What do Napoleon Bonaparte, Pep Guardiola and Satya Nadella have in common?
From Napoleon’s campaigns in Prussia, Pep’s management of Manchester City and Satya reshuffling of Microsoft’s product line, there’s a shared strategy amongst these three leaders.
By combating their opponents head on, they’ve displayed affirmative action. It’s a process of going on the attack so as to mitigate future offensives and further consolidate their competitive position. It means becoming engaged now so there’s no future engagements.
Napoleon’s attack against the Fourth Coalition in 1806 is frankly amazing. It was from this victory that led him to extend French rule across Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium and parts of Poland.
And it began with a simple attack. Upon learning that British, Spanish, Italian, Austrian and Prussian forces were preparing for a co-ordinated attack on France — Napoleon invaded Saxony with his Grande Armée of 186,000 men to meet the Prussian forces head on.
By hoping to defeat the enemy in detail, Napoleon could overcome the collective numerical strength of his enemy by attacking them individually. This meant preventing coordination by using affirmative action: attacking now, to stop a stronger attack later.
Pep’s management of Manchester City has been extraordinary for someone that has already gifted Barcelona F.C. and Bayern Munich with plenty of titles. His strategy is best summarised in this comparison against one of his contemporaries, Jurgen Klopp.
Affirmative action from Pep came in the shape of Tika Taka — a football tactic that prioritises possession. You can see more here.
Much of Pep’s managerial style revolves around possession — controlling ownership of the ball. You only score goals if the ball is in the opposition’s net. This means tactically developing fluid connections between players across the field and prioritising offensive gameplay. It’s a reason why his teams are so entertaining to watch — they’re always on the attack.
There’s an emerging theme: the fastest way to finish a race is to stop it from even starting.
When Satya took the helm of Microsoft in 2014, he began leading a corporation that had missed out on the mobile revolution and cloud computing. While Microsoft began the 2000s as the most formidable tech company in the market — enough for the Department of Justice to bring forward an anti-trust lawsuit — they were now seen as a shadow of their former selves.
Rather than passively match-up to its competition as they had previously, Satya pledged the full support of the company as he revamped their product line to focus more on hardware and online services.
It’s important to see how Microsoft had to contest Apple, Google and Amazon in head-on collisions to be able to withstand future confrontations. A weakened version of themselves might not be able to recover.
This is a significantly different product-line than the one that was headed by Steve Ballmer. This is an aggressive counter-attack to the competitive landscape that exists today as collectively offered by Google, Apple and Amazon.
Satya’s goal was to nullify the competitive advantages of these companies by Microsoft providing their own counter-offerings and in doing so, he was able to create an even playing field. It was affirmative action that brought Microsoft up to speed.
Affirmative action describes a compelling offensive that looks to decisively outpace the competition. The primary idea then isn’t about how to strategise in the face of competitors, but instead how to organise your team amongst competitors.
It means organising logistics to support operations to be confrontational.