IV. The Strategy Q-Ship's Odyssey, Setting Sail with a Cargo of Q3



Educing a Q3-Strategy, a Voyage of Discovery

    A Q-ship sets sail, ladened with 36 ICE cubes, i.e. Qoogols, on an allegorical journey of strategic discovery in quest of the Holy Grail of "sustainable competitive advantage." (The Qoogol cargo is elaborated upon in the bottom subpage: "V. 36 Tools & Techniques 1950 - 2010.) The Q-ship crosses the threatening Red Ocean1 menaced by Sharks2 and passes to the promising Blue Ocean3 accompanied by Dolphins.4 Arriving on the new continent the crew sets forth on a Strategy Safari.5 (The footnotes explain the strategy references. Qoogles and Q-ships are explained at sections (1) and (3) respectively below.)

    Cargo profitably unloaded, the ship returns to its homeport with a Q-strategy. It is refitted to set sail on the next voyage of discovery. These voyages are fraught with peril. Lady Luck plays a role that is frequently underestimated and seldom acknowledged.

    The voyages are elaborated upon below in seven sections: (1) Ice Qoogols, (2) the Port of Departure, (3) Q-Ships, (4) The Q3-Strategy, (5) Lady Luck, a respectful bow, including a link to a rare and striking photograph of her, followed by a brief acknowledgement of her sister, Lady Fortuna, (6) The Perils of the Journey and (7) Quack, Quack - a Warning.


1) ICE Qoogols

    ICE Qoogols are the asking of iterative questions relevant to strategy. To explain the two words in turn, ICE may be used as a strategy acronym for the triad:


Initial        Core            Evaluation - what is really our business, where to compete


Improved  Competency Execution - communicating & implementing the strategy


Inimitable Corporate     Excellence - sustaining the competitive advantage


    Qoogol TM 6 is a word formed by changing the g of googol to a Q for question, to refer to the asking of 10 to the 100th questions. That is not, of course, possible. The implication is that one persists in asking questions, in challenging the conventional wisdom. That does not mean one asks innumerable random questions willy-nilly in countless meetings. Most executives are already spending too much time in meetings, not too little. Meetings do not need to metastasize. Rather the implication is that one should use an iterative questioning process.

    On the one hand MBAs are often accused of "analysis paralysis." On the other hand, minted, indeed steeled, in case study classrooms, they have acquired the habit of rapid response to incomplete information. That is the situation most CEOs, remote from the front lines, find themselves in. Furthermore the CEOs of publicly traded corporations typically face the "rapid response" pressures of quarterly reports. The prerequisite for effective strategy, above and beyond the good will of Lady Luck, is a deep, rich knowledge base. It is what allows one to ask the right questions. Acquiring it is usually associated with a considerable investment of time.

    Sets of Qoogols from which such questions can be derived are given at "36 Tools & Techniques." The single most powerful component of these Qoogols is the word "why." 


2) Port of departure

You can´t get there from here if you don´t have a destination! One needs to set goals and prepare an action plan. Then one needs to follow through on the actions to ensure achieving the goals (coach = co-achieve). Key to that is keeping track of the metrics, an essential one of which is elapsed time. What gets measured, gets performed!

Goals should be SMART:7


          Specific                      Strategic - goals should generate

            Measurable                  Momentum - and include several

              Achievable                     Alternatives - as well as negotiating
                Realistic                          Reconciliation - of differences with

                  Timely                              Tenacious - monitoring and follow-up. 


3) Q-ships

    These were heavily armed merchant ships (also called Special Service or Mystery ships) whose weaponry was concealed. They were introduced during World War I in Ireland at Queenstown, hence the code name Q-ship. They were designed to lure German submarines, the feared U-boats, into making surface attacks.

    These early U-boats did not carry many of the expensive torpedoes, so the U-boat captains did not like to "waste" them on smaller targets. Furthermore Q-ships often carried cargoes of wood: balsa, cork, caskets, etc. Hence if torpedoed they might stay afloat. Therefore the U-boat captain preferred to surface and "surgically" sink the defenseless freighter (or fishing vessel) with a deck gun. This gave the Q-ship a chance to turn the tables, opening fire on the submarine and destroying it.

    In World War I the British Royal Navy converted about 200 fishing boats and freighters to Q-ships. The Imperial German Navy also commissioned six Q-ships during the war to patrol in the Baltic Sea. (Wikipedia, 2010) Q-ships were used to a lesser extent by both the British and the United States Navies during World War II.

    A Q-train has a heavy contingent of railway police on it to combat railway theft and vandalism.

