What most often weighs you down and brings you misery is the past, in the form of unnecessary attachments, repetitions of tired formulas, and memory of old victories and defeats. One must consciously wage conflict against the past and force himself or herself to react in the present, to the present moment. One must be ruthless on himself or herself. Do not repeat the same tired methods. Even if they involve risk, force yourself to strike out in new directions. What you may lose in comfort and security, you will gain in surprise, thus making it harder for your adversaries to tell what you will do, what will come next. Wage guerrilla conflict on your mind, allowing no static lines of defense, no exposed citadels. Make everything fluid and mobile.
THE LAST WAR
What limits individuals, as well as nations capabilities, is their inability to confront reality, their inability to see things for what they are. For most of us, as we grow older, we become more and more rooted in the past, and habits take over. Things that have worked for us before become doctrine, a shell to protect us from reality. Repetition replaces creativity. We rarely realize we are doing this, because it is almost impossible for us to see it happening in our own minds. And then, suddenly, a young wannabe crosses our path; a person with no respect for tradition, who fights in a new way. Only then do we see that our ways of thinking and responding have fallen behind the times. Never take it for granted that your past successes will continue and last into the future.
Your past successes are your biggest obstacle. Every battle, every conflict, every war, is different. You cannot assume that what worked before will work today. Cut yourself loose from the past. Open your eyes to the present. Your tendency to fight the last conflict, the last battle, may lead to your final war.
THE PRESENT WAR
In preparing yourself for conflict, battle, or war, rid yourself of all myths and misconceptions. Being a Systemic Strategic Warrior is not a question of learning a series of moves or ideas to follow like a recipe. Victory has no magic formula. Ideas are merely nutrients for the mind. They lie in your brain as possibilities to, in the heat of the moment, inspire a direction, an appropriate and creative response to a given difficult situation. Let go of all fetishes. Let go of all these books, techniques, formulas, and flashy ordnances promoted by these so-called and self-proclaimed pundits. Learn to become your own strategist. Learn to become a Systemic Strategic Warrior and start writing your own book.
KEYS TO CONFLICT
For most of us, when looking back on an unpleasant or disagreeable experience, one thought inevitably occurs: if only we had said or done this instead of that, if only we could do it over. Too often one will lose his head in the heat of battle and then, looking back, think of the one strategy, the one maneuver, that would have changed it all. The problem, though, is not that we think of the solution only when it is too late, the problem is that we imagine that knowledge is what was lacking: if only we had known more, if only we had thought it through more thoroughly. That is precisely and ultimately the wrong approach. What makes us go astray in the first place is that we are unattuned to the present moment, insensitive to the circumstances; we are listening to our own thoughts, reacting to things that happened in the past, applying theories and ideas that we digested long ago but that have nothing to do with our predicament in the present. More books, more theories, and thinking only make the problem worse.
The greatest and more creative strategists of the world stand out not because they have more knowledge but because they are able, when necessary, to drop their preconceived notions and focus intensely on the present moment. That is how creativity is sparked and opportunities are seized. Knowledge, experience, and theory have limitations. No amount of thinking in advance can prepare you for the chaos of life, for the infinite possibilities of the moment. This is what we call “friction”: the difference between our plans and what happens. Since friction is inevitable, our minds must be capable of keeping up with change and adapting to the unexpected. The better we can adapt our thoughts to changing circumstances, the more realistic our responses will be. The more we lose ourselves in predigested theories and past experiences, the more inappropriate and delusional our responses. It can be valuable to analyze what went wrong in the past, but it is far more important to develop the capacity to think in the moment. In that way you will make far fewer mistakes to analyze.
Think of Your Mind As a River
Like the faster a river flows, the faster your mind flows; the better it keeps up with the present and responds to change. The faster your mind flows, the more it refreshes itself and the greater its energy. Obsessional thoughts, past experiences, whether traumas or successes, and preconceived notions are like boulders or mud in this river. They settle and harden there, damming it up. The river stops moving. Stagnation sets in. This is a natural tendency of the mind. Be aware of this tendency. Be aware of this process of the mind and of the need to fight it. And then, design and adopt a systemic strategic plan that will help you to restore your mind's natural flow.
Your only principle, your only doctrine should be to have no principles. To believe that strategy has inexorable laws or timeless rules is to take up a rigid, irrational static position that will be your undoing. Nobody will deny the fact that the study of history and theory can broaden your vision of the world, but you must combat theory's tendency to harden into dogma. Be brutal with the past. Be brutal with tradition, with the old ways of doing things. Declare war on sacred cows and voices of convention in your own head.
