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Computer Industry:
Gaining the Strategic Advantage: A Lesson from Napoleon Invading Russia
 
Posted 25 months ago on 12/18/2017 and updated 10/27/2018
Take Away:

This article uses the real life story of Napoleon’s attempted invasion of Russia to help illustrate how to gain an advantage in business with minimal material assets.

KB102810

So many business people have pondered a question for the ages: How do I gain the strategic advantage over the competition? The answer has proven itself to be very elusive. Could there be an example from history that sheds light on this? There is in fact a historical event from about 200 years ago that I think shows how to get the strategic advantage in a struggle for survival while facing enormous odds. It showcased how careful and insightful thinking could triumph over brute force.

The French Invasion of Russia began on June 24, 1812. Napoleon’s Grand Armée was a huge force of approximately 500,000 soldiers from several nations. The Russian military consisted of three armies of 175,250 soldiers plus 15,000 Cossacks. The purpose of Napoleon’s invasion was to force Tsar Alexander I of Russia to halt commerce with British merchants so Great Britain would sue for peace. The French pushed on through western Russia, winning a series of minor engagements as well as a large and costly battle near the town of Borodino, seventy miles west of Moscow. All the while, the Russian army retreated from the pursuing French as they burned villages, towns and crops to deny those resources to the advancing French army. Around mid September, Napoleon and his Grand Armée entered Moscow only to find it deserted and burnt. The French were surprised by the willingness of the Russians to destroy their own land and harm their own citizens in order to thwart Napoleon’s advance. This “scorched earth” tactic made it very difficult for the French army to forage and live off the land as they had successfully done in other countries they invaded.

At this point, the Russians knew Napoleon’s situation was taking a turn for the worse. The Russians were beginning to see a dividend from their “engage, retreat and burn” strategy. Although the Russians couldn’t defeat the Grand Armée in pitched battle, neither could Napoleon win a decisive victory over them. The Russian winter took hold in late October and early November. It began to exact a severe toll on Napoleon’s military, which was already suffering from starvation, lack of adequate clothing and horses that were in poor condition. Napoleon had unwittingly marched his once mighty Grand Armée into a logistical death trap. By the time Napoleon’s weakened army crossed the Berezina River in November 1812, only 27,000 of his soldiers were left. Some 380,000 had died and 100,000 had been captured. By December 14, 1812, the last of the French army left the cold and barren Russian front.

The Russians had turned what initially appeared to be the certainty of defeat into a stunning military victory by utilizing intelligent field maneuvering, depriving local food and shelter to a militarily superior enemy and being patient enough to wait for the harsh Russian winter to even the playing field for them. They seized the strategic advantage in a showdown with a very powerful and feared military by mostly using their minds rather than throwing their military strength into a full blown battle assault that probably would have failed.

If there is one thing to be learned from one of the greatest military disasters in history, it’s that a large and mighty enterprise does not necessarily guarantee success. Quite often it is determined by intangible assets that cannot be purchased or seized. Experience, patience, objectivity, motivation, discipline, creativity, resourcefulness and perseverance are just a few. Consider for a moment how many times someone has embarked on a new business venture with plenty of cash, credit lines, talented employees, equipment and such only to fail a short while later. I believe the outcome doesn’t hinge on how much material assets you have, though you do need a certain amount of these based on what type of business you enter. The foundation of a successful business is really about how well you utilize whatever material assets you happen to have at your disposal.

Using myself as an example, I use a tear-tab flyer to advertise my services in my local area. I have several stacks of these flyers in my basement. They will last me for several years. These flyers cost me virtually nothing to produce for several reasons. I buy the paper reams for little or nothing when I can find great deals on them at the stores. I also purchase the printer ink on eBay at very sharp discounts from top rated eBay merchants to ensure quality.

During the last few years, I have met a number of customers on my troubleshooting appointments in the midst of upgrading to newer printers. They offered me their older printers along with whatever supply of ink came with them. I took the equipment back home and immediately began running off copies of my tear-tab flyer. I did this right away because I didn’t know how long the ink would be viable. Some of the ink cartridges were well past their expiration dates, so time was of the essence to get the flyers printed until the ink was exhausted.

One thing I do to get the maximum number of tear-tab flyers from the ink cartridges I have is to use both black-and-white and color versions of the flyer. When I am printing the flyer, I first run the black-and-white version until I have used up all of the black ink that came with the printer. I then switch over to the color version to use up all of the color ink I was given. I use every drop of ink I have to produce those flyers.

Based on past history, there should be a number of people over the next few years who will offer me older printers with ink. And I will continue to use them to produce more and more flyers for my local marketing campaign. This is beginning to create a “self-regenerating supply chain” for my tear-tab flyers. This is an example of how I gained the strategic advantage of massive marketing exposure at very little financial cost…and it’s a proven way to reel in new customers.

Now I would like to explain the overall strategy I use to orchestrate how my business works. I am really two businesses housed under one roof. One is computer repair, which involves chasing away malware, emergency data recovery, hardware upgrades, networking, disk clean up, fixing browser snafus, etc. This work tends to be generally safe because the tasks are relatively short in duration and the customer has little say with regard to how the repair issue is resolved.

The other business I am involved with is custom software design, which can be highly subjective. Most customers have a general idea of what they want, but they seldom have a very specific idea of what they really need done until the software design process is well under way. This aspect is what makes application development so subjective and unpredictable in most cases. It can make the software design process escalate out of control and create a lot of extra work for the coder. It’s precisely for this reason that I no longer perform software projects against a fixed price contract. It isn’t economically viable. Instead, I use a contract that is based on my hourly rate so the project stays on a financially sensible footing. I also insist on stringent payment terms to help ward off undesirable people. It has certainly become more difficult for me to secure software design work that makes financial sense. Nevertheless, I am adhering to this protocol because it’s needed to keep the project profitable and it also tends to reduce the risk for disagreements and the potential for liability.

Now for the $64 question. How can these 2 realities of my business be weaved together to yield a strategic advantage? I came up with this:

The troubleshooting business does not compete against the software design business for my time, because computer troubleshooting is relatively safe and predictable by nature. And it isn’t too hard to find this work. The software design business does compete against the troubleshooting business for my time since good, profitable software design projects are more difficult to find. So in other words, I stick with the troubleshooting work as my bread and butter until a financially compelling software project comes up on the radar screen. This obviously requires discipline and patience, but it’s still preferable to the old way of getting contractually wedged into things that make no financial sense.

Gaining the strategic advantage in business isn’t a pecking order of who has the most material assets. It’s about who can approach business in the most intelligent and efficient way possible, especially under trying circumstances. Many people think hard work is a “one-size-fits-all” solution to problems in business. I am certainly not against hard work, but I don’t regard it as an overall strategy either. Rather, I look at it as being subservient to an overall strategy that will play out in a smart, organized and highly predictable way.

Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_invasion_of_Russia


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Article Contributed By Douglas.M:

Please visit my software developer website for more information about my services. I offer application development as well as Android app coding services. My developer skills are best suited to dealing with custom software projects. I can perform programming for Corel Paradox as well as C# Sharp and PHP.

In my local area of northeast Ohio, I can cater to computer repair and "fix my computer" issues.

Use my contact web page today to reach me about any software design ideas you have.

Visit Profile

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