Perhaps my favorite part of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War

11. What the ancients called a clever warrior is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease.

12. Hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor credit for courage.

13. He wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.

14. Hence the skillful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy.

15. Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.

An alternative model for strategy – or, strategy as making the most of uncertainty

There’s strategy and there’s strategy.

There’s strategy as approach and raison d’être (belief) and there’s strategy as a template for getting you from point A to point B (behavior).

With business strategy, which comes under the second, we often have chess used as a parallel.

But chess starts with a premise of an equal distribution of resources.

Good if you’re playing a conceptual ceteris paribus game down to zero-sum/someone must win.

Bad if you’re looking at notions of innovations, lateral thinking and meaning-making.

Maybe a better model for business strategy is Scrabble. The pieces you get are a matter of chance, and what you do with them is based on your knowledge, ability to improvise, and your ability to maximise your points-scoring opportunities while minimizing your opponents’.

Leaves more room for black swan events, with a touch of wei qi. Also leaves more room for meaning-making (go beyond win/loss, and look at the possibilities the mechanics allow.)

Just a thought.

Google’s Plus Paradox

I was in the middle of the Rajasthani desert last week, and something occurred to me about Google’s product strategy, which I figured would be good to note down. 

Now, this is a completely intuitive reading, so bear with me.

Now, for the average user, the core proposition of Google is its search algorithm. 

When you think about it, Google (its consumer-facing side) works best in a client-server / 1-1 relationship with its consumers.

You ASK Google to find you something.

You ASK GMail to save and store your email.

You ASK Google Maps how to get from point-A to point-B.

You ASK Google Translate what “I love you” translates to in Spanish.

Even looking at products like Android/Chrome OS, Chrome or YouTube – they are all primarily consumption/use-focused.

At a corporate level, Google is fundamentally still a search company. Their vision, one should keep in mind, is “to organize the World’s information and make it universally accessible and useful“. Their revenues are also derived by-and-large from their core search product.

Google’s purpose, its relationship with us, is to keep our data organized, to answer our queries, to help us do stuff. And Google does this better than anyone.

Which brings us to Google and social, and its two initiatives – Google+, and +1.

Now, with Google+ none of the features I have seen, certainly, seem particularly intuitively “social”.

I would argue that they are designed rather for computers to keep things organized than people. We know that (a) the algorithm does a good job in understanding what kinds of data-sets are privileged in what kinds of contexts (perhaps too much?), and (b) that Google has a strong belief and foundation in machine-learning/statistical-learning.

Having used Google+ for a bit, I found that stuff like Circles, for example, was not particularly intuitive. (I have three lists on FB, and data shared is pre-set, and almost never customized. If I need to communicate with a smaller group, there’s groups or old-fashioned email for that — people like to segregate behaviors across networks when it comes to dealing with various groups, not aggregate them onto a singular network.)

But Circles, with the numbers using Google+ for the first time (regardless of the fall-off) gives Google new “connections” / “groupings” to work with in understanding what data is valued in what context.

And how does Google+ tie into Google’s “business” side of things? — i.e. Search Revenue? It doesn’t quite, especially if, as a few Google executives have said, it’s not directly competing with Facebook at present.

What then, is the utility of + to Google? I believe it’s two things.

1. Google+ gives them new relationships between data-sets to parse and understand (via Circles), and 

2. And this is the big one – +1.

I don’t post much to Google+ any more, it’s extra effort for nothing — I have an established behavior on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Flickr, Instagram; and Google+ doesn’t unearth or prescribe any new need/behavior/desire to connect.

But I’m more than willing to add a +1 to articles I like (which I may not necessarily RT, because it’s worth the read, but not important enough to share — same with Like.) 

And this of course ties into machine-learning. +1 gives Google a more qualitative feedback on what data-sets (sites/pages/stories/products/etc) work, and what don’t.

And it ties into how Google has transitioned, over the last decade, from showing you top results based on what everyone was searching for, to showing you top results based on what your friends are searching for.

Which, when you think about it, is the social recommendations (that you might otherwise post to facebook asking) but in the client-server model, with Google still your gateway to whatever you might be searching for.

Google+ may well be a broader reorganization of Google, the backbone linking its various products to its core product – search. Not so much a social network. And maybe that’s a good thing.

Well that’s my 2c on the subject. Comments, feedback, inputs, suggestions much appreciated. You can drop me a line at aditya dot anupkumar at gmail dot com, too.


My trouble with gamification and the game-layer view of writing the future.

A set of disjointed facebook comments on the issue — that more or less get to the heart of the debate for me.

At its core, creativity and mental and intellectual development is about exploration. Replacing a macro game system — study, go to college, be successful; with a micro game system — study, level-up, next — doesn’t really solve anything. You can’t gamify true exploration or creativity, because you can’t gamify a territory that is not defined. And the moment you define a territory you limit yourself within it.

Also, “sabar ka phal meetha hota hai” roughly translates to “the fruit of perseverence is sweet”.

Comments / feedback much appreciated.


Is it just me that worries about “gamification” / “introducing game dynamics” in education and stuff? Sounds a lot like Pavlov’s dog. Perhaps we don’t need to dumb everything down to stimulus-response? Not unless we want a world of minions.
3 hours ago ·   · Like · 
    • Vikram Dhaliwal Using our knowledge of how the mind works to design better systems is hardly dumbing down. Dumb is what I would call education design today.
      about an hour ago · Like
    • Aditya Anupkumar Somewhere we forget that systems are only as smart or as dumb as the people using them. 

      The purpose of education is not necessarily to spend 12 years in school and four in college. And it’s not necessarily studying the topics highlighted in curriculum(s?).

