Stop trying to stop a bullet with a bullet

You would think you were dumb if your business strategy was akin to protecting yourself from being shot by shooting incoming bullets out of the air.


This, however, is a legitimate strategy built and deployed by the US military to combat the North Korean nuclear threat. Called an Interceptor, the US has deployed ballistic missiles that are designed to do just this; shoot incoming nuclear missiles out of the air; before they hit their target; "shoot a bullet with a bullet". Or at least that is what they are supposed to do, but in testing, they fail more often than they succeed.

USD $300 billion on a strategy that has less than a 50% chance of success. Wow!

Would you do it? Well, I am sorry to say, you probably have.

Whether you were there first or followed a competitor, it doesn't matter.


Consider organisations in terms of how they reach their goals:

  • Product leader.  These organisations strive to provide the best products to the market and be known for it. Apple builds the iPhone missile, and Samsung deploys its countermeasure via the Galaxy. Apple's iPhone 8 is sounding cool. Oh! So does the Galaxy 8.
  • Operational excellence. These organisations focus on the internals of their operations getting greater and greater efficiency every year. Improving their bottom line without necessarily changing what the market receives. You deploy an ERP system, so does your competitor. You build and deploy robots for automation, so do they. 
  • Customer leaders/Professional services. These organisations tailor services and solutions to match exactly what their clients need. You hire "better" people. So does your competitor. You develop IP around your unique service offering. So does your competitor.

MAD; mutually assured destruction. If you can get the next iteration of your business out better and faster, then you can get ahead. But for how long? How long until you competitor leapfrogs you and you are playing catch up, again?

What will happen if you continue with this MAD approach is, - one day you get too far behind and a competitor's missile will get through and hit successfully. They follow with more, and pretty soon you are out of business. You could see them coming, and given time you could have created countermeasures. But that's all useless talk inside of your bomb shelter as you are looking for your next job.

"50% of Fortune 500 businesses have disappeared principally due to digital disruption. 50% of jobs are expected to go for the same reason."

So says the World Economic Forum and research from multiple different governments and NGOs on the future of employment. 

The missiles are getting bigger and faster and more accurate. A silver bullet would work if you could get all your competitors in the same room, lined up, and you are a good shot. 

But if you don't see the silver bullet as an option, then consider what else the US military did.

Fronde Countdown boom 1

They realised that while bullets are their core business, they needed an alternative strategy when facing a competitor head on. The alternative US military strategy is to attack ‘left of launch’. "T minus 5, 4, 3 , 2 , 1, liftoff". If they could destroy the missile before liftoff, then they have shifted the problem left on the timeline. And by doing so, they have increased their chance of success. 

Stuxnet is a computer virus deployed (although never officially confirmed) by the US military. This virus is credited with disrupting Iran's nuclear program by "causing the fast-spinning centrifuges to tear themselves apart"; before Iran had even developed a nuclear missile program, their plans were set back; being unable to create weapons-grade plutonium. They were attacked way "left of launch". This brought the international community time and the opportunity to negotiation with Iran to limit and have monitored their nuclear ambitions.

With North Korea, attacking them so far "left of launch" is harder; they have nuclear grade plutonium. But they are still not immune from this strategy. You will recall from the news that North Korea, despite a recent success, has been plagued by a series of failures at launch time. Missiles are blowing up on the platform or failing in-flight to be accurate. Again not admitted, but the hand of the US military is suspected here too. 

If you think this analogy is taken too far into business, then consider a significant study by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB). Business-to-business sales are now significantly disrupted due to buyers having unprecedented access to information. This results in customers talking to sellers 57% of the way through the buying process; when the opportunity to influence the buyer is at 37%; way left of 57%. In mass consumer land, this figure goes up beyond 57% towards 80%. Our target customers are shifting right along the timeline. We don't want to think of our customers as competitors, but they too are avoiding and combating our countermeasures, but by shifting right.

Fronde Shift Left Graph2

What organisations need to do, to combat both competitors and their customer's buying behaviours, is shift left. The axis always includes time, but it also includes the value chains that are most relevant to your business; the customer buying journey, supply chain, and other important value chains. And like the military, it is technology that can help you do this.

This will put you outside of your core business and comfort zone, much like the military who discovered that their core business of building and shooting bullets was no-longer fully effective. You will need to look to different methods and technologies to combat the new threats no matter where they are from. 

This is what is meant by digital transformation. 

You will also want to work with a company that can help you make the strategic difference through digital technologies. One that is in their comfort zone and can help you shift left and dodge that bullet.

Follow Paul Armstrong on LinkedIn for more insights or to talk to him further.