This is what is at stake in economic warfare: influence, “soft power”, which is deployed with good intelligence in order to put one’s rival under influence.
Putting one’s rival under influence must not be confused with conquest. Conquest is the language of the weak, of the vulgar, all the more so because it is costly and involves enormous risks for each party over time.
Influence is something else. It is another logic. Influence consists in seeking power over the other, over the target. One deploys with ingenuity several means to reach the objective. Among all the means offered by human existence and business life, it is essential to choose the best one but, above all, to know when to activate it.
It is by knowing your target that you can really build a strategy of attack and domination. The knowledge of the target has a name that has passed into common parlance today: intelligence, and more specifically business intelligence.
Intelligence: between socio-cultural environment and specific targeting
What big words! All these pompous notions, such as the socio-cultural environment and the adequacy with the more subtle treatments of specific targeting, seem harsh. Not at all! Truth be told, it’s pretty much the same as creating a character for a role-playing game with a good distribution of points based on that character’s abilities.
Let’s face it, the world has never offered so much information about people and organizations. There has never been so much shared knowledge and so much democratization of technical knowledge. So the most difficult thing is to know how to structure this information and map it. This is the vocation of intelligence. There are of course several types of information gathering, more or less legal and more or less supervised depending on the jurisdiction.
The easiest is OSINT (Open Source Intelligence). It is the internet, social networks, publications, histories, in short, everything that is freely given and consented to. It is also the knowledge linked to a people, a company, an administration, in time. And time on the Internet is a vast subject: the right to be forgotten versus archiving pages for posterity? In any case, access to open source information allows to set the context and to appreciate the main lines of the decisions. This is what we call the socio-cultural environment.
But we often forget that seeing the whole is not enough. The rules that apply to a whole do not all work for isolated elements. A bit like in Physics, there is General Relativity (global) and Special Relativity (specific). The information that is collected sets an operational strategy on generalities, a bit like a chess player preparing his openings. But once the pieces have begun to occupy the space, the game incorporates more specifically the particularities of each piece.
These intelligence elements are the most legally sensitive. One is directly interested in the person, his life, his psychology, his affinities. Of course, its role is integrated in the objective of influencing an entire system (i.e. a company, an administration, a country or even a federation of countries), but the information collected is aimed at identifying and exploiting a flaw in a system. And any good cybersecurity expert will tell you that the biggest flaw in an information system is human!
The trinity of influence: intelligence, operations and timing!
The perfect combination of means is nothing without perfect timing management! One of the main problems of the French culture (a mixture of Latin and Germanic cultures) and of their Germanic neighbors is the incredible confidence that exists in the collective unconscious towards technique. We often believe that mastering a technique is enough to win. But human life in general and business in particular are not based on a balanced relationship between players. There is no binary and perfectly equal reality of forces.
Influence is more a matter of combinatorial analysis than of simple mechanistic treatment. Basically, it is the good adequacy between intelligence (general and specific), formalized by operations to be deployed according to a temporal rule that creates influence. The important thing is to know your target.
To be clearer here is an example:
We have two players.
- Player A has a production force of 1000 men and an industrial factory. However, he is not able to imagine future solutions because his talent lies in rigor and not in imagination.
- Player B has a production force of 10 men and a workshop. However, he has the ability to quickly anticipate the future and to direct his limited work force in a forward-looking production direction that will nevertheless meet a general need.
- Player A and Player B compete to obtain capital and a patent (agreement from a public authority to operate a project). The session lasts 3 days.
What happens to Player B if he reveals the performance of his creation on Day 1, in order to immediately attract the attention of the Public Authority?
Don’t you think that Player A will rush to collect (general intelligence) information and instruct his factory to produce a prototype to present on Day 3? Meanwhile, Player A will use the second day to communicate with the Authority and discredit Player B (specific intelligence).
In practical terms, this kind of scenario happens all the time when a French or European company works with China. The art of economic warfare is based on this tactic of keeping silent and collecting everything necessary from these “arrogant Westerners”.
What happens to Player A if he reveals his world-serving production power in order to seduce the Public Authority?
Don’t you think that Player B will analyze the flaws of an industrial chain (general intelligence) and indicate that it is necessary to clearly identify beforehand what to provide. However, the Public Authority does not shy away from having a lasting strategic advantage, it wishes to anticipate the future and it is by this means that Player B will put it under influence (specific intelligence). In conclusion, Player B will operate behind the scenes on the second day to become the Authority’s advisor and general conductor, effectively neutralizing the power of Player A.
In practical terms, this kind of scenario corresponds to what Russia does by deploying its media and supporting parallel online networks. It steers the opinion and puts under the influence of the protesting or so-called patriotic currents. The Americans are also very good at this because they operate in the same way, but with their checkbook! They interfere.
These two scenarios show how a good knowledge of oneself, a good knowledge of the other and of the environment, coupled with timing management, allows to put under influence a target. In this case, you understood it, the target was… The Public Authority. Because very often the one who seems to have the power is in fact the prey. All influence is a game of deception. Taking the time to think is a way to avoid being intoxicated and duped.