The problem of knowledge gaps
It is easy to see how Web masters, graphic designers, programmers and other technologists can be described as experts or specialists. They have a particular area of speciality knowledge in which they can become particularly proficient. Such knowledge usually has a tangible form that can be seen or experienced; it can be described and formulated in books, magazines and on Web sites.
In sharp contrast, the expertise of the strategist, the skill of the street wise, the acumen of the business person is far more nebulous. No game of strategy can ever be formulised or defined because, if it could be, it wouldn't be a game of strategy at all: it would be a problem solvable with algorithms.
Game strategists deal in mental models and abstract representations. They use heuristic rules to probe, search and prune a problem space. They extract the essence of previous experience and apply it to the present and future, generating potentially fruitful new conclusions.
More specifically, the game strategist is an expert at the art of deferral: the leaving of part of a solution until more evidence or information comes to light. In this way, solutions are constructed as loosely connected modules that start out as incomplete and indefinite structures. Initially connected by supposition and intelligent guesswork, these roughly tacked together solutions are then put to the test to reveal the weaknesses.
Modules forming the basis of such structures are not pre planned. Their inclusion is not anticipated. They arrive by chance and circumstance. The process can be likened to a strategy to solve a jig saw puzzle. This is not solved by means of an algorithmic plan but by a series of associations. The puzzle is not solved by starting at one edge and building across the puzzle; it is best solved by identifying certain characteristics and building little islands of matching pieces. As the islands grow, they start to meld together into a main picture and it then becomes easier to identify the missing pieces to fill in the gaps.
The mental trick for the e-business strategist is to see the development of an e-business as something similar to putting together the pieces of a jig saw puzzle. But, the pieces are not matching pieces of wood or cardboard: they are ideas, information and people. Think of these ideas, information and people as being scattered around the Internet and the game is to find the matching pieces and put them all together to create a sensible looking picture.
To find the pieces to create one particular puzzle would be difficult. This is the equivalent of trying to start an e-business based upon a set plan or a single great idea. A far better strategy is to imagine that there is not a single puzzle, but many puzzles: where the pieces are all mixed together in many giant heaps. A search for matching pieces will then not be restricted to finding a single solution, but, would allow any of many possible solutions to emerge.
Now, imagine these heaps of puzzle pieces being the object of a game, with several players each trying to be the first to complete one of the puzzles. This will be a fair representation of the kind of game that is played in the world of e-business. The pieces are ideas, information and people, the heaps, where they are to be found and matched together, are list serves.
It is in viewing the game of e-business in this light that a suitable strategy can be visualised. This allows us to now see the strategy of the businessman, portrayed in the dialogue of chapter 3, as a person building little islands of matching parts, constantly growing them from components derived through participating in list serves.
His options are not in the form of ideas or plans, they are in the form of partly assembled puzzles consisting of different mixes of matching ideas, information and people. Each option is developed piece by piece through chance and opportunity until one of the options start to form a complete and clear picture.
The strategy then is not to look for the pieces of a single particular puzzle, but, to keep an open mind so that one of many possible solutions can emerge. This make full sense if you understand that many puzzles have missing pieces and to go for just a single puzzle could see you running into a dead end where the puzzle has no practical solution.