    Q-cars look like ordinary cars, but have been souped up and turbocharged to give them race car like performance. A popular example in the U.S. was to re-fit a VW bug with a Porsche engine, etc.

    For a Q-Ship to be successful, it had to be at the right place at the right time. A certain element of luck played a role. This element also applies to corporate strategy. Q3-Strategies are no exception.


4) The Q3-Strategy

    Q3-strategies reflect extensive modification of standard ones in order to achieve superior performance. They are (1) Quorum (client) specific, based on (2) Questioning, and reflect  (3) a Quatenary of Strategic Schools: positioning, entrepreneurial, cultural and power. Further discussion is on these Services subpages.


5) Lady Luck  & Lady Fortuna

    An apocryphal story about Napoleon is that he was once asked what characteristics he looked for in his generals: courage, tactical brilliance, ability to command the loyalty of the troops, tenacity, etc. Napoleon shook his head. He didn´t really care about any of that. He wanted one characteristic of his generals, only one. He wanted lucky generals.

    Interestingly a leading Silicon Valley venture capitalist, Guy Kawasaki, founder of Garage Technology Ventures, has also made a comment along these lines. He was once asked at a presentation what the difference was between those teams with a good idea who made it, and those with a good one idea did not. He answered that the real difference was luck. 

    A third bow to Lady Luck is made by Gary Hamel, a strategy professor at London Business School and one of the leading authorities in the field: "A key thing to remember is that truly innovative strategies are always, and I mean always, the result of lucky foresight."8

    One commonly hears that half of getting lucky is just to show up. That statement is only partly correct. The best way to court Lady Luck is to show up prepared. Also she appreciates it if you show up prepared not once, not twice, but relentlessly, i.e. forever. Even then, she is not reliable. She is striking, elegant, mysterious, by no means prudish, but also capricious and a potentially lethal femme fatale.

    In 1992, Tono Stano, an art photographer in the Prague, Czech Republic, took one of the very rare photographs of her.9 She has a penchant for secrecy and her extreme mood swings are legendary. Therefore respecting her privacy seems prudent, above all when the photographer caught her half-naked (well, almost)!

    Therefore that photo is not shown here. However for those readers who cannot restrain their prurient interest, we provide a link to that webpage.  To see Lady Luck click (just once) on the last image on the right. You will note that she does indeed set an exclamation point to many an endeavor.

    Her sister, Lady Fortuna, is also fickle. Her attention span is short; she is easily distracted and constantly on the lookout for someone more deserving of her favors. However in marked contrast to her photophobic sister, there are innumerable pictures of her. (For a picture of the two sisters' very attractive niece, Miss Fortuitous, also a little camera shy, see Market Research, Mini-Case Study #4 at Marketing Strategy.)


               *         *



Shakespeare said it well:



"Oft expectation fails, and most oft there

Where most it promises; and oft it hits

Where hope is coldest, and despair most fits."

All's Well That Ends Well (II, i, 145-147)



6) The Perils of the Journey

    Three dangers are encountered. The first is as one prepares for the journey - the ICE (1) of strategy formation. Besides the well-known planning peril of "analysis paralysis" there is also the "master carpenter syndrome." Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) of New York was a professor of psychology who is best known for his "hierarchy of needs" pyramid. He once astutely observed: "He that is good with a hammer tends to think everything is a nail." To the strategy coach, enamored of Socrates, everything looks like a question. A strength, when excessive, can turn into a weakness. That absolutely everything needs to be questioned is unlikely.

    The second danger arises as one is underway - the ICE (2) of implementing the strategy. Unforeseen competitors, technology leaps and capricious Lady Luck can always torpedo even the best equipped Q-Ship. The enticing songs of new consumer markets may come from the sirens of Greek mythology. (With the heads, breasts and arms of women but otherwise the form of birds, their enchanting melodies lured mariners to their destruction.) Navigating between Charybdis, the whirlpool of tradition drowning change, and Scylla, the hungry six-headed monster of global competition, is a challenge that would daunt Odysseus himself.

    The third danger is the most insidious of all, what to do after the journey is over and the Holy Grail of sustainable competitive advantage, ICE (3), has, one believes, been found. Deservedly, one celebrates the success. Yet beware of success! It can lead to hubris and arrogance. These cloud one´s vision about paradigm shifts, new entrants and changes in customer preferences. Two sobering examples of "ships lost at sea with all hands" are given at "Strategy Repair" on its subpages "Instant Bankruptcy, The CFS Story and the Billionaire Coach" in the U.S. and "Slow Motion Bankrupty, The Stinnes Imperium" in Germany.


