Guerilla actions as small business strategy: out-witting is more competitively responsive than out-spending.

Author:Byus, Kent


Small and medium-sized firms face disadvantages in the dynamic global market place today. The authors suggest that "fast cycle decision making"--the application of Col. John Boyd's OODA Loop philosophy can create economic advantages that will allow the smaller firm to aggressively compete against much larger rivals. Fast cycle decision making suggests deception, rapid response and being able to "turn inside" your opponent's decision cycle. It is of interest to note that this version of guerilla warfare is now embodied in the United States Marine Corp's new doctrine of Maneuver Warfare.


Erich Fromm in his seminal work Man for Himself (1947) posited the following on the nature and character of man. He writes, "Reason, man's blessing, is also his curse; it forces him to cope everlasting with the task of solving the insoluble. Man is the only animal that can be bored, that can be discontented, and that can feel evicted from paradise. Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve and from which he cannot escape." General Gordon Sullivan, former Army Chief of Staff, suggests in his book Hope is Not a Method, that "the essential character of strategy is that it relates ends to means" (Gordon and Harper, 1996). Finally, it is often reported that Sun Tzu in the Art of War claimed that "all strategy is based on deception, with the expert approaching his objective indirectly." The authors of this manuscript propose that in business there exists a basic dilemma of gaining economic victory in the shortest possible time; incurring the lowest possible costs; while suffering the fewest delays and set-backs. Accordingly, the nature of business produces a requirement for a planning mechanism that drives decisions, creates spontaneous innovation, and produces administrative comfort within the methodical processes generally associated with business strategy. This is particularly true for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Those firms have, characteristically, severe resource constraints as compared to their large competitors and so their strategies and related tactics have to be quick, disruptive where possible, and more than anything else correct. Frequently there is no margin for error.

As considered in this manuscript, the rapid transformation of the market place from an oligopolistic domestic to the highly competitive monopolistic global has brought about an emergent use and study of guerrilla tactics. It is suggested by the authors that guerrilla actions that can increase entrepreneurial opportunism and result in the inability dominant "behemoth" institutions to SMEs when resolving market-based problems. It is reasonable to assert that the effective use and understanding of these varied and unconventional techniques gain greater and more comprehensive discussion in the decision making of SMEs with the inclusion of a specific, rapid response decision model. The purpose of this article is to initiate the creation of general theories of an otherwise random set of actions, conveniently referred to as guerrilla--a term that in many circles conjures images of disreputable bandit maneuvers that destroy order and impede objective-driven performance.

Guerrillas are decision makers. The desired economic result of this decision making is market disequilibrium and a reduction of the dominance of larger, more resourced organizations. Guerrilla activities are also effective opportunities to introduce innovation, provide economic prosperity, and create jobs. Guerrilla activities are inherently entrepreneurial in nature. Schultz (1980, pp. 439) described entrepreneurial decision-making activity as creating "disequilibria that are inevitable in the dynamics of modernization and economic growth." It is the disequilibria of the guerrilla that has the potential to produce greater value, more robust innovation, and that enhances the return on investments by SMEs. This paper suggests that there exists with guerrilla tactics a specific decision-making process that is very much in concert with entrepreneurial excitation. In general, guerrilla tactics are proactive decisions that are asynchronous, rapidly developing measures that are taken to both survive and thrive in highly competitive and economically hazardous conditions.


The term "Guerilla" means small war, the diminutive of the Spanish word guerra (war). The use of the diminutive suggests significant differences in number, tactics and scope between the guerrilla army and the formal army it opposed. The word was coined in Spanish to describe the nature of their opposition to Napoleon's regime and came to be used to describe any similar type of conflict. Clearly, guerilla warfare preceded Napoleon by centuries. The Fabian strategy applied by the Roman Republic against Hannibal in the Second Punic War was an example of guerrilla warfare. Likewise, Hungarian peasants facing the Mongols after the Battle of Mohi used guerilla tactics as did the 19th century Balkan population in conflict with the Ottoman Empire.

In later years, Mao's conquest of China, the relative success of the IRA against British forces and Ho Chi Minh's early battles in the Vietnam War are all examples of success of small, highly mobile forces with good intelligence against much larger conventional forces. It is of interest to note that the United States Marine Corps has developed a relatively new doctrine--Maneuver Warfare--that reflects the basics of guerilla warfare and also is based on the work of Col. John Boyd in his twenty years of consulting experience at the Pentagon (Richards, 2004, Santamaria, Martino & Clemons, 2004).


Strategy formulation is largely an intellectual activity; the analysis of abstract relationships; the development of plans intended to produce predictable and desirable outcomes; the manipulation of mechanical processes, inventories, and logistics, within organizational competencies and culture; constrained by the scarce resources of the firm. It is reasonable to assert that entrepreneurial firms (SMEs) have fewer and more...

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