More Than Often, Our Education Is The Problem
Like it or not, education tends to burn precepts into the mind that are hard to shake. In conflictual situations, a trained mind may often fall a step behind, focusing more on learned rules than on the changing circumstances of the conflict. When faced with a new situation, it is often best to imagine that you know nothing and that you need to start learning all over again. Clearing your head of everything you thought you knew will give you the mental space to be educated by your present experience, the best school of all. You will develop your own strategic muscles instead of depending on other people's theories and utopian books.
Forget The Last War
Remembering your last fight, the last battle you fought dangerous, even if you won. If you were victorious, you will tend to repeat the strategies you just used, for success makes us lazy and complacent. If you lost, you may be skittish and indecisive. Do not think about your last war, about your last fight. You do not have the distance or the detachment to learn from it. Do whatever you can to blot it from your mind and think through each occurring situation anew. Attention to the details of the present is the best way to crowd out the past and forget the last conflict. Keep your mind moving.
A child mind never stops. A child is always open to new experiences and absorb as much of them as possible. A child learns fast because the world around him excite him. When a child feels frustrated or upset, he finds some creative way to get what he wants and then quickly forgets the problem as something new crosses his path. Throughout the ages, all the greatest strategists were childlike in this respect. Sometimes, they even acted like children. The reason is simple: superior strategists see things as they are. They are highly sensitive to dangers and opportunities.
Nothing stays the same in life and keeping up with circumstances as they change requires a great deal of mental fluidity. Great strategists do not act according to preconceived ideas; like children, they respond to the moment, their minds are always moving, and they are always excited and curious. They quickly forget the past, the present is much too interesting.
What Does Not Move Is Dead
What has speed and mobility has more possibilities, more life. But as we get older, we tend to think that what we would like to recapture from our youth is our looks, our physical fitness, our simple pleasures, but what we really need is the fluidity of mind we once possessed. Whenever you find your thoughts revolving around a particular subject or idea, an obsession, a resentment, force them past it. Distract yourself with something else. Find something new to be absorbed by something worthy of concentrated attention. Do not waste time on things you cannot change or influence: just keep moving.
Absorb The Spirit of Times
Throughout the history of warfare, there have been classic battles in which the past has confronted the future in a hopeless mismatch. In each case the conquering army developed a way of fighting that maximized a new form of technology or a new social order. You can reproduce this effect on a smaller scale by attuning yourself to the spirit of the times. Developing antennae for the trends that have yet to crest takes work and study, as well as the flexibility to adapt to those trends. As you get older, it is best to periodically alter your style. Instead of staying sentimentally attached to some fashion of days gone by, sense a rising trend and go with it. By constantly adapting and changing your style, you will avoid the pitfalls of your previous conflicts. Just when people feel they know you, you will change.
Rethinking everything brings your creative energy back. Shake yourself up, break free from the hold of the past. This can take the form of reversing your course, doing the opposite of what you would normally do in any given situation, putting yourself in some unusual circumstance, or literally starting over. In those situations, the mind must deal with a new reality, and it snaps to life. The change may be alarming, but it is also refreshing, even exhilarating. Relationships often develop a certain tiresome predictability. You do what you usually do, other people respond the way they usually do, and around it goes. If you reverse course, act in a novel manner, you alter the entire dynamic. Do this every so often to break up the relationship's stale patterns and open it to new possibilities.
A New Way of Thinking
Today, one must adapt to the complexity and chaos of modern life by becoming more fluid and maneuverable. The ultimate extension of this evolution is guerrilla warfare, which exploits chaos by making disorder and unpredictability a strategy. A guerrilla army never stops to defend a particular place or town; it wins by always moving, staying one step ahead. By following no set pattern, it gives the adversary no target. A guerrilla army never repeats the same strategy. It responds to the situation, the moment, the terrain where it happens to find itself. There is no front, no concrete line of communication or supply, no slow-moving wagon. The guerrilla army is pure mobility.
The Systemic Strategic Warrior acts like the guerilla army. The Systemic Strategic Warrior applies no strategy rigidly. The Systemic Strategic Warrior does not let his mind settle into static positions, defending any particular or specific place or idea, repeating the same lifeless maneuvers. The Systemic Strategic Warrior attacks problems from new angles, adapting to the landscape and to what he is given. By staying in constant motion, the Systemic Strategic Warrior shows his adversaries no target to aim at.
The loser in any battle may be too traumatized to fight again but may also learn from the experience and move on. Err on the side of caution. Be ready. Never let your adversary surprise you. Exploit the chaos of the world instead of succumbing to it. There is never any value in fighting the last war. But while you are eliminating that pernicious tendency, imagine that your adversary is trying to do the same, trying to learn from and adapt to the present.
J. Michael Dennis, ll.l. ll.m.
Corporate Systemic Strategist