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Are Tactics Really That Relevant?

Are Tactics Really That Relevant?
Diplomacy, Real-world example

Article Rating:::: 2 Ratings :::: Wednesday, May 9, 2007

When you are involved in a competition such as a game, would you focus on tactics or strategy? Or would you focus on diplomacy instead? Or maybe a combination of them all. How would you improve your game while playing Risk? Which one do you think is more effective?

In my book, I emphasized greatly on the importance of diplomacy. In fact, it seems that a lot is driven by this concept. In this article, I provide an example in the space industry and show you how far diplomacy can take you.

An Example: Space Industry

Here is a real-world example. Space industry is usually sponsored by governments. Tax money is specifically set aside to spend on all sorts of projects with the intention of developing exotic technologies as well as discovering new worlds and perhaps new life forms. Space agencies around the world are responsible to distribute the collected tax money between a variety of projects.

This is how the process works. Space agencies put a call for solutions to problems. A number of companies form a consortium and then bid for the projects. A lot of effort usually goes into making a bid. Companies like to win the work either to make money directly or to make money based on that work in a future follow-on project. As a result, the competition is high. Everyone tries their best to get in. Hence, the bidding process is usually an intense process taking place over a short time. A bid is simply a set of documents produced by the consortium that describes the essence of the solution to that particular problem. It usually contains a technical and management documents that describe the process. The relationship between the consortium members is also defined and tasks are divided between the members. This information is captured in work packages.

Now, to cut the story short, suppose you want to bid for a project and you desperately want to win. Which area would you try to focus on? Would you attempt to make a better technical case? Would you spend a lot of effort to make sure the documents are accurate and well-produced? Would you aim to put a lot of emphasis on your technical know-how to provide the most novel solution? Would you seek to provide the most futuristic solution? Or may be you will try to emphasize a lot on your managerial skills? Is it better to be the prime (leader) or just a member of the consortium?

If you come from a technical background, you are most likely to suggest that novel technical solutions have a higher chance of success. It's natural. I used to think like this myself. Now, back to the analogy. This is similar in saying that in order to win in Risk you need to make the best tactical moves: If you can get continent X then you are going to win. If you nail someone's continent, then he won't become as strong to fight back. Do you really think that these methods are the defining factors? They will certainly help you to get to a better position. However, focusing on tactics and spending a lot of effort making sure they go according to plan may not be that wise.

Lets get back to the story. What would you do to make sure the consortium wins? It turns out that diplomacy and politics have a far stronger role than flashing the technical details in the face of the reviewers. Of course, you need to have a solid technical ability to be considered in the first place, but that may not be enough. If you submit a bad technical solution or a badly prepared one, then the chances are that the reviewers won't bother with your proposal as there are usually many other applicants. However, how do they select between the good applicants?

Experience shows that a lot depends on your political standing. Diplomacy is absolutely critical. Many times, the choices are already made even before the applicants have submitted. You need to know as quickly as possible if this is the case. Otherwise, you might be wasting your resources on something useless. Your competitors won't lose sleep if they realise that you are chasing the wrong duck. May be the reviewers simply liked the sales man who went to see them. Or may be there is a history between the reviewers and the winning applicant. Or maybe the most popular and most talked about member of the consortium gets the chance to get in just because they are all over the place, even though they may not have been the most technically knowledgeable. As a minimum, you can use diplomacy to discover the core technical features expected by the reviewers. It is much easier to deliver a quality bid, if you know what the reviewers were looking for. Again, diplomacy is the best method to gain this knowledge.

For example, this process happens quite often in the European Space Agency (ESA). Since the geo-return from various countries dictates the amount of money each European country is investing in space projects, companies from the 'wrong' countries may have little chance to get in. If they want to get in, they will be much better off if they resort to politics. They may choose to lobby their own governments to spend more money and as a result get in on the back of increased geo-return. Or they can lobby ESA to get accepted by trying to convince them that it is their turn this time. Either way, diplomacy may get you far more than any specific tactic you may employ such as improving the technical solution.

Risk Game Strategy Analogy

The situation is the same in Risk. If you lose sight of the big picture, all could be lost in no time. As the saying is, by adopting clever tactics you may end up winning the battle, but you may lose the war. Diplomacy skills are always helpful and make life tremendously easier than one imagines. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people chose to play tactically. If they want to make money, they focus on all sorts of methods to save a bit here and there. They don't focus on how to actually increase the revenue sources. Everywhere you look, you will see that people are concerned with solving problems in an explicit way.

If you want something done, you can get out and do it. Though, you can also try to find someone else who can do it for you and then delegate the task to them. It is all about the mentality. If you think everything can be resolved by some super-intelligent solution, by working hard at it, or coming up with the most novel ideas, then you might miss simple diplomatic opportunities that may save you a lot of effort. Instead, think diplomacy all the time. Change your mentality. Soon, you will see routes and doors that you could not see before. In short, think Total Diplomacy. Literally

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Darya   By Darya @ Friday, May 11, 2007 5:27 PM
I like the way you've tried to explain diplomacy in a simple term here. it is true that it is very much relevent in almost all aspects of life and your example represents your argument clearly. I think many people have an overall objective in their lives and a certain strategy or mentality to put it more clearly to achieve these goals but im sure not many would look at their tactics as a diplomatic way of dealing with problems and obstacles in life, so it is good to look at our ground rules of life and plans from a different point of view ie diplomacy.

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I am a board game and Risk game enthusiast. I like thinking and talking about strategy in games which has led me to the creation of this website. Although Risk is a classic, I feel one can never get tired of playing this game. Read about what I think of the game and I am always eager to know what you think.

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