At some point in its life cycle, every company faces a difficult question: Should they go on the offensive and obliterate their competitors, or are they better off playing defense and protecting existing revenues, assets and operating margins?
There is no easy answer to this dilemma. However, there are certain, unconventional sources of inspiration that we can use to solve it. And the first one that pops to my mind is Rick Grimes, the protagonist of AMC’s TV drama The Walking Dead.
To cut the long story short, for the most part of the show’s 6 seasons, Rick and his fellow, zombie apocalypse survivors were on the defensive. They were defending themselves from the walkers, that is, endless hordes of zombies always on the lookout for fresh meat. They were defending themselves from other humans, most often of questionable morality, such as the Governor and his mindless flock. They found themselves trapped by a sociopathic group of “fine young cannibals”. And eventually, by the time they settled in the Alexandria safe zone, they were again forced to defend themselves from a pack of humans gone wild, who like to refer to themselves as the Wolves.
With grave losses, they have thus far managed to repel all those pests. Now, as the 6th season is closing to its end, Rick and his band of brothers, and sisters, have come to a turning point, or, a point of no return, bearing in mind the magnitude of the stakes involved.
With a relatively secure roof above their heads, but a depleting food stock, they decided to enter a business arrangement with a seemingly tame group of people living in the Hilltop colony.
The Hilltop community would provide food in exchange for security services from Rick’s battle hardened group.
Simples, right? It would indeed be a simple business transaction, if only it did not require Rick’s group to go on a serious offensive for the first time since they began their journey together. As this time around they would actually have to mount an attack on another, equally ferocious group of living and breathing humans led by a character called Negan.
And so it happens. Rick gives the green light for the attack, knowing there are red lines to be crossed and ignoring the red flags on the way.
Oh but Rick, as the wise Sun Tzu once said...
“He who wishes to fight must first count the cost.”
So what were the red lines and the red flags?
Firstly, Rick underestimated the strength of Negan’s group and rather hastily rushed into this battle. Secondly, he did so without much regard for the human life he was about to take.
For him and his lot this was a preemptive strike. And although tactically right, I am not entirely convinced that they were ready to hop over to the dark side by taking lives of living people.
Now, regardless of how the situation further unravels for Rick and his crew, much of what they have been experiencing through The Walking dead storyline can be translated into business.
Like many of today’s businesses, they have been managing. They have been surviving. And they have been using their unique set of features and skills in order to preserve and protect the group.
But, hunger makes you do irrational things. And especially, hunger for success can make you do things you previously thought you were incapable of.
For Rick, it started with a business deal and a decision to place his assets on a new market. This may further develop into a merger with the Hilltop colony, or an acquisition of a weaker competitor if you like. And finally, as he decides to approach things more aggressively, it may result in a full blown conflict with an unexpectedly strong “business adversary”.
I do not know how things will end for Rick and his beloved companions. Maybe they will end up as tragic characters of a cautionary tale, or maybe their story will be a tale of success. But I do know that before pursuing offensive strategies and before directly targeting your competitors, you must know thy enemy.
In some cases, luck, timing and the element of surprise may significantly boost your ability to get aggressive and go on the offence. In other cases however, the ability to do so will purely depend on a prudent business strategy you put in place prior to going to war.
In any case, best of luck and hail to you if you decide to follow in Rick’s footsteps. After all, offensive business strategies are not for the faint hearted.
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