How things win

· 6 minute read

Why do people flock to something? What creates an edge, a moat, an advantage? How do things win, or at least survive, in a highly competitive landscape?

Organisms, people, products, organizations, networks — all are able to overcome competitors and accumulate energy by developing strengths along certain vectors. There are many ways to win.

Successful things tend to optimize competency on a narrow set of strategies, often a unique and unusual combination of strategies. This list collects more than seventy such strategies, grouped in broad categories. You can contribute strategies and examples to this article.


Strategy Description Examples
Usership A critical mass of users, network effect Phone system, the internet, scaled social networks
Completeness All-in-one tool, one-stop shop Swiss army knife, Walmart
Aggregation An environment or marketplace designed for broad participation Cities, malls, Amazon, Craigslist
Diversification Low-dependency on any one stream of resources Conglomerates, omnivores


Strategy Description Examples
Affordability Comparatively low-cost Mass production, fast food, fast fashion
Luxury Intentionally high-cost, often labor-intensive, or status symbol Veblen goods, supercars, luxury watches
Skimming Ingests a large volume of very small transactions or resources Credit cards, baleen whales, planktivores


Strategy Description Examples
Heritage Multi-generational legacy Religions, old companies
Craftsmanship Uses more time, precision, and attention to detail than competitors Handmade watches, bespoke tailoring, Leica
Organic Natural growth process that cannot be accelerated Trees, ecosystems, aged cheeses
Endurance Ability to operate continuously over along period of time Marathon runners, nuclear submarines


Strategy Description Examples
Specialization Strong competence in a narrow niche Trade schools, pandas
Versatility General competence adapted to many tasks CPUs, opposable thumbs
Hybrid Competence in two distinct areas, or blending of two strengths not usually found together Frogs, cronuts, amphibious vehicles, hybrid cars
Divergence Creativity, unusualness, differentiation from the norm Van Gogh, Picasso, Frank Gehry
Authenticity Traceable to its source, especially where counterfeiting is prevalent Money, olive oil, art
Rarity Naturally limited in quantity, at the edge of the distribution curve Beachfront property, Victor Wembanyama
Scarcity Artificially limited in quantity Collectibles, NFTs
Secrecy Made difficult to copy by protecting private knowledge, or combining components in a way that cannot be disentangled Magicians, Coca-Cola, trade secrets
Irreverence Contrarian, counter-cultural, disregard for tradition Richard Branson, South Park


Strategy Description Examples
Violence Destroys or consumes the opponent through physical force Military attacks, predators
Litigation Weakens opponents through legal burden Patent trolls, lawsuits, Mickey Mouse
Nettlesomeness Causes the opponent to make mistakes Magnus Carlsen
Sabotage Creates weaknesses in the opponent’s structure or defenses Terrorism
Parasitism Extracts or hijacks resources from a host Mosquitos, cordyceps
Scavenging Opportunistically ingests dying or weakened prey Private equity, vultures
Espionage Acquires enemy secrets through infiltration Spies
Swarming Concentrated attack from a mass of individually weak agents Bees, DDOS attacks, Zerg rush
Lure Preys on other organisms by setting attractive traps Anglerfish, honeypot
Highest bidder Overpays or outbids competitors to secure exclusivity Real Madrid, Softbank, art collectors


Strategy Description Examples
Deterrence Mutually assured destruction, projecting fear of violence or litigation Nuclear weapons, trademarks, patents
Reliability Reduces maintenance costs, minimizes downtime Zippo lighters, Toyota cars
Predictability Repeatable process with little deviation to create a consistent product or experience Disneyland, Starbucks
Unpredictability Creating an element of surprise, confusion, or variability Squid ink, smoke screen, Banksy, Lady Gaga
Decentralization Redundancy and distributed competency to reduce single points of failure Solar power, grassroots movements
Security Resistance to theft, confiscation, unwanted access Banks, vaults, locks
Privacy Protection against unwanted information disclosure Encrypted messaging apps, VPNs
Durability Physical robustness, resistance to damage, or injury LeBron James, cast iron skillets
Neutrality Displays long-term non-belligerence, a safe haven Switzerland, Red Cross
Obscurity Survival by remaining unknown or undetected Deep-sea creatures, closed-source software
Decoy Distracts or misleads adversaries Chaff, fake security cameras
Antifragility Becomes stronger when exposed to usage BitTorrent, muscles


Strategy Description Examples
First-mover Acts first to gain an advantage Netflix, Tesla
Second-mover Fast-follower, moves quickly to copy the first-mover Facebook-Snapchat
Last-mover Waits until all opponents have expended energy on failed approaches Apple


Strategy Description Examples
Monopoly Artificial control of a resource or market approved by the governing body Patents, regulatory capture
Prestige Endorsed by authoritative sources via awards, degrees, or other recognition Michelin-starred restaurants, Ivy League graduates
Curation Selectiveness, particular ability in choosing and grouping Art galleries, HBO, venture capital


Strategy Description Examples
Union Reduce friction between potential competitors by adopting a common set of rules Mergers and acquisitions, United States, European Union
Alliance Partnership that enables some benefits of a union while maintaining independence Partnerships
Emergence Hive mind, wisdom of the crowd Ant colonies, beehives, democracy
Centralization Single decision-making entity Dictatorships
Standardization Emergent alignment that reduces friction Language, railway gauge, metric system
Symbiosis Mutually beneficial dependency between two organisms Two-party political system, fig wasp
Herding Grouping of many individuals to protect against larger or dangerous competitors Trade associations, school of fish
Distributed ownership Owned by the community REI Co-op, Green Bay Packers
Transparency Open and visible process or inner workings that encourages trust Open-source software

Speed and scale

Strategy Description Examples
Iteration Ability to iterate and change quickly, shortening the cycle time between improvements SpaceX
Efficiency Uses a low amount of energy or resources to perform similar capabilities to competitors LED bulbs
Agility Nimbleness, easily adapts to a changing environment Gymnasts, squirrels, go-karts
Precision High level of accuracy and exactness in performance or output Swiss watches, CNC machining,
Blitzing Sudden attack, expending intense resources in a concentrated manner Hostile takeovers, blitz marketing campaigns
Composability Ability to assemble components and systems in different configurations APIs, Stripe
Modularity Composed of independent units that can be used in different combinations LEGO, prefab buildings


Strategy Description Examples
Intuitiveness Ease of use and understanding, without explicit instruction Dieter Rams designs
Fun Provides enjoyment and amusement Video games, amusement parks, Duolingo
Simplicity Limited points of failure, minimalistic design Hammer, MUJI
Low-friction Minimal resistance or hassle in use or interaction One-click ordering
Charm Charisma, ability to create loyalty and warmth through delightful personality or aesthetics Oprah Winfrey, Paris


Strategy Description Examples
Malleability Ability to change appearance or form, can be modified or customized easily Clay, software code, method actors
Metamorphosis Transforms between states optimized for different functions or environments Caterpillars → butterflies, tadpole → frogs
Copycat Replicates another’s method or style Fast fashion, generic brands
Camouflage Ability to blend into the surrounding environment Chameleons, stealth aircraft
Mimicry Superficially adopts characteristics of another species to trick opponents Harmless snakes mimicking venomous ones