Applying surprise is one thing, but where to begin? Usually, not at the front door. The front door is where anybody can expect you, it is a frontal attack. To understand what a frontal attack is this article discusses front, back and everything in between. After reading this you will have the tools available to develop a surprisingly effective attack, but also you will also have the knowledge to defend against those attacks in business and private life.
Anatomy of the Opponent
Our opponent and ourselves, the strategy players, have a front and a back or base. The following figure shows a few more parts we all have in the context of an attack.
The base of a strategy player is the place where the strength or force of the player comes from. In case of a war, this is the home country. The base is what is defended or the reason for existence of the struggle.
The units of the player form the front. The front is usually facing away from the base in order to receive the attack from the enemy. Only in case players are recapturing their base the front will face the base. But it is more common that the units of a player face the opponent and have the base at the back. The front has flanks, that is ends at each side of the front. Until after Napoleon, armies were limited and the battlefield was also limited. So, with enough maneuverability one army could go around the flanks of the opponent. An unlimited army theoretically has no flanks. During the first world war the armies stretching from the North Sea to the Alps approximated a front without flanks. But with the introduction of aircraft a new flank was introduced.
Between each unit there is some space where one unit stops and the other starts. That space forms an area where it is unclear which unit is responsible for the defense. These areas form hinges. One unit can move a little faster or slower than the other unit. When turning face contact with the next unit is kept as long as possible.
Between the front and the base the command center is positioned as the man in the middle. The lines of communication from the front to the base and back come together in the command center. The 'command center' and 'lines of communication' can have other names. The command center can be the head quarters, supply center, base camp etc. The lines of communication can also be supply lines or supply routes etc. Any term will do as long as new commands or new supplies or new resources travel over these lines. Although the refreshment of different resources may go through different centers basically different groups of an army receive their commands, fresh recruits, ammunition and food through centers. The troops have to travel over the lines of communication to get to and from the centers. With the introduction of radio communications commands travel wireless, but the radio waves still can be considered as lines of communication.
Behavior of the Defender
When we attack the front, a defending opponent is prepared for the attack. All arms and defenses face forward and the defenders are prepared and waiting. Even if the attack is strong enough to throw back the defender, the defender will be thrown back on its own lines of communication and moves closer to the command center and the base. Shorter communication lines makes the defender stronger and increases motivation to defend what is left. Being closer to the base makes the defender fight more ferociously. In contrast, the attacker will move away from its communication center and base making the communication lines and motivation weaker.
A frontal attack requires large force. Most often attacks were preceded by a gun battle in which artillery forces shelled the opponent's front just to weaken the enemy. Such a start of the attack does not need to be precise, just cause a lot of damage. Only during a siege – when a construction has to be taken down – then more precise guns are needed. If we have a moving target, then even more precise guns are needed. In Napoleonic time the attacking forces were preceded by skirmishers, troops with more precise, but shorter range riffles that aimed at specific persons. As soon as the two fronts came too close to each other, the skirmishers fell back and left the dirty work of the man-to-man fight to the line units.
An attack against the flanks of the defender requires the opponent to turn around and out of its primary, well prepared defense position. Although that move makes the defender weaker, as long as the defender can maintain contact with the next unit or the communication lines, the defender may be able to maintain its strength. However, if contact with the next unit is lost or the communication lines are severed the defender may panic or fall back to a better defensible position and restore communication lines.
An attack on the flanks will require fast action. Cavalry for example provides that fast action. However, a cavalry attack looks different from a line unit attack. The defender can prepare for a cavalry attack by forming a square. A square is an impenetrable and deadly defense for cavalry but is a bad defense against a line attack. Quickly alternating between the one and the other type of attack was needed, but required immense discipline and training.
An attack against the hinges can be just as effective as an attack on the flank, if you can find the hinges. In Napoleonic times, the soldiers were dressed in colorful uniforms and flew flags to show where the center of the unit is. The difference between one unit and the other can be observed with a telescope. This was especially true if the defending army was an alliance. Different countries had different colors in their uniform. Uniformity of uniform started in the late 19th century, only by the end of the first world war did all armies have the well known army green uniforms.
If in an attack on the hinges a unit has to fall back, it tends to do so by moving towards the center of the unit increasing the size of the gap between the units. For the defense it is important to hide the hinges. For the attack it is important to know the hinges, they may open an extra flank. One kind of battle tactic of Napoleon was to launch a series of smaller attacks against the enemy to feel where the weak spots of the enemy were. Once found, the attacks on the weak spots increased in force until finally the veteran guards were allowed to force themselves a way through. Separating one unit from the other, the smallest or weakest unit was defeated and the victorious force was used against a now smaller enemy.
Once a frontal attack, flank attack or attack on the hinges is successful, we can attack the lines of communication and the command center and the base if possible. Such an attack may have many forms and may be very quick. Nazi Germany at the beginning of the second world war devised the Blitzkrieg. Using superior air force they attacked and decimated the aerial flank and were then able to attack communication centers or civilian bases with paratroopers or terror bombings. This style of attack halted only when Britain showed it had a matching air force and enough resources to hold out long enough in September 1940.
