You're courting a lover, planning a football play, looking for a new job, plotting a company takeover, anticipating a business rout or bruising for a fight with your boss.
How to improve your chances?
You heard it right. If life's a constant battle, reasons 43-year-old William Peacock, why not take a lesson from the generals? Leave it to a close-cropped former Marine to apply MOOSEMUSS -- an acronym for the nine basic principles of war -- to the situations of everyday life. And leave it to this same Harvard Law grad -- who's traded his stripes for pinstripes -- to advocate bringing war games into the boardroom.
He's not the first to have begged comparison between the two theaters of competition. "War is most like trade," wrote Friedrich Engels. Mused poet John Dryden: "War is the trade of kings."
But times have changed. Hence, Peacock's book Corporate Combat (Facts on File, $15.95) is aimed at a generation of new managers who, by dint of their gender or politics, may have missed learning their military lessons firsthand.
"There's a whole generation of managers coming up who felt alienated from military service and so don't understand this thought process because they didn't experience it," says Peacock, assistant secretary of the Army under President Carter and now head of two St. Louis firms. "But they report to corporate executives who spent time in World War II and Korea and do understand these principles.
"People who understand this form of analysis in a concrete sense instead of intuitively are a leg up in a military or business decision. In the crucible of competition, if you're not aware of these principles intuitively or by having training in them, you're far more likely to come out on the losing end."
In Corporate Combat, Peacock makes an entertaining -- if labored -- attempt to compare battles and business campaigns according to a time-honored logical framework. To evaluate any decision against this framework, he says, the idea is to test it point by point against the MOOSEMUSS checklist. Consider all points -- emphasizing some, eliminating those not relevant -- and, says Peacock, you can be fairly well assured you've left nothing to chance.
The principles are (Ten-hut! Drill time!):
Economy of force
Unity of Command
As an example of "maneuver," take the 1980 assault by the tiny American Greetings Corp. against the mighty Hallmark empire. Recognizing the futility of a head-to-head confrontation, American Greetings stole a share of the greeting-card market by creating the novelty doll Strawberry Shortcake.
That corporate end-run, says Peacock, was a classic maneuver straight from the pages of military history. No less-famed practitioner than Gen. Douglas MacArthur used a similar formula in his daring Inchon landing in 1950. To rout the North Koreans from South Korea, MacArthur's United Nations force secured a beachhead at the "impregnable" seaport city of Inchon -- a maneuver that succeeded largely because it was unexpected.
There are, of course, problems with such comparisons. Does Inchon illustrate "maneuver" or "surprise"? Was American Greetings' bid for success as desperate a measure as MacArthur's landing? In another example, does "surprise" really explain Volkswagen's use of a service contract to overcome American sales resistance the way it explains Israel's raid on Entebbe?
Peacock defends the concept. "I don't think the comparisons are contrived." Nor does he find a problem in holding military campaigns, most of them American, up for example. "I'm not here to glorify war," he says. "While war itself is an ugly truth, the art of war is designed to save lives. War is the ultimate test of an individual's will or a nation's will."
Why were some better-known business moves -- like Bendix's abortive takeover bid of Martin Marietta -- notably omitted? "I stayed off Bill Agee. He's a friend of mine. I made a strategic decision to leave that alone."
Peacock, who instinctively bolts to open doors for women and flank them on the street, says no male bias was intended in his book, whose jacket illustration is of a gray, pin-striped business suit adorned with an Army camouflage necktie. "There are a lot of pin-striped suits on women in Washington. I mean, look at Elizabeth Dole."
While conceding that the book's subject is men -- "most American corporations happen to be run by men, and most Americans who happen to have been in combat are men" -- he says there are lessons for women on how these still-male-dominated spheres operate. Especially because role models are scarce for young businesswomen, says Peacock, a time-tested system of decision-making is more important.
Hold on, you say. You're not the military type.Remember that, says Peacock, the next time they bring out the corporate artillery.