Those familiar with military history probably already know the concept of ‘asymmetric warfare’. For those that aren’t, it refers to a conflict where the opposing sides differ greatly in strength or tactics. For example, if one side has much greater strength while the other side leverages unconventional strategy or tactics to unbalance that advantage.

An often-cited example of asymmetric warfare is the American Revolution; in that case, the British unquestionably had the larger and better-trained military force. The revolutionaries, in large part to compensate for the disparity in size and training, employed tactics that the British had trouble responding to: things like guerrilla warfare, snipers and advantageous use of terrain.

In the case of the Revolutionary War, these tactics obviated much of the advantage that numbers, equipment and training conveyed to the British; in some cases, the ability of the smaller force to quickly adapt, like a sort of Judo, actually turned the size and discipline of the British forces into an advantage.

Asymmetric business

This idea of asymmetric warfare is a useful concept to understand because it’s an apt metaphor for what can happen in today’s business climate. Businesses today compete in an asymmetric environment. This asymmetry can be seen across multiple dimensions; one is the growing asymmetry when it comes to business competition. In the past, it was challenging for smaller organisations – like a start-up, small or medium-sized business – to compete with more established and larger firms.

Jul-Sep 2015 Issue