THE JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP APPLICATIONS
Vol. 9, No. 12
(626) 350-1500 Ext 102
“Dare the Impossible – Achieve the Extraordinary.“
You Always Have Limited Resources, So Concentrate for Success
© 2004, 2012 William A. Cohen, PhD
Once I watched a friend play a board game called Risk with some other acquaintances. To his utter frustration, my friend just could notwin at this game of strategy. The object of the game is to occupy every territory on a board on which a map of the world is represented, and in so doing to eliminate all other players. You do this by contesting with other players whose pieces, each representing one army, are placed on this map by rolling dice for high score. Six continents are are represented on this map subdivided into territories. The smaller continents have fewer territories, the larger ones have more. At the start of the game, the territories are divided up among the players by chance so that one army occupies every territory. This determines the initial placement of armies.
Life has rules that we must play by. So does the game of Risk. When it’s your turn, you accumulate additional armies depending on the number of territories you occupy at that time. If you own an entire continent, you are awarded additional armies: more for the larger continents, less for the smaller ones. You can place these additional armies wherever you want in one or more of your territories.
To challenge an opponent, your territory must be adjacent to his and you must have at least two armies in the territory from which you are launching your attack. Since the contesting is done by rolling dice, there is an element of chance involved. If you win the throw, your opponent must remove one army. The more armies you have, and the less your opponent has, the better. Even though you’re rolling dice, your superior force will usually whittle down a weaker force. You can more easily afford to lose some of your armies along the way. If you defeat all the armies he has in a territory, the territory is yours and you move in at least one of your armies.
My friend complained bitterly about “his luck.” Eventually, he lost all of his armies and he lost the game. In fact, out of six people playing, he was the first one eliminated. After observing his playing style and watching how the others played, I took him aside and pointed out to him that luck had very little to do with his inability to win. He just didn’t economize to mass his armies anywhere. He fought all over the board with no apparent goal other than to contest with his adversaries to capture territories. He was relying on luck, not strategy. He disregarded the fact that he, like his opponents had limited resources. Consequently he always “fought” with inferior numbers, and so he lost.
I explained the third essential principle of strategy: concentrate superior resources at a point or position of his selection that he felt would enable him to overwhelm an opponent. That way, although everyone had limited resources, he would have superior resouerces at the point at which he contested. Even though outcomes were still based on chance, he could afford to lose more than his adversary and had a much better chance of winning.
I reminded him that every continent he controlled meant additional armies he would get to use when it was his turn to roll the dice. To win he first had to decide on the continent he wanted and was in a position to contend for, and then identify the decisive place on the map that he must control to win this continent. He needed also needed to think ahead as to where he would concentrate after winning one continent. Thereafter, rather than spreading his armies around the board at random, he would concentrate as many armies as he could to go after another continent and so on. In addition, he would benefit from economizing his resources –allowing those of his territories that were less important to his plan to be weaker.
After I explained this basic strategic principle to him, he applied the lesson. Not surprisingly, he won. He concentrated his armies at decisive points. When he attacked, because he had massed his armies, he attacked with superior numbers against weaker numbers of armies held by his opponents. He would gain control of one continent and then move on to the next in the same fashion. With just average luck, he won repeatedly.
This basic principle is important in everything we do in leadership, and in everything else too, because resources can be anything: time, money, or armies on a Risk game board — and they are always limited. So if you want to win, concentrate for success.
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THIS MONTH’S THOUGHT FOR LEADERS
“Beware of dissipating your powers; strive constantly to concentrate them.” – Goethe