Asymmetric Warfare

“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” – Bill Gates.

The fall of great companies follows the path of least resistance – past success.

Past success devoid of present action breeds arrogance. Successful arrogance entrenches complacency. Recall that arrogance has no foundation in present action, so on what foundation is complacency built? Same as arrogance – past success.

People build Organizations. Complacency is the death of all people. Complacency is the death of all Organizations.

The crowd always predicts a guaranteed outcome in any battle between past success and present action. Past success wins. Present action loses. The crowd is frequently wrong, no story tells this better than that of Goliath and David.

Past Success
A man named Goliath, from the city of Gath, came out from the Philistine camp to challenge the Israelites. He was nearly three meters tall and wore bronze armor that weighed about fifty-seven kilograms and a bronze helmet. His legs were also protected by bronze armor, and he carried a bronze javelin slung over his shoulder. His spear was as thick as the bar on a weaver’s loom, and its iron head weighed about seven kilograms. A soldier walked in front of him carrying his shield. Goliath stood and shouted at the Israelites, “What are you doing there, lined up for battle? I am a Philistine, you slaves of Saul! Choose one of your men to fight me. If he wins and kills me, we will be your slaves; but if I win and kill him, you will be our slaves. Here and now I challenge the Israelite army. I dare you to pick someone to fight me!” When Saul and his men heard this, they were terrified ~ 1 Samuel 17:4-11 (Good News Translation).

I particularly love the last line – “When Saul and his men heard this, they were terrified.” Saul and his men arrived that day for battle and were preparing to fight the Philistines, until Goliath stepped forward.

Saul was a Goliath on the right side of history.

Goliath’s willingness to mortgage the future of his people even before seeing his contender, makes me smile. “If he wins and kills me, we will be your slaves; but if I win and kill him, you will be our slaves.” The Philistines were already slaves of Goliath.

Goliaths are great at assessing internal capabilities, but poor at assessing the external threats.

David said to Saul, “Your Majesty, no one should be afraid of this Philistine! I will go and fight him.”
“No,” answered Saul. “How could you fight him? You’re just a boy, and he has been a soldier all his life!”
“Your Majesty,” David said, “I take care of my father’s sheep. Any time a lion or a bear carries off a lamb, I go after it, attack it, and rescue the lamb. And if the lion or bear turns on me, I grab it by the throat and beat it to death. I have killed lions and bears, and I will do the same to this heathen Philistine, who has defied the army of the living God. The Lord has saved me from lions and bears; he will save me from this Philistine.”
“All right,” Saul answered. “Go, and the Lord be with you.” ~ 1 Samuel 17:32-37 (Good News Translation).

Notice that there is just one “if” in the words of David – “And if the lion or bear turns on me, I grab it by the throat and beat it to death.”  He is not interested in the killing of lions and bears as a bragging right, it is borne out of necessity. David referenced past success in order to convince Saul. He knew that men like Saul overestimate past success. David was not willing to be a slave. To defeat the Goliath of the Philistines, he needed to win over the Goliath of the Israelites.

As a man of present action, he concluded by saying – I will do the same to this heathen Philistine. No “ifs” required here.

Davids are great at assessing internal capabilities and even better at assessing external threats.

The Philistine started walking toward David, with his shield bearer walking in front of him. He kept coming closer and when he got a good look at David, he was filled with scorn for him because he was just a nice, good-looking boy. He said to David, “What’s that stick for? Do you think I’m a dog?” And he called down curses from his god on David. “Come on,” he challenged David, “and I will give your body to the birds and animals to eat.” ~ 1 Samuel 17:41-44 (Good News Translation).

Goliath was incapable of assessing his enemy. He expected a man heavily armored like him. He expected a giant like him. He expected attrition warfare. He was unprepared for asymmetric warfare. “Nice, good-looking boy”, he grossly underestimated the threat. He was disconnected from the present. He needed another Goliath, the likes he had previously defeated. He expected Saul. Goliath was justified in his expectations.

He gave his own armor to David for him to wear: a bronze helmet, which he put on David’s head, and a coat of armor. David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor and tried to walk, but he couldn’t, because he wasn’t used to wearing them. “I can’t fight with all this,” he said to Saul. “I’m not used to it.” So he took it all off. He took his shepherd’s stick and then picked up five smooth stones from the stream and put them in his bag. With his sling ready, he went out to meet Goliath ~ 1 Samuel 17:38-40 (Good News Translation).

Saul actually offered David the appearance Goliath expected. David had the opportunity to put up appearances and look regal in Saul’s armor. David knew better. David was not willing to die in Saul’s armor, he needed to win. David knew how to wield a sword, but for the present battle he needed to be comfortably self. He had confidence in his stick, stones and sling.

The early hours of arrogance are almost indistinguishable from confidence. Confidence however, is built on present action.

Goliath started walking toward David again, and David ran quickly toward the Philistine battle line to fight him. ~ 1 Samuel 17:48 (Good News Translation).

To be fair, Goliath had to be walking, he was burdened with so much bronze armor. Don’t forget he even needed help with his shield (outsourcing). Goliath was also walking because there was no need to hurry to snuff out the life of this “nice, good-looking boy”. There was no need for urgency executing this task. The outcome seemed clear – more slaves.

David had to be running quickly, his weapon of choice needed velocity. There was no time to let the infantry soldier know that he was up against an artillery shepherd. He knew Goliath would underestimate him, because Saul underestimated him.

The Fall
He reached into his bag and took out a stone, which he slung at Goliath. It hit him on the forehead and broke his skull, and Goliath fell face downward on the ground. And so, without a sword, David defeated and killed Goliath with a sling and a stone! He ran to him, stood over him, took Goliath’s sword out of its sheath, and cut off his head and killed him.
When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they ran away. ~ 1 Samuel 17:49 – 51 (Good News Translation).

David defeated Goliath using asymmetric warfare. He did not come to Goliath for attrition warfare. That would have been suicidal.

There are 2 interesting parts to this end –
• Even after Goliath had fallen face downward to the ground, David kept running towards him. No time for complacency.
• Goliath’s sword was still sheathed. David unsheathed Goliath’s sword and used it to cut off his head. The weapons of Goliaths are ultimately used to finish them off.

It is easier to predict the outcome of an attrition warfare than an asymmetric warfare.

Every individual and in effect, every Organization is different. If you are the new guy on the block, do not try to go into battle with the big guns using attrition warfare. Embrace asymmetric warfare, embrace being different. When you win, the weapons of past successes will be available to you at the asking.

Sadly, from the moment David cut off Goliaths head, he became a Goliath.

“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” – Bill Gates.

– Osasu Oviawe

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