Principles of War: Mass

Our first principle to convert from military to mainstream business usage is Mass. Here’s the original:

Mass – Concentrate combat power at the decisive place and time

What mass means from the military perspective is that you bring together whatever forces are necessary to achieve a desired result. An example would be moving forces from different locations to all take part in one operation, such as the seaborne invasion of Normandy in three locations with hundreds of ships coupled with airborne troops jumping behind enemy lines. The combination of the two achieved results far superior to either one, and if these pieces hadn’t come together at the same time (bad weather during the channel crossing) or at the right place (mistakes in the drop zone coordinates away from targets), the overall effect is diminished and could even lead to a non-victory: not necessarily a defeat but certainly a failure to accomplish the mission. When pieces fall away entirely, defeat is certainly possible, such as in the Bay of Pigs when air support was not available as planned.

Mass is, however, more about the concentration than the place and time elements. Concentration of resources requires us to choose the battlefield (literally and figuratively). The example that sticks out most for us in thinking about business applications of the principle of Mass is Jack Welch defining target markets for his businesses. Welch said that GE should select only those markets where they could be #1 or #2 in the market. (To prevent tweaking the definition of a “market” to ensure success, a condition was added that GE couldn’t have more than 10% of the defined market.)

GE marshaling its resources to achieve the required market position is an example of the principle of mass.

Another example that should be familiar to most readers is the seasonal or periodic business. In many industries, a disproportionate percentage of the business takes place during a season or around a specific time/space location. Vacation rentals match up with snow/beach season, depending on location, CPAs are most busy immediately prior to April 15, and trade shows in some markets dominate certain segments of commercial activity. A good example of the latter is fashion, where although people buy clothes all the time, manufacturers take most of their orders around trade show events, which are then delivered months later for the appropriate seasonal merchandising. Manufacturers who are not able to Mass their resources to produce marketing materials, samples, and presentations for buyers prior to the trade show risk calamity.

How do these thoughts impact our new definition of the principle of Mass? Originally, I thought that the GE market dominance example was going to be the heart of the new definition. But the principle isn’t one that’s static; it’s dynamic, like maneuver or flexibility. Mass is about doing things, making changes, and selecting goals (more on this later when we discuss Objective).

Version 1: Mass – organize your business to be able to take full advantage of decisive moments

For many businesses, their strategy will dictate what moments are in fact decisive. For consumer retail businesses, it might be the selection and stocking of products, i.e., getting all the boxes into Wal-Mart. For consumer product companies, it might be the end-user customer’s decision to choose one bottle over another sitting next to it on a supermarket shelf. Different companies will have different decisive moments, some of which will seem to be far from the moment of revenue recognition: think value creation instead.

Mass – organize your business to support the moment of value creation

Ed. Note: This post was originally written in May, 2008. It apparently disappeared from the site but is back now. Look for more posts like this, and a forthcoming book on the topic.