There is a principle that I teach my martial arts students: don’t play by your opponent’s rules. Your opponent will try to set the terms of an encounter such that they favor him. Don’t let him. Change the game
Inside our dojo there’s a very easy example. We practice a full range martial art that combines the grappling and throws of jujitsu with the kicks, punches and other strikes of kickboxing and karate. With the explosive growth and popularity of MMA, this is a lot more common than it used to be. Even so, the majority of martial artists still heavily emphasize one portion of this curriculum, ground work, takedowns or upright striking, over the rest.
It is usually quite easy to determine at the start of a fight which of these ranges your opponent wants to be in. If he’s a ground fighter, he will try to get you to the ground very quickly. If he’s an upright fighter, he will try to keep at an optimal range for his preferred strikes (kicks or punches). If he’s focused on takedowns, he will position accordingly.
The key is to deny him his preferred zone. If he’s a ground fighter, force him to stay upright. If he’s an upright fighter, take him to the ground. If he’s focused on takedowns, keep him at bay with your strikes or take him to the ground with you. In any case, don’t play by his rules. Change the game.
The example here is easy and clear. Most of life isn’t. Yet you see this happen outside the martial arts all the time. It happens in sports, when a team develops a new kind of offense or defense. It happens in war, when one side develops groundbreaking new technology and/or tactics. It happens in business, when one company develops an entirely new business model.
GPS changed the game for American soldiers in the early 1990s. Saddam Hussein believed his army safe because no army had ever crossed the open Iraqi desert – ever. Navigation is tricky when you’re surrounded by nothing but sand. Yet GPS allowed the US Army to cross it with ease, catching him completely off guard.
Amazon changed the game for global retail. The ability to buy nearly anything from the convenience of your own home, coupled with timely delivery and affordable shipping revolutionized commerce. To be fair, if they hadn’t gotten there first, someone else would have done it. Yet they were the ones there, making it happen. Later they changed the game again, revolutionizing the book industry with e-books.
I’m not generally a sports guy, so don’t look to me for the sports analogy here. But it exists, I promise.
Often, people try to change the game and fizzle out. A great many web companies died in the crash of 2000 because they were unable to change the game the way they wished to. Sometimes the change comes slower than desired. A great many companies tried software subscription models a decade ago. The world wasn’t ready for it. Yet today, Adobe, Microsoft, and others are having great success with it.
Donald Trump is trying to change the game in politics. Scott Adams likes to say that he brought a flame thrower to a knife fight. At the moment, every sign indicates that he’s been successful. But the real proof comes next week in Iowa. We will find out if Mr. Adams is correct, or if Mr. Trump brought a knife to a gunfight.
If Trump succeeds, the game will change forever. Politicians from here forward will study his campaign and try to emulate it – just as every Presidential candidate now tries to emulate Jimmy Carter’s Iowa-then-New-Hampshire-momentum victory strategy. The next candidate to follow his lead will be less successful precisely because of Trump’s success; his opponents will also be following Trump’s lead.
Iowa will be the most interesting test. Everybody assumes you need a killer “ground game” to get out the vote in Iowa and win. Trump thinks he can win it a different way, with a different campaign. He is either right or he is wrong. Looking at the recent poll numbers, however, I think he might well be correct.
Given the commanding lead he carries in New Hampshire – a state with a primary rather than a caucus, and hence less dependent upon a get-out-the-vote operation – if he wins Iowa, it’s hard to see how he doesn’t go on to absolutely dominate New Hampshire. And given the way voters tend to latch on to the winner, it’s hard to see how he doesn’t run the table and win every single state in the primary.
As of today’s polls – and more importantly, the direction that they’re changing in – I strongly believe that Trump will win Iowa. And I think he will continue on to run the table. I also think that come November he will beat Bernie Sanders like a drum, carrying 40+ states in the biggest landslide since Reagan v. Dukakis in 1984.
Tomorrow: why I think Hillary will lose the Democratic nomination.
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