7)  Quack, Quack - A Warning
    As powerful as Qoogols are, they can be rendered impotent merely by adding unnecessary complexity to them. After all, that is what one learns in graduate school, how to pose complicated questions. One can easily get lost in a sea of them. The poem below, replete with obscure Q-words, is a friendly warning about excessively Socratic strategy formation. 


Query the Quaky Quotidian Quibbling
in the Quaint Quixotic Quest
through the Quashy Qyrghyzian Quagmire
to Quantify and Qualify
that Quirky Quarry
the Quintessence of Quality
the Quantum leap
in strategy.

   Quack, Quack. 

An immediate glossary for one and all, in order of appearance:

    quack - the cry of the duck; to talk pretentiously without sound knowledge of the subject discussed
    query - to ask questions with an indication of doubt
    quaky - shaking, trembling
    quotidian -  something that occurs each day
    quibble - a minor objection arising from an exaggerated tendency to find fault
    quaint - unusual or different in character or appearance, odd, strange
    quixotic - marked by rash, lofty, romantic ideals doomed to fail (from Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605, 1615) by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra)
    quest - seeking, pursuit; a chivalrous enterprise in medieval romance usually involving an adventurous journey, e.g. King Arthur's Knights and the quest for the Holy Grail
    quashy - marshy, swampy, wet
    Qghyrghyzia - variation of Kirghiz, a widespread people of Turkic speech and Mongolian race who inhabit the Central Asian steppes (a vast track of arid level land in southeastern Europe and Asia)
    quagmire - a usually dry area of land converted into soft, wet ground by heavy rain or flooding; a complex or precarious position where disengagement is difficult, "a quagmire of false nonsense to a firm island of reality" - John Baxter
    quantify - to make explicit, to measure with numbers
    qualify - to reduce from a general, undefined comprehensive form to a particular or restricted one
    quirky - tricky, with sharp or unexpected features or qualities
    quarry - the prey of any predatory bird, animal or man (hunter, fisherman)
    quintessence - the most perfect or rarest distillation or extract; the consummate instance
    quality - inherent trait, attribute
    quantum leap - an abrupt significant increase

    Moral:  The duck to admire is the one quietly swimming across the pond. What you see looks calm and serene, but underneath, he is paddling away furiously. The loudly quaking duck is usually less worthy of attention. (The voices of competence and authority seldom need to be raised. Hence one is behooved to heed the trumpeting of the normally quiet and peaceful elephant.)


1 Red Ocean refers to existing industries. A "Red Ocean Strategy" is based on conventional approaches, often couched in military terms, to beating the competition. The phrase was coined by the INSEAD professors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne in the book that is cited at footnote 3 below. This powerful metaphor is used in the subpage - II. The Q-Strategy Sailing the Ocean Blue, Charting New Market Space.


2 Harvey MacKay, Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive: Outsell, Outmanage, Outmotivate, and Outnegotiate Your Competition, William Morrow & Co., 1988. This book is deservedly one of the all-time business bestseller classics.


3 Blue Ocean refers to industries that do not yet exist. A "Blue Ocean Strategy" seeks to align innovation with utility, price and cost positions to create new market space, new industries. This theme is central to the book by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Spance and Make Competition Irrelevant, Harvard Business School Pub., 2005.


4 Dudley Lynch and Paul L. Kordis, Strategy of the Dolphin, Ballantine Books, 1988. The book is oriented towards self-empowerment and is useful for leadership coaching.


5 Henry Mintzberg, Bruce Ahlstradn and Joseph Lampel, Strategy Safari, A Guided Tour Through the Wilds of Strategic Management, Free Press, 1998. This book is a strategy classic.


6 TM and ® stand for (registered) Trademark. The words Qoogol and Quegol to mean asking a lot of questions were coined in a flight of whimsy on my birthday after a VIth form math class by Mr. Flint at Brooks School, North Andover, Mass. Mr. Flint had told us what a googol was, as explained below at 6.1. (He was the best math teacher I ever had. I believe he had studied physics at Harvard and, upon retiring, came to Brooks to teach math.) The word is formed by changing the g of googol to a Q (for questions). The first time I can find that I used it in German, "das Qoogol," was 18.04.2006.

    In the 80s I once encountered a retired professor from Stanford who liked to use the word. He told me he had coined it as a graduate student. He dryly commented that he seriously doubted he was the first to think of it either. Changing the first letter of a word to come up with a new word is not really all that much of a creative leap.

