Always be launching: The art of launching a big idea, a movement or a company

Leoni Janssen
Why mastering the art of strategic planning, adaptability, and psychological influence will set you up for success in launching big ideas, movements, or companies. From Sun Tzu's teachings to real-world examples, uncover the systematic approach that ensures every move counts.

A launch may sound like a singular event, confined to a day or a week, but in reality,  launching is a series of events that span days, weeks and even years. There are soft launches and actual launch days, with different approaches for different audiences and geographies, allowing people through different channels to gradually comprehend the essence of an idea. It takes time for launch efforts to make a real impact. 

Many now-famous companies have had multiple launch attempts - Airbnb, for instance, had to launch three times because "the first two times, nobody noticed". Most companies never talk about these but it is quite common.

Even when a first-time launch achieves some recognition and appreciation successfully, the need to continue launching and pitching to new geographies and audiences remains. I advocate for a lean launching approach: while this process is iterative and gradual, it is by no means a guessing game. 

There is a systematic approach to launching that builds on the teachings of General Sun Tzu, from four centuries BC. 

To eliminate chance and add predictability of success Sun Tzu teaches that success rates increase with knowing yourself, the other, the circumstances and the terrain. He stresses that success is about influencing how the other(s) think(s). A lot of this philosophy applies to launching too:

Strategic planning and thorough preparation - Sun Tzu advises leaders (sovereign and commanders in his case, executives in mine) to carefully analyze conditions, assess strengths and weaknesses, both of their own position and those of the people they are launching into. They have to develop a clear overall approach and consider an arsenal of tactics. "Knowing the Ground" involves understanding the terrain and adjusting strategies accordingly. "Mastering Situational Advantage" in 2023 identifies the most effective channels and tactics to reach a target audience to maximize market efforts and gain competitive advantage. 

Knowledge and Intelligence: Sun Tzu emphasizes the paramount importance of gathering accurate and timely intelligence about the outside world and understanding oneself. Both together I today call: positioning. By having information about the intentions, capabilities, and vulnerabilities of the surroundings, leadership can reduce uncertainties, enabling anticipated responses and actions. "Knowing Yourself" is mapped to business as establishing a robust brand identity. By comprehending your strengths, unique value proposition, and distinguishing factors, you can effectively position your company, product or movement in the market and differentiate yourself from competitors. Having a clear mission messaging internally is crucial from the get go. 

Adaptability and Flexibility: Sun Tzu urges leaders to embrace adaptability and flexibility in their approach. He stresses the importance of adjusting tactics and strategies in response to changing circumstances. By remaining agile and responsive to new information and unexpected developments, leadership can mitigate the impact of chance events and maintain control over the outcome. The question is not 'Will there be setbacks, but how will we respond to them.' In a launch cycle too, external circumstances and requirements are constantly assessed against tactics and actions.  Depending on the current atmosphere, you can go bold, soft, humorous, attention-grabbing, or progressively step-by-step.

Psychological game: The general advocates for creating perceptions to gain advantage. And also today leadership shapes market decision-making and increases favorable outcomes, by influencing perceptions from their current state. It is key to grasp and embrace the current opinion of the market to effectively influence it. Present reality serves as the foundation for all messaging and tactics. 

Two rules of thumb to live by: 

While this is all practical theory, Sun Tzu acknowledged that theory is easier than practice:

“Knowing how to do it, does not make one capable of doing it.” 

My take:

To become good at launching you have to do it, get out in the field, feel confident with your strategy and trust your intel, while constantly collecting new and adjusting tactics. Launching is not for the faint of heart, not for a specialist in one or the other discipline either, it requires a general(ist) that sees the big picture while getting granular in execution. A well led team, in for the long game while making every move count.

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