      Anyone talking about game layer and education in the same sentence is confusing the two and barking up the wrong tree. But that’s just my opinion.

      51 minutes ago · Like
    • Aditya Anupkumar We can talk about creativity for example, but creativity is about exploring an unknown, and you can’t gamify an unknown territory. That’s not how it works. A game-system, no matter how complex, or laden with easter-eggs, is not going to do that.
      49 minutes ago · Like
    • Aditya Anupkumar Then again, I also need to check out Dignan’s book on the topic. Might be something interesting that I missed.
      48 minutes ago · Like
    • Vikram Dhaliwal You and me can debate the purpose of education with the benefit of hindsight all day. The problem still is that it feels unconnected to anything, unrewarding and uninspiring to those currently in the clutches of our ‘education system’. Those advocating for game dynamics are merely arguing for making it more interesting and rewarding right now. Instead of postponing the rewards to some amorphous later date.
      38 minutes ago · Like
    • Aditya Anupkumar Lekin sabar ka phal meetha hota hai.
      36 minutes ago · Like
    • Vikram Dhaliwal Try convincing a 13 year old of that. :)
      35 minutes ago · Like
    • Aditya Anupkumar Well, a lot of other things are forbidden to 13 year olds, and rightly so. We want to teach them to be human beings, not animals. i.e. stimulus-response and Pavlov’s dog.
      33 minutes ago · Like
    • Vikram Dhaliwal Yes but how does making the process of acquiring knowledge more interesting by modifying it make the knowledge itself any less valuable?
      29 minutes ago · Like
    • Aditya Anupkumar If you’re not doing something for the “right reasons” – i.e. “learning” – you might as well not do it.
      27 minutes ago · Like
    • Vikram Hazra ‎@AA: Interesting thought and I’m inclined to agree. hv been wondering these past few days whether handwriting itself will be outdated in a couple of years
      23 minutes ago · Like
    • Aditya Anupkumar It’s like in this country you try to do “science”, then “medicine” or “engineering”, then “MBA” — not to learn or to manage or to build, but because it’s a pre-set pathway to gratification.

      That’s already our game layer. And we’re going to substitute that with another? Fake is fake no matter what you do.

      Which is why we’re barking up the wrong tree with this.

      23 minutes ago · Like
    • Aditya Anupkumar ‎@Vikram, I shudder at that. :( 

      I think I’m going to invest a part of my salary in schools that teach the old fashioned way, for people interested in learning that way.

      21 minutes ago · Like
    • Vikram Hazra hv some thoughts on the matter myself. Am in bbay 14-20 gimme a shout
      5 minutes ago · Unlike ·  1 person
    • Alfred Lee 
      I totally agree with you Adi!

      The dynamic of slow absorption, longer retention and extended retrieval has been replaced by fast uptake, minimal retention and scant retrieval. 

      And we’re replacing all of these essential skills for something as shallow as instant gratification. 

      That’s why our kids will complete all projects through Wikipedia, won’t think for more than 10 seconds before running to Google and won’t perform a single action unless there’s an ‘achievement’ to be unlocked.

3 minutes ago · Unlike ·  1 person

Skills of the rockstar planner – PSFK

Piers Fawkes and PSFK came up with this set of videos some time ago. Just posting them here before I forget about them.


1. Intuitive Problem Solving:



2. Communicating Ideas:



3. Insatiable Curiosity:



4. Understanding the human condition:



5. Rolling up your sleeves:


[awesomeness] is understanding who you are

one brand, two very different routes.BMW used to be The Ultimate Driving Machine. Then someone decided that was not good enough. So BMW have decided to be all about Sheer Driving Pleasure.A bit of a mistake, perhaps.BMW has always had a distinctive edge because of the idea of ‘the ultimate driving machine’. The cars, feats of engineering, have always had a stance exuding presence to the point of arrogance.That has been an underlying narrative in past initiatives like The Hire series of films (one linked below here), or any of the other commercials like the M5-ThrustIISEC ad or the Balance ads for the 5 Series.[youtube=]The creative translation of Sheer Driving Pleasure is ‘Jump for joy’. Nice idea, if you are Volkswagen or Mini or Smart; but brand suicide if you’re BMW.[youtube=]BMWs have always been the car with a point. They’re performance machines. They’re fast. They growl. They push you to be more. If you look up brandtags, you will find the most prominent tag for BMW happens to be a**hole. For a very good reason.Past communications understood and built on this, but ‘Jump for joy’ is almost an apology and a promise of rehabilitation to quieter pastures for the brand. I’m curious to know where the brand will go next – I hope it’s someplace closer to The Ultimate Driving Machine again. We know that BMW’s had to do a bit of defending against Audi, but this campaign cedes ground that it took BMW many years to make its very own.Change is good when it makes sense, but I don’t know if Marketing @ BMW did a reality check before they decided to proceed with this exercise. It’s like Churchill deciding to deliver his “we shall fight them to the beaches” in limerick. Schade, as they might say in Germany.As a side note, Mercedes put out a new ad for its updated E-Class, a little more hard-edged that you would expect from the three-point-star.[youtube=]Watch this space, it’s going to get interesting in 2010.

planning at 40

these are short presentations from the Planning at 40 seminar that JWT did last year. Some good stuff…

Alison Burns: Introduction to Planning begins at 40 from JWT on Vimeo.

Jeremy Bullmore: In praise of Antinomies from JWT on Vimeo.

John Grant: Planning’s Midlife Crisis? from JWT on Vimeo.

Jon Steel: Planning at 40: Solving the wrong problems from JWT on Vimeo.

Guy Murphy:’What would Stephen say?’ from JWT on Vimeo.