    A made-up word can not, in fact, be copyrighted in Europe or the United States. ("Copyright does not protect names, titles, slogans or short phrases." www.copyright.gov at FAQs, April, 2011.) That is discouraging for anyone with a penchant for logodaedaly.-*  

    However there is an interesting case in Germany about a T-shirt printed with STFU- -* on it. A clever German firm noted the popularity of the term in Internet exchanges among Americans, and went ahead and printed a T-shirt with it. An even cleverer firm had trademarked the acronym in Germany. It then sued the T-shirt maker. The word shows up with an Internet search (April 2011) 290,000 times in German usage. That could be often enough for it to be ruled to have entered the language through common usage. In that case, the original trademark application might be void.

    As far as Bridges is concerned, the word Qoogol may be used by one and all as they wish. (Interestingly, there is a Qoogol Channel on YouTube. Therefore YouTube might not be too keen on your marketing videos under that name.)


- * logodaedaly - the arbitrary or capricious coinage of words (Webster´s III)

--* STFU - Shut the F. . k Up


6.1 Googol (not Qoogol) is the figure 1 followed by 100 zeros, or ten to the one-hundredth power. That is a large number, larger than the number of elementary particles in the observable universe, for which estimates of 1079 to 1085 have been made. The Wikipedia articles (2010) about googol and Dr. Edward Kasner (1878 - 1955) give an interesting etymology. In 1920 Kasner (1878-1955), an American mathematician who had earned his PhD at Columbia University, was taking a walk in the New Jersey Palisades with his nine year old nephew, Milton Sirotta. He asked for suggestions to name a very large number, viz. 1 with 100 zeros.

    Milton suggested "googol" and followed with another suggestion for an even bigger number, "googolplex" for a "one, followed by zeros until you get tired."  Kasner formalized the definition of googolplex to 10 to the tenth to the one-hundredth power, which is the largest named number in common usage. (In theoretical mathematics there are specifically defined larger numbers written with tetration.)

    The googol was introduced to the public in a book Kasner wrote with James Newman, Mathematics and the Imagination, 1940, which was reprinted by Tempus Books of Microsoft Press in 1989, where googol appears on p. 23. Google, the Internet search engine, is derived (a misspelling?) from googol. The company´s headquarters in Mountain View, California is named Googleplex.


7 The original acronym SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) was created by George T. Doran, 1981.


8 Gary Hamel in the chapter "Strategies that Learn" of Strategy Bites Back by Henry Mintzberg, Bruce Ahlstrand, Joesph Lampel, Pearson Ed., 2005, p. 220. Hamel is the author of three respected books on management: Competing for the Future, 1996 with C.K. Prahalad, Leading the Revolution, 2002 (which unfortunately had a very positive write-up of Enron shortly before its demise) and The Future of Management, 2007. He is best known for the concept of "core competency," which he originated (1990) with C.K. Prahalad of the University of Michigan. 


9 The photograph of the enigmatic Lady Luck which one reaches through the link may have been originally entitled "Rückkehr der Welle" (Return of the Wave). At any rate it appears in Der Sinn, by Tono Stano, Museum of Decorative Arts, Prague, Czech Republic, 1992. It has been widely distributed in art books, magazines and, of course, on the Internet. For instance, at Amazon.com it is shown as the front cover of the photography book The Body by William A. Ewing.

    In fact, the photo used to be featured (2010) in the Wikipedia article about Tono Stano. Later (2011) Wikipedia shows no examples of his work at all, strange for an article about an artist. (Perhaps he asked them to be taken down because he is hostile to free advertising?) He is known for taking striking posed photos, including imaginative portraits of women. He is not to be confused with Tony Santos, also a photographer of women.


§ Lady Fortuna is depicted with a photograph of Bridget Bardot taken by Michel Bernanau in 1968. (GNU CCAL 2.5, Wikipedia) She was married for three years to Gunter Sachs, a German playboy, later photograher and art collector. He owed his "Fortuna" of about 500 million Euro to his having inherited one of Germany´s largest automotive suppliers, which had been solely owned by his father. (He disengaged from it in 1976.)

    He courted Bridget Bardot by flying over her villa on the French Riveria in a heliocopter, throwing out hundreds of roses. Gunter Sachs third, and last, marriage to a Swedish model in 1969 lasted 42 years until his suicide. Facing Alzheimers, he shot himself at the age of 78 in May, 2011. In his final letter he stated that he did not want to lose control over his life. He was countering that by acting decisively: "Der Verlust der geistigen Kontrolle über mein Leben wäre ein würdeloser Zustand, dem ich mich entschlossen habe, entschieden entgegen zu treten." An exit with one´s dignity intact, Lady Luck and Lady Fortuna would concur, is preferable.  



    *© The Indian barque Tarangini passing under the Newport Bridge, Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island                   U.S., by Cruadin, 1 July 2007, GNU-CCAS 2.5; Elephant image - Dreamstime; Gyan Web Design 2010