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Recessions and economic downturns can sometimes provide the best growth opportunities for a business, especially if it is at the expense of your competitors. Downturns can be tough for everyone but smart businesses won’t ignore the fact that during these times their competitors may be at their most vulnerable. They’ll smell their weakness and go after them. McDonald’s mastermind Ray Kroc put it succinctly, but crudely, when he said “when the competition is drowning, stick a hose in their mouths.”

There’s no point in the point in attacking your competition when they are strong, focused and well-protected. That’s dumb business. It’s far better to attack them when they are in disarray and are focused elsewhere. What would you do if you were competitor of BP’s at the moment? Hand them a ”free pass” and wish them all the best in cleaning up the Louisiana Coast or stick a hose in their mouth?

The trick is to uncover your competitors Achilles heels. Some companies are vulnerable due to over-reliance on a single customer or a key staff member. Others might be highly geared and be extremely susceptible to a targeted price war. Some, like BP, might be dealing with disasters beyond their immediate control. Squeeze them where it will hurt them most and it will undoubtedly have an impact. During economic downturns it could cripple them.

Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu, in his book The Art of War, wrote “if your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak so that he grows arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.”

War and business are very similar. They both rely on one simple objective:  beating your competition. Doing this will ensure your survival. In some organisations, keeping an eye on the competition is a daily event. In many others, however, it is an after- thought. It happens irregularly or, in many cases, not at all. These businesses are operating in a vacuum of complacency.

The best businesses understand that uncertain economic times may represent the best opportunity to put their vulnerable competitors to the sword. They won’t delay. In fact they’ve probably already grabbed a hose and gone hunting…