The Guerrilla

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“Attack where he is unprepared; sally out when he does not expect you.”
– Sun Tzu

A fascinating unconventional way of combat is the guerrilla war. The guerrilla actually originated in Spain during the French occupation (1802) and placed a heavy burden on the Napoleonic forces. In the second half of the 20th century it proved to be an effective form of mobile warfare as demonstrated by the victories of Mao Zedong, Tito and Ho Chi Min and his supreme commander General Giap. The guerrilla war is a very effective method for a meagrely armed army being confronted by superior conventional forces. It is imperative that guerrillas be strongly motivated and have the support of the population. This support is vital because it is the powerbase of guerrilla forces.

The most famous guerrilla maxim was formulated by Mao Zedong:

“The enemy advances, we retreat.
The enemy halts, we harass.
The enemy seeks to avoid battle, we attack.
The enemy retreats, we pursue.”

The beauty of this maxim is that it concisely formulates the essence of the fluid tactics of
guerrilla warfare. Clearly it’s a strategy of attrition of long duration.

Mao Zedong defined it as “the strategy of the protracted conflict”. Elasticity and mobility are essential to avoid quickly an unfavourable action of the enemy, which also means that guerrilla forces must be able to obtain information about the enemy’s moves in time. It is the population which provides the necessary intelligence and shelter.

“The guerrilla must move along the people as a fish swims in the sea.”
– Mao Zedong

Because of the support of the population the guerrilla wars in China and Vietnam were successful, but the guerrilla warfare of the communist uprising in Malaysia (1950-1960) was a failure because the British succeeded in denying the guerrillas the support of the people. The guerrilla strategy aims at gradually weakening the enemy until in the long run that final moment is reached where superiority has been gained and when one has to engage in the final decisive battle in the conventional way. The problem is the transfer from guerrilla warfare to large-scale positional warfare. Small guerrilla groups are able to eat away at the enemy’s strength but cannot conquer large cities or subdue a large, well concentrated conventional army. Regular ground troops are still needed to occupy inhabited territory. This implies that the guerrilla army in the end-phase must be able to transform itself into a conventional force which is able to permanently occupy conquered territory.

Business seems to be quite attracted by the concept of the guerrilla warfare, probably because of its romantic aspects and because subterfuge, surprise, ambushes and stratagems are the order of the day. David versus Goliath! However, guerrilla warfare does not consist of just one action; it is a relentless pattern of small tactical actions. To resort to guerrilla tactics the organization needs to have the stamina to take up a strategic battle of long duration. Well orchestrated conventional flank attacks or encirclement tactics are often much more effective than the protracted strategy of the guerrilla warfare.

Guerrilla warfare is only possible when the company possesses:

1. Well motivated employees;

2. A flexible and creative organization;

3. Good products;

4. Enough stamina;

5. The sympathy of the public.

Case:

The guerrilla war of Linux vs. Microsoft

Although not at first the aim of Finnish student Linus Torvalds, it seems he launched a worldwide guerrilla war in which professional programmers and private IT aficionados alike take up the gauntlet of the seemingly almighty Microsoft concern. Nurtured by young idealism the Linux movement prospered. Expert volunteers still edit new versions of Linux and the program may be copied and distributed freely. However, automating a company using Linux demands a lot of in depth knowledge of this technically complicated operating system. One of the reasons is that the IT aficionados that helped build Linux did not have desktop user friendliness in mind when programming, but rather technical robustness and reliability of a server operating system, stemming from its root, the Unix operating system. A successful industry is starting to grow into one that earns money by offering support services and technical advice to companies that wish to switch to Linux.

From the start Microsoft’s strength was their focus on the ever-growing mass market of the desktop computer, the PC, which is used by many consumers. With the introduction of Windows, Microsoft wanted to develop a user-friendly desktop operating system.

An important distinction between Linux and Windows lies in the field of intellectual property. Contrary to Windows, Linux belongs to the category of ‘open-source software’ meaning that the source code is public. Everybody is allowed to suggest changes, which – if they are good – are adopted by the worldwide community of Linux-volunteers for use in new versions of the operating system.

The growing significance of Linux can be seen by the behavior of Microsoft’s competitors in the server and server operating system market like IBM, HP and Sun. Already these large companies provide their customers with systems running on Linux if required, because they see it as an opportunity to weaken the Microsoft domination. Supporting Linux not only means satisfying customers, but also badgering Microsoft, which is reflected by the mutually applied rhetoric. Microsoft’s top executive Steve Balmer compared Linux to a ‘cancerous tumour’ in 2001, while his competitor, Sun’s CEO Scott McNealy called Bill Gates a ‘drug dealer’.

Some headlines:

– ‘In 2000 Linux had a market share of 27% on the market of servers and computers for heavy business applications, an ever increasing percentage, and one that will continue to rise’ (IDC);

– ‘Linux advances in large companies,’ a survey by Automatiseringsgids, December 13, 2002;

– ‘Linux not only gains territory with technically well-grounded consumers, but is increasingly used on business PCs as well, even with companies with as much as 500 employees or more. Some percentages: Education 8.7 percent; Transport 3.7 percent; Utility services 3.6 percent’;

– ‘Microsoft is beginning to acknowledge the danger of competing with Linux.’ Steve Balmer, CEO of Microsoft, in a speech in London in which he declared war on Linux;

– ‘Linux has long surpassed the stage of being a toy’ (Van Driel, IBM Netherlands).

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