How to forecast your opponent's morale

In assessing how willing an opponent, a competitor, an aggressor is to then win that vital inch - how can you forecast how motivated they are to win?

'In any fight, it's the guy whose willing to die whose gonna win that inch.'

That's a quote from the movie Any Given Sunday - there is no doubt that you remember it.

In assessing how willing an opponent, a competitor, an aggressor is to then win that vital inch - how can you forecast how motivated they are to win?

Innovation disruption is a construct that I help organisations to achieve daily, and in many cases, the challenge is not in the generating of the innovative ideas of how to vastly improve a value proposition - the challenge lies in the core motivation of the teams of people to create and deliver that innovation.

Innovation takes a lot of effort - it's a hard fight; to succeed at it - people need to be highly-motivated.

But how can teams of people be motivated to go that extra inch?

In answer to that - some very interesting research is being done by behavioural scientists on what motivates people in situations of war.

What motivates people to leave their homes and their families to go out there and be willing to die for what they believe in?

Assessing enemy morale is crucial to warcraft. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, a political scientist at New York University, reckons human will matters enough for four wars in ten to be won by what starts off, in strict military terms, as the weaker side.

How then can you forecast the morale of a group of people?

Behavioural scientists are now, however, bringing the power of modern computing to bear on the question. Defence planners have long used computers to forecast the results of conflicts by crunching data on things like troop numbers, weapons capabilities, ammunition supplies and body- and vehicle-armour.
The next step is to extend the idea into the area of morale, by quantifying the psychological variables that determine whether troops will flee, or stand and fight.

What the research points to is that when an individual's personal identity has been completely 'fused' with the goals and ideals of the collective culture that they identify with - then they will be willing to sacrifice anything (including their lives) to not be rejected by that group.

The key here is the mental fusing of the identities of the individual with the collective.

Which might then suggest why larger companies struggle to innovate as well as startups. In any corporate set up, individuals perform their roles as an employee; they're not typically personally embedded, or fused with the vision of the organisation.

They are free to leave at any time.

Startups are smaller, more closely-knit and the founders tend of operate within them with significant skin-in-the-game (they hold equity and feel a personal responsibility to their peers). They dream about the future what-ifs of their effort - they're highly motivated to act.

They're willing to fight harder and longer than those who are simply drawing a salary from their employer.

So it really does come down to culture and just how strong the mental picture of the future ideal is, which is held by the individuals within that culture. That's why things like a strong vision, ritual and measurable milestones are so important.

Explore more:

How to forecast armies’ will to fight
What motivates the dogs of war?
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