Home > Articles

How to Shift the Odds in Your Favor in the Best of Times and the Worst of Times

Learn how to find the “commanding vantage point” in your situation, no matter how complex or dynamic...and use your high ground to spot and maximize every opportunity.
This chapter is from the book
  • You miss 100% of the shots you never take.

    Wayne Gretsky

Hundreds of years ago, in medieval Austria, a small but determined army was trying desperately to hold on to its fortress against tremendous odds. For more than six months, the defenders had been surrounded by a hostile army. With no way to contact outside help to replenish their stocks, supplies had dwindled to a desperate level. Only one cow and two bags of grain were left.

The fortress soldiers, wracked with fatigue and hunger, turned to their commander for guidance.

Expecting their leader to say the expected, “Ration the food for as long as we can hold out,” they were astonished and perturbed when they received a different, radical reply.

“Kill the cow, stuff it with all the grain we have, and toss it over the walls when the next wave of attacks ensues.”

This seemed illogical, foolhardy, and dangerous. During the next attack, they followed the unexpected order and heaved the grain-stuffed cow over the wall. Without a doubt, they anticipated a slow, anguished death by starvation. To this day we don’t know why the soldiers complied.

But the commander had foreseen something that no one else had.

Confused by the bovine assault, several of the attackers took the cow back to their officer’s tent. The attacking officer saw it for what it was—a signal of defiance from the fortress commander, as well as a message that his soldiers had the will to fight on. If they could afford to throw a cow stuffed with excess grain over the wall, he reasoned, they must have vast stores of supplies, enough to last the entire winter. He ordered an immediate retreat.1

Uncommon Good Sense: Doing the Strategic Math

How, you might ask, does medieval cow tossing relate to twenty-first-century business? Although the average corporate suite or management office might bear little resemblance to a stone fortress under siege, the strategy of shifting focus to produce novel solutions is directly applicable to business leadership and advantage-making.

Was the fortress commander a fool who just got lucky? Was the attacking army officer incompetent? Was this just a one-time tactical maneuver, or can it illustrate a dimension of action that is overlooked?

If we faced the same situation as our Austrian commander, convention and common sense would have compelled most of us to use a strategy of persistence. Reasonably, we would have rationed the supplies to maintain our position as long as we could. That thought process, however, would do little to actually remove us from the situation or to improve it. After a week or two had passed, we would slowly succumb to hunger and thirst, and we would still be stuck in the fortress.

The shift from “ration the food” to “throw the food at the enemy” was exceptional. It didn’t conform to the general rule or pattern.

The commander did what might be called the “strategic math” on the situation. He projected the consequences of rationing the food. In two weeks, they would still be under siege, but now without food—no better off, and facing an even worse crisis.

Shifting his vantage point 180°, he realized that instead of helping, rationing the food would only prolong the inevitable. Proceeding along this line of thought, he considered how the lack of food could move from a problem for the defenders to a problem for the attackers. Food was no longer a resource for satisfying hunger; instead, it could be used to send a message. It became a persuasion weapon, the resource to change the dynamics of the situation. Although the fortress commander was driven by desperation, he sent a counterintuitive, resoundingly clear message: “We have plenty of supplies; prepare for a long battle.”

This example clearly demonstrates a leader down to his last few resources who outmaneuvers his superior opponent. Military metaphors have their uses and limits for business; what matters here is the illustration of strategic shifting to create advantages.

Most managers are of sound mind, but their behavior sometimes falls prey to a definition of insanity: “If you keep doing what you’ve always done and expect a different result.” Although it sounds comically simple, it is surprising how rarely people follow this principle: If what you are doing is not working, do something different.

It is easy to say, “Do something different,” yet few people know how this actually works—and fewer still know how to actually do something substantively different. Today’s right answer can produce tomorrow’s failure. As the landscape changes, leaders must adapt beyond their own plan for success. In the current demanding environments in which leaders must do more with less, they would be well advised to expand their dimensions of action. This book illustrates how exceptional leaders develop profitable courses of action in the face of constraints—and how you can, too.

The fortress commander stepped outside the logic of the battle and delivered an unexpected message. Clearly, he was able to see opportunities, solutions, and strategies others didn’t even know existed.

Whether your battle is finding new business opportunities, handling people issues, or creating solutions to problems, it is crucial to step outside the logic of that battle and consistently create superior outcomes.

The fortress commander’s competition didn’t know he was up against an Advantage-Maker. You saw how that battle turned out.

  • If you are not an Advantage-Maker, odds are you will likely lose to a leader who is.

For 23 years, I’ve been working with extraordinary leaders. I’ve noticed that some leaders almost always find the right path. They turn situations to their best advantage by seeing possibilities that others don’t see.

I call these rare leaders Advantage-Makers.

Advantage-Makers are pathfinders who anticipate patterns, advance their organizations, and get the most out of everything they have. They learn more, learn more quickly, and develop breakaway strategies. Their healthy skepticism helps them spot difficulties that they transform into opportunities. Most of all, they have the heart of a lion when facing adversity.

These attributes are not accidental. They are hard-won skills. I’ve discovered over decades that they are teachable and learnable. In fact, successful people have many of them already—they just need to amplify them. The more successful the person, the more leveraged the improvement.

Advantage-Makers’ skill, advantage-making, consistently creates superior outcomes in the face of constraints. Resources are leveraged in simple, timely solutions that might not have been initially obvious. If you are not an Advantage-Maker, you likely will be outmaneuvered by someone who is.

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020