An attack at the command center or an attack at the base only differ in reach. If the enemy has many resources and can recreate command centers just as quickly as it loses them, then an attack on the base may be just too far reaching. Also, remember that a far reaching attack weakens the attacker as it exposes a line of communication to the defender. Only autonomous units may launch a far reaching attack, with high risks of defeat but also great chances on ultimate glory. Dictators and guerrilla groups are difficult to attack at their base, because they either deny having a base or give up their base easily and withdraw to a new base. Dictators will even attack their own base – their own people, or subordinates – to stay in power.
We have thus defined the tools of our attack.
- Frontal attack
- Flank attack
- Attack on the hinges
- Attack at the lines of communication and the command center
- Attack at the base
Translate That to Business
To successfully design an attack against your opponent you need to know your opponent's anatomy.
The front of a business for example is its product quality and market presence. You can try to compete on product quality in an existing market, but the companies already present in the market can defend against such an attack just because they know the market and know how the market will react.
A frontal attack of the stock market can be seen by brokers that gamble on one event, like the rise or drop of oil prices. This happened regularly in the 1980s and 1990s, however it has happened as long as stock markets exist. Stock brokers may think they see that the price of oil has to drop, they feel that they are the only ones that see this opportunity for a lot of money. However, as long as the price of oil rises they lose money. They will need extra money – preferably double up – to cover up the loss and reach the gain they promised. Unless the brokers position is small, such a position will show very quickly and others may join in which will result in rising oil prices instead of falling oil prices. A frontal attack may thus be self defeating.
The flanks are formed by the reach of the product or the marketing. A company might not want to compete at the lower or higher end of the market because the profits may not be large or easy enough. However, as many computer companies show it is a viable strategy to start at the low end of the market accepting losses and build a market presence. This requires a quick succession of test product until a product is found that is accepted by the market. From there the company can extend its market presence.
The hinges then are the space between the products in the offering, either between the products of one company or the products in a given market with different suppliers. For example, the market of coffee makers was quite established with variations of the same principle of brewing a batch of coffee. Then the Senseo coffeemaker changed the market by providing an alternative in between the coffee maker that brewed four cups or more and the clumsy single cup coffee makers of the time.
The lines of communication show how well the business can coordinate its efforts using various products and the various departments in its organization. General Electric for example is a loosely organized conglomerate, based on the principle that each company in the organization is either the number one in its defined market or the number two. If not, the company is sold or closed or reorganized. In other words that company is cut of from the command center. An attack to the lines of communication of an organization is thus an attack on the coherence of the organization. However, such an attack on the coherence of the organization is usually preceded by an attack on the hinges or the flanks of the organization.
Finally the base is what the company thinks are its reason for existence. As said an attack to the base will result in the most ferocious response. Businesses however tend to react quite cool, even if an attack to the core values, core market or otherwise is effective. Microsoft for example wants to be available on all computers, large and small. As a result, Microsoft creates products with very low entrance threshold. They are simple and can be used by grandparents and teenagers as well. As a result the products are often not very good in any specific market, they miss focus. Every time much smaller companies create products focused on just a part of the market, biting away little bits of the market from Microsoft. Microsoft just cuts of that product or service and keeps trying with the next product and market. Microsoft's core product, its base, the Windows operating system is so far out of reach for other operating systems that Microsoft feels confident and can lose a battle or two.
Translation to Personal Life
A battle in personal life is often fought with arguments. Here we are not looking at a physical fight. A personal battle, as the alternative meaning suggests, may also be a battle fought by a personal internally. For example, a person fighting addiction or bad habits. In this case the battle is about the arguments the person can find to maintain motivation and morale.
Bullying is a frontal attack in personal life. Any difference between the attacker and the defender will do as long as it causes damage. Racial, gender and religious attacks cause damage but as we will see later, they may easily turn into ugly base attacks. As is normal with frontal attacks, frontal attacks cost a lot of resources from the defender as well as from the attacker. Some people have a lot of resources needed in an attack due to suffering a lot of attacks themselves. Preparing a person for a frontal attack requires the person to know all the possible attacks and to know how to react or not to react to the attacks while keeping up motivation and morale.
A court battle is a clear form of frontal attack. All attacks and defenses are prepared, the attacks are in plain sight and follow a well know procedure to resolve. If arguments on either side weigh equal a court battle is extremely expensive and can take long to resolve.
A personal attack on the flanks is more sophisticated and as such less applied in personal life. A flank attack searches for the reach of arguments. Whether a person can sustain a flank attack or a series of flank attacks depends on the length of the lines of communication and the resources available at the command center. One person may quickly run out of arguments, but if this person is backed up by a community with endless resources in arguments then that person may sustain much heavier attacks. To defend against flank attacks, a person should unite with like minded people. For example, professional organizations help a professional find the arguments to defend its position in a company in for example performance reviews, lay-offs or reorganizations. For the attacker, the same applies. A flank attack requires quick action and a quick succession of arguments. If arguments follow each other slowly, the defender can prepare and the attack turns into a frontal battle.
