment. It means without hesitation. Real-time service is the key to winning and keeping customers. Real time is the shortest possible interval between the idea and the action. Your motto, in dealing with your customers, for the rest of your career should be “sure, right away!”
Customers love individuals and organizations that do things for them fast. Whenever your customer has a problem or question of any kind, respond by saying, “sure, right away!” These words are music to your customer’s ears. Even if you cannot actually do something immediately, you can assure the customer that you have heard her question or need, and that you are taking action without delay. Till I come your way again next week Monday, see you where leaders that do things fast are found.