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The Business of Knife Fighting

The Business of Knife Fighting
© Wes Gow

Spartan is a relatively unknown spy film, and I absolutely love it. The dialogue is really smart and the performances are spot on (even if it does star the one and only “I’m your Huckleberry” Val Kilmer).

Kilmer’s character is some kind of elite military/government asset, and early in the film he shares this exchange with a sergeant after a training exercise. (The transcript below takes place at the 1:30 mark).

What do they got you teaching here, young sergeant?

Edged weapons, sir; knife fighting.

Don’t you teach ’em knife fighting. You teach ’em to kill. That way when they meet some son of a bitch [who] studied knife fighting, they send his soul to hell. It’s all in the mind, sergeant…

Did you catch that? You’re not teaching knife fighting, sergeant; you’re teaching your students to kill. A powerful change in perspective.

How does this apply to business? Easy. Blackberry was trained in knife fighting, then Apple came along and sent their souls…

Ok that’s dumb. But it’s not entirely off the mark.

Here’s the point: if a company only sees itself through the lens of what they currently produce or provide, then they may very well get left behind.

So why is Blackberry obsolete? Lots of reasons, I’m sure, but one of them is the fact that their competitor, Apple, was/is in the design business first, and the tech space second. Trained in knife fighting vs. trained to kill.

Think about it. Whatever companies were in the horse and buggy and stagecoach industries should have seen themselves in the transportation industry first. Instead, someone else beat them to the automobile, plane, and train.    

It’s called Marketing Myopia:

“a nearsighted focus on selling products and services rather than seeing the big picture of what consumers really want.”

Check out a quick summary of it here.

It’s probably worth asking, then, what business are you in, really? Companies like Kodak, Ringling Bros., Blockbuster, and many more would give anything to revisit a time when they could still get out in front of that question.