Our actions have innumerable
unintended consequences. We often don’t realize or acknowledge these consequences,
but within them, we have an opportunity to act invisibly and influentially. If
we think about our actions, then we can send out hidden messages and cause
other players in our game to adjust their behavior.
This as stratagem 28: point at the mulberry but curse the locust.
Here’s how the stratagem
works: Rather than attack your adversary
directly, focus your attention on a different target. This action sends a
covert message to your adversary, one that displays your power and communicates
your intention. Your adversary, appreciating your power and intention, alters
This ancient stratagem even
applies today. Corporations use this tactic to bring competitors into
alignment. Right now Apple is using this approach with its recent lawsuit
against HTC, the Taiwanese company that is the largest maker of smartphones
running Google’s Android operating system.
On the surface, it seems
Apple is suing HTC because of patent infringements. But many believe this lawsuit
has more to do with sending a message to Google.
For years Apple has been the
leader in smartphones with its iPhone. Google’s operating system, Android, has
similar functions and capabilities to Apple’s iPhone, and Google gives away the
Android system to phone manufactures. That depletes the uniqueness of Apple’s
products and cuts into Apple’s market share.
Last year, HTC, among other
phone makers, started making phones using the Android system. This has offered
consumers quite a good substitute to the pricey iPhone and AT&T service
By attacking HTC, Apple warns Google to stay off
its turf. This may only be the first attack in a long conflict between the two
companies. Only time, and lawsuit outcomes, will tell if this stratagem will be
successful for Apple. But it’s a great example of how to secretly send a
message to competitors.
Knowing that our actions send different signals to
different players, we can choose our actions for the broader messages they
send. This gives us a powerful tool with which to influence our environments. Ask yourself the questions below to see if
you can use this approach to send the right messages.
Who is our biggest competitor?
Who do we want to convince that we are serious about pursuing our vision
or defending our market share?
Instead of approaching this player directly, who can we focus our
attention on to spread our message?
4. Is there a smaller competitor or new service that we can partner with to show our other competitor our intentions?