Playing a Different Game

Watch this video before you read this post: High School Basketball Team Runs Football Play

This clever high school basketball team captures the ball at tipoff and, instead of playing basketball, they line up as if they are a football team. Then they run a football play on a basketball court, easily scoring.

What could you possibly learn from a high school basketball team’s trick play? Lots!

Getting Inside Your Opponent’s Decision-Making Loop

The idea of getting inside your opponent’s decision-making loop is at least as old as The Art of War, and probably much older still. I was first introduced to this concept while reading Boyd, by Robert Coram. It’s too long a story for a simple blog post, but Boyd was an Air Force Colonel and a brilliant mathematician. While studying thermodynamics, he discovered a process he called OODA loops (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act). The Marines took his idea and turned it into what we now call maneuver warfare, making Boyd the American Sun Tzu.

This video is a wonderful example of how to get inside your opponent’s decision-making loop. This team’s unsuspecting opponents are expecting to play basketball. There are no circumstances ever that lead to you lining up on a basketball court and running a football play. If you are the opposing team, you have no idea what you are looking at, and it takes time to orient yourself to this new formation. You don’t have time to make a good decision, and you don’t have time to take any effective action to counter the play. Your opponent was inside your decision-making loop, and you are easily beaten.

How You Compete

The point is this: If you are playing the same game as everyone else, you are predictable and easily beaten. But if you are playing a very different game, you make it more difficult for your competitors to compete against you. You make it easier to win when you switch to football while your competitors are still playing basketball.

Once I had a major deal locked down. I had had five meetings with the sole decision-maker, and I was assured we were going to win the business. He said that the rest of his work was simply doing his due diligence. Two weeks later, he called me to tell me that he awarded the deal to my competitor. I demanded a meeting. He eventually relented.

During our meeting, I reviewed five pages of notes outlining his decision criteria, his priorities, and the value that he suggested my program would create. He agreed with every point, and then he said: “Yes, but they had this one idea that we hadn’t considered. I believe it is more important than all of this.” My competitor couldn’t beat me where I was strong and where they were weak. So they played a different game and worked to shift the weighting of the decision criteria to areas where they were strong and where I was weak. This is one example of changing the game.

No worries! This story has a happy ending. As it turns out, the original decision-criteria were in fact more valuable, and I had all of the business in less than six months. But for time, I was beaten by a competitor who played a different game.


Are you playing the same game as your competitors?

How could you change how you are playing to create an advantage?

What is expected of you? What could you do that would be unexpected and that would give your competitors no time to respond?

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