A personal attack on the hinges can be created by bringing the relation between arguments in discussion. To see how this works, look at advertisements that relate the conviction of being a man's man with the use of a product. If a person feels uncertain, than that type of advertisement is much more successful. Think of an adolescent. Any advertisement that appeals to feeling certain as long as you use the product or service will appeal to an adolescent. An older person will need more rational arguments to cause the uncertainty needed for a successful attack on the hinges. That is why many advertisements address a problem a person may have. The defense against an attack based on uncertainty is to hide the uncertainty or dismiss the problem exists. Again, support from an organization of people with the same uncertainty will help.
A personal attack on the communication lines must be seen as an attack on the source of a person's position. For example, in the global warming discussion the discussion is often not about the reality of global warming. Instead of such a frontal attack, the credibility of the scientists is put in discussion. Such an attack is often successful due to the often incomprehensible language used by scientists. Doubting about the scientists people fall back on what they are sure about and leave the global warming discussion to people who have in interest in it. As said before, an attack on the communication lines can only be successful if an attack on the flank or hinge has been successful. So, the defense consists of enforcing certainty amongst the front lines. Strong support will provide that certainty, for example through unwavering love and consistent guidance while raising children.
In personal life an attack on the base has a very clear effect. Attack somebody about his religious beliefs, political convictions, race or gender and you will find out. To enrage a nation during wartime, the propaganda always tells three things: the enemy takes our property, rape our women and steal or kill our children. Personal life works similar, depending on the person: an attack on reputation, car, spouse or child is an attack on the base and will cause a ferocious reply. Usually you will want to stay away from an attack on the base, it will back fire on the attacker. If the line between arguments and the core convictions of a person are short, then a frontal attack will quickly turn into an attack on the base. That person will have a short fuse. One way to cause a ferocious defense is to relate any argument to basic convictions. In the 2012 elections this happens constantly. Any political argument is turned into an argument about religious or personal freedom.
How to Use The Toolbox
In the preceding paragraphs, we have already seen a number of hints on how to use the different styles of attack. Here we will discuss some additional conclusions and directions.
Frontal Attack. A frontal attack costs a lot of resources and the defense can and will be prepared. Try to stay away from an open frontal attack. Only if you are certain of unlimited resources on your side and very limited resources on the defending side, should you venture a frontal attack. But don't be arrogant about your position, you may easily be surprised. If the opponent has strong support or is allied in unknown ways the battle may protract endlessly. To defend against a frontal attack, make clear how big your support is and what your alliances are. One last note: change your attack if you find yourself in a losing or protracted frontal attack. Do not dump your resources into an protracted frontal attack, a frontal attack is successful right away or it will protract endlessly.
Flank Attack. A flank attack requires quick action and should be well prepared and concentrated on one flank. If successful, it will open up the possibility of an attack to the coherence of the opponent or an attack to the base of the opponent. Prepare your actions well. To defend against a flank attack, unite with like minded businesses or persons.
Hinge Attack. A hinge attack requires precisely aimed attacks once a weakness in the defense is found. A successful attack on the hinges requires a succession of smaller 'test' attacks along the front line. The reserves must be ready for the moment a weakness is found. To defend against a hinge attack, conceal the hinges. In case a hinge attack may be successful, fall back in such a way that the new position reinforces your defense.
Attack to the Communication Center. An attack to a communication center follows a flank attack or hinge attack. Have your reserves ready to not only defeat the front line unit but attack the communication center in pursuit otherwise the successful attack may turn into a succession of frontal attacks. To defend against an attack to the communication center, choose your lines of communication well. Reassure yourself of support. If you fall back, fall back in a coordinated way showing coherence. Prepare the positions you want to defend once the initial front line gives in.
Attack to the Base. An attack to the base will cause ferocious defense, however ferocious defense does not necessarily mean you are close to the opponent's base. If you want ferocious defense, declare an attack to the base (even if it is to conceal a flank or hinge attack on the other end of the front.) To avoid ferocious defense, avoid that the attack is regarded as an attack to the base: conceal the aim of the attack. Argue that you are attacking a common enemy, make clear that if the enemy gives in the base will be left unharmed. To defend an attack to the base, be quick to relate any attack as an attack to the base any doubt as to the aim of the enemy should be eliminated.
I would prefer if you use this article to defend against an attack. However, to know how to defend unfortunately you have to know the possible attacks. This does not mean that a good defender is an even better attacker. A good defender is prepared for defense and knows how to react to any attack. Usually attack and defense will follow up each other regularly.
This article does also not call for an attack on your opponent. The best strategy is to create alliances and build your support to defend against further, possible attacks. It is up to you to choose, now that you know the possibilities and the effects.