Friction Favors the Defense Because An Attack Takes Time

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One of the reasons the defensive form of warfare is so strong is the difficulty of launching a surprise attack.

“In theory, " says Clausewitz, “surprise promises a great deal. In practice, it generally strikes fast by the friction of the whole machine. "

In theory, the 1916 battle of the Somme was going to be a surprise attack. But after moving a million men into position and waiting a week for the artillery to do its job, the Allies were left with little surprise.

The larger the operation, the less the surprise. A small company might be able to surprise a big company with a new product. But Ford is unlikely to pull any fast ones on General Motors. The friction of the whole machine gets in the way.

When you look at case histories of leaders who were taken by surprise, you usually find they had ample warning. Leader gets overrun when they ignore those warnings or pooh-pooh the efforts of the competition.

In Mein Kampf, a book that sold some 10 million copies Hitler told England and France exactly what he intended to do. A decade later he did it.

An attacker in a military campaign not only tends to sacrifice surprise but also wastes time in bringing the forces into action. Because of logistics problems, it can be days or weeks before the full force of an attack is felt by a defender-time that can be enormously useful to the defense.

On D day, only 156,115 troops were put ashore on the Normandy beaches in spite of a massive effort. Because of transportation and supply problems, it took several months to build up Allied strength to the millions of troops necessary to ensure success.

In a marketing attack, transportation is usually not a problem. A company can deliver products to thousands of outlets in days.

The bottleneck is communication. Getting a marketing message across to million of customer can take months or years. There is often plenty of time for the defender to blunt the attacker’s sales message by under cutting it in one form or another.

But to take advantage of time, the defender has to remain alert to potential threats from any direction.

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