"A book like no other"
Ben Gilad, expert on competitive intelligence and author of Business War Games and Early Warning
Rich Adler is a physicist, philosopher, and an entrepreneur. Of these three qualifications, it’s the middle one that first got me interested in his book, Bending the Law of Unintended Consequences (Springer, 2020). As a student of the Austrian School of Economics, appreciation of or lack of appreciation regarding unintended consequences occupy a crucial part of the philosophy of economic thoughts.
As a philosopher looking at decisions by business strategists, Dr. Adler sees the big picture. And that picture is that too many decisions are made without taking account the dynamic aspect of the real world: Competitive forces, industry evolution and reactions of high impact players ultimately determine a company, a manager or an entrepreneur’s success.
Despite his pedigree, or maybe because of it, Adler is very modest in his promises. He doesn’t claim to avoid LUC. Instead, he wants to “bend it”. This is beautiful. He adopts Herbert Simon’s Satisficing model that doesn’t promote neoclassical economics’ optimization models, but calls for a solution that satisfices given our limited knowledge (bounded rationality). His dynamic simulation model is genius- it combines heuristic decision rules (if this or that happens, do this or that), rivals’ behaviors, changing future scenarios and comparison of various strategies performance across several matrices, not just market share.
At the age of Predictive Analytics’ hype where models generate discrete snapshots of outcomes at particular instants, Adler’s dynamic simulation “test-drive” for decisions projects outcomes of competitive strategies “as movies that play out continuously over time. And these movies can be redone rapidly, simply by modifying dynamic scenarios and simulating them again.”
My respect towards Adler’s modeling stems not only from the flexibility of the strategy “movie” but from the acknowledged need for expert competitive intelligence (CI) to populate the various variables going into the model. As competitive inputs deepen, so does the value of the model. This is not just “dumb” deterministic regression model using Big historical Data and fitting a line but a real test drive using perspectives on an uncertain future derived from market expertise.
Adler’s understanding of how decisions are made in corporate is impressive. He provides several case studies of how his model works including marketing of drugs. This section (Chapter 10) mirrored everything I learned about Pharma marketing in dozens of war games. Adler himself is a fan of war games- his model makes it possible to test drive war games’ strategic options before a strategy is actually adopted.
I haven’t read many academic business texts in the past 30 years mostly because I find them boring or unrealistic or simply inapplicable to the job of my corporate managers who deal with competitive intelligence. None of that applies to Bending the Law of Unintended Consequences. One unintended consequence of this book is in making me excited again about recommending a book to those brave souls on the frontline of besting the competition.