Rommel was the most adaptable of all the Generals.
He would change tactics to include whatever the situation was.
If his tanks ran out of fuel, he’d take it from petrol stations.
If his men ran out of food, he’d take it from farms.
For Rommel, the essence of success was keep moving.
Don’t stop and think.
Change and adapt as you go.
He knew this attitude created its own momentum.
You’ll try things the competition won’t.
So you’ll have an advantage.
You can think of alternatives they wouldn’t dare.
You’ll be more creative.

And if you’re creative enough, nothing can stop you.
A great example happened in France in 1940.
Rommel’s troops were suddenly attacked by over a hundred heavily armoured French and British tanks.
The German anti-tank guns couldn’t penetrate their thick armour.

The standard 37mm shells just bounced off.
The German troops began to fall back.
Rommel realised the anti-tank guns weren’t powerful enough.
But what alternative did he have?
The only guns he had that were more powerful were the massive 88mm anti-aircraft guns.
So, totally against all conventional wisdom, Rommel lowered his anti-aircraft guns and used them.
They opened up the British and French tanks like eggshells.
After that battle, the 88mm anti-aircraft gun became the best anti-tank gun of the war.
It could destroy any tank the allies could build.
In fact it could destroy any tank from over a mile away.
Further than any other gun.
Even though it wasn’t built to do it.
In fact, exactly because it wasn’t built to do it.
It was built to shoot a shell at a plane five miles above, straight up.
So it was amazingly powerful.
It was built to shoot at just a tiny speck in the sky.
So it was amazingly accurate.
By the end of the war, the 88mm had destroyed more tanks than any other gun, on either side.
And it wasn’t designed to do it.
But Rommel adapted it to suit his purpose.
And if he hadn’t done that, the British and French tanks wouldn’t have been destroyed.
If Rommel had stuck rigidly to conventional thinking.
If he’d followed the book to the letter.
But Rommel realised strategy is long term and tactics is short term.
Strategy is slow and ponderous, tactics is fast and adaptable.
Strategy favours those with superior resources and lots of time.
Tactics favours those with inferior resources and no time.
Strategy is about getting a result in the future.
Tactics is about getting a result now.
Strategy is about sticking to a plan, whether or not it’s working.
Tactics is about changing the plan to fit what’s happening.
Neither is right or wrong.
But they are different.
Strategy is the domain of the planner.
To keep their eye on the long term view, to hold the vision on track.
Tactics is the domain of the creative.
To get the maximum return on the resources at their disposal right now.
Creatives should be about winning in the short term.
Planners should be about winning in the long term.
That’s the story of World War Two.
In 1940, the British and French had strategists in charge, who couldn’t adapt to the short term changing situation.
In 1940, the Germans won because they had tacticians in charge who could adapt faster.
Five years later the entire situation had changed.
By now the Germans were fighting the Russians and Americans.
But they had no strategy for this, just tactics.
The allies now had many, many more resources.
So they had a long term strategy, which they stuck rigidly to.
Basically, tactics wins battles, strategy wins wars.

We must make sure not to put the wrong people in charge of the wrong job.

  • jeff hill

    I love your blog Dave, one question though. Agencies traditionally were run by toffs for toffs, and still are I reckon. Do you think a twenty-something DT would get a start in the industry nowadays? How should a 16-something seriously wannabe copywriter hone his tactics and develop his strategy in 2012 in order to get a start?

  • Soap Box

    I used to think long term,
    then I ran out of time! :)

  • Dave Trott

    it’s all about targeting.
    Work out what your strengths are, and who you’d appeal to (just like doing an ad).
    Then hone in on that area, just like doing an ad.
    When I started I just targeted creative directors specifically.
    Research your target market, just like doing an ad.
    Find out (individually and generally) what they want.
    Do a SWOT analysis on yourself, the market, and the individual and their agency.
    This automatically gives you an advantage over everyone else.
    They are acting like robots and doing none of this.

  • Soap Box

    Just tell them how great they are Jeff,
    that usually works!

    Apart from the smart ones – like Dave :)

    I was going to ask where Grilla had gone,
    but I’m not sure I’ve got the energy?

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