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Vol. 2, No. 10
(626) 791-8973

Exploit Your Success!

from: The Art of the Strategist: 10 Essential Principles for Leading Your Company to Victory © 2004 by William A. Cohen (New York: AMACOM, 2004)

An anonymous philosopher is frequently quoted as saying, “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings.” This apparently refers to a Wagnerian opera in which a hefty Broomhilde sings in the final act. The principle for the strategist is that we don’t want “it” to be over until the fat lady sings us a pleasant tune and we have exploited our success to the fullest extent.

To truly understand and apply this principle — the necessity of exploiting our success — we must understand how success occurs. The process is always the same, taking place in two stages, although the time periods of the two phases may differ, and this can sometimes discourage us and cause us to stop the process. While it’s true that it isn’t over until the fat lady sings, sometimes she never gets to start her song.

The Success Process

As mentioned above, the success process always involves two phases. First, a critical mass either exists or is created. This critical mass is the environment in which we are trying to achieve the success. Building this mass into the critical phase may take years, a few months, a few days, or even a few hours.

As we continue to pursue success, at first nothing or very little is likely to occur. Suddenly, the second phase comes and everything seems to happen at once. Like a nuclear chain reaction, our environmental mass becomes supercritical. And just as the chain reaction results in a nuclear detonation, if we manage our success correctly at this point, a complete triumph results. That is why Hannibal was not only able to achieve success against his Roman enemies in the face of overwhelming odds, but why this success was so complete, with the superior Roman force itself completely overwhelmed and destroyed. Note also that this did not happen all at once, but that in the final phase when the Romans were crushed, it happened very quickly, far too quickly for the Roman commander to be able to do anything about it.

Because things happen so rapidly in this second phase, the perception may be that the success was instantaneous. However, a closer examination of any achievement will show that only just before the triumph occurred did the pace speed up to near light-year velocity. Whether the earlier phase lasted years or days, the pace of the first phase would have appeared to be slow.

Unfortunately, because of this variance in time between the phases, there are two traps that we can fall into which can block the very triumph we seek. First, because the first phase may be glacially slow, we may not realize that the mass is becoming supercritical. In this case, we may abandon the process before the chain reaction can occur. This is what I call a Type 1 Error.

Type 1 Error — Quitting Before Success Is Achieved

Motivational speaker Tony Robbins says, “God’s delays are not God’s denials.” He is cautioning his listeners not to abandon the process before it becomes supercritical. That’s one reason that Winston Churchill admonishes us:” Never give in! Never, never, never, never, never, never, never. In nothing great or small, large or petty – never give in.” It’s not only defense against an adversary that he is referring to, but also our striving to reach success. We must never give up our strategy unless we are 100% certain that our strategy is not working. Even then we don’t usually abandon our objective. Instead, we find a new strategy for achieving that objective.

In analyzing the Battle of Britain, in which the German Luftwaffe abandoned its attacks on British airfields on the very brink of achieving success, strategists have found plenty of errors made by the Luftwaffe, including a failure to properly appreciate the role and application of strategic airpower. However, I believe the major error was abandoning a strategy that was working (concentration against airfields and communications) for a strategy (night bombing of London) that meant the rejection of the original objective of eliminating RAF Fighter Command in favor of an attempt to terrorize the English population. However, there is also a second error frequently made by strategists causing them to fail to achieve overwhelming success.

Type 2 Error — Failing to Exploit Success for Maximum Gain

The second trap we can fall into is also due to the relatively long time period of phase one of the success process. We can be so happy to achieve a modicum of success that we stop the process before a full triumph is attained.

Hannibal pulled off a brilliant strategy coup at the Battle of Cannae at which he accomplished a double envelopment of Roman forces and achieved the most decisive victory in the history of warfare, even though he was outnumbered almost four to one by his adversary. A Type 2 Error is would have been if as soon as the Romans were getting the worst of the battle, Hannibal called his forces off, happy to have stopped his numerical superior adversary and survived the encounter. This happens all the time in all spheres of human endeavor and at all levels.

A Job-Seeker Blows Off $20,000 a Year More in Salary

After many months, an out-of-work man accepted a job at $80,000 a year, which was the same amount he had been paid at his previous company. But the individual who hired him told me that he would have gladly paid this man $100,000 a year! The $80,000 he offered was only his opening bargaining position. The employer was desperate for the expertise that this man had. All the man would have had to say was five words: “Can you do any better?” But he accepted the $80,000 without trying to test how final an offer it was. He achieved a modicum of success, but he did not exploit it for maximum gain, that is, the additional $20,000. We must exploit the success we achieve.

The Art of the Strategist

The Art of the Strategist


Its has been recommended by CEOs of companies, generals (including the former Chief of Staff of NATO and the former Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army), professors of strategy, ambassadors, and more.

THE LESSON: To exploit success, we must be careful of both Type 1 and Type 2 errors. Don’t switch strategy until you are certain that your strategy isn’t working; once you are succeeding, don’t quit until complete success is achieved.