In daily practice, people find it difficult to achieve performance in all situations together. The undercurrent is leading in this.

On January 1, 2021, WIAL's exclusive podcast with Toon Gerbrands will be live. This podcast is about his new book "Sometimes Everything is True," in which he rails against 52 sacred management houses. In this book, he endorses the importance of action intelligence. But what is action intelligence? And why would I want to apply it?

The Internet search very quickly leads me to martial arts. Mind you, this is not a scientific paper! This blog is intended as a starting point in exploring the concept of action intelligence.

Martial Arts

Robert Ogilvie, in his book "Martial Science and Business Strategy" (2004), cites a number of prominent warlords of yesteryear. These people are still leading the way in certain areas of martial arts teaching today. These are:

    1. the Chinese warlord Sun Tsu (500 BC);

    1. the Swiss Antoine Henri Jomini (1779-1869) general under Napoleon, author of the book of martial arts "Précis de l'art de guerre" (at least until 2004 still required literature at the U.S. Military Academy) and founder of the Russian High School of War;

    1. the Prussian General Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz (1780-1831).

Ogilvie writes in his book that few realize that the combination of Jomini's systematics and Clausewitz's philosophies together defined the political and strategic military thinking of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The link to today is that many corporate strategies seem to have emerged from this in turn or to have evolved on the basis of it.

Practice insight determines profit or loss

Ogilvie describes what warlords find decisive when it comes to winning or losing a war. See below.

    1.  Sun Tsu indicated that moral, intellectual and chance aspects of war were more important than the physical. He also believed that careful planning, based on good information about the opponent, would contribute significantly to a quick military decision.

    1. Jomini admitted that the principles of combat are simple, rely on "common sense" and are easy to understand, but their application is difficult. He believed that in addition to a certain degree of genius, intensive study is required to "master" them. Observing these rules does not always assure victory, but if they are neglected, it is almost certain that one will lose the battle.

    1. Von Clausewitz understood that the world is changeable (dynamic) and that the intelligent general must set aside so-called established theories in certain circumstances and will have to act according to his own findings. He stated, "All principles, rules and methods exist to be used when necessary, but their application depends on the assessment of their employability. Rather, theory should be used as an aid to judgment and should never be exploited as a fixed standard.

My free translation is that they say profit or loss is determined by:

    • practice before theory;

    • oversee complex situations;

    • collect relevant information;

    • And turn that into actionable new knowledge and action;

    • use common farm sense;

    • Learn in action because situations change as you go along;

    • Provide appropriate skills such as problem solving;

    • And all this you cannot do alone.

What is the relationship with current organizations?

Without researching very deep and wide I find the following relationships in my google adventure.

Enterprise Strategy

Let's start with what organizations can learn from the martial arts. For that, we'll stick with Ogilvie for now, who has laid out the following recommendations for corporate strategies:
1 Avoid overly complicated plans.
2 Ensure that ends and means are (and remain) consistent with each other.
3 Ensure continuous and clear communication between departments and chiefs during plan execution.
4 During an action, ensure you have good and constant information about your opponent (competitor) and about the reactions of buyers or consumers.
5 Avoid both overestimating and underestimating the opponent.
6 Make sure there is enough critical mass in the right place, at the right time.
7 Persevere when it is useful. Perseverance should not be confused with (stupid) stubbornness. The difference between the two is just a nuance, but vital in the context of strategic leadership!


Looking at the person behind the organization, authors such as Kessels (1999), Van Merriënboer, Van der Klink and Hendriks (2002) and Mulder (2000 & 2004) although all from the same period as Ogilvie (2004) translate that into employee behavior. They write that one can no longer consume, but must participate more actively in change and continue to adapt more quickly to new situations.


Something whose importance is reiterated in other literature on the VUCAera. You cannot sit back and rely on past knowledge, solution approaches and models.


A mechanic, nurse or a police officer or woman also acts directly according to the practical situation. No doubt consciously and also unconsciously fed by protocols, knowledge and experience, but the practical situation in question determines, for example, how much time you have to think and act and not what is written in the booklet. Remmert Heuff, head of the DSI, told the ANP on Sept. 28, 2018 about this: a DSI member must be in top physical and mental condition and be able to quickly absorb complex situations. ''Action intelligence is what we call it. You have to keep an overview and be able to distinguish main issues from side issues at a glance," says Heuff. "You never know if something is going to happen, and if so where, but you always have to be alert."

So much for initial exploration. We're going to hear what Toon Gerbrands knows to say about action intelligence in January 2021.


A conclusion for this moment for me is that action intelligence is about the following overall picture:
the practical situation is leading and you must want to have a good overview. Make sure you collect the relevant information about it, use relevant knowledge and experience of others and create new business knowledge from it. Implement and reflect because everything you do in a dynamic vessel of action and reaction changes and leads to a new reality. Collaboration, dialogue and openness to other opinions are then essential to oversee the practical situation before decisions and solution directions are chosen. Here, freedom, trust and the ability to continue to reflect and learn in the action during implementation are very important.

Working together is a skill!

In daily practice, people find it difficult to achieve performance in all situations together. The undercurrent is leading in this.

WIAL helps you with the Team Performance Development Program to develop the knowledge and skills in this area and directly apply and learn from them in your own team action.

World Institute for Action Learning - Netherlands, Frank Campman MBA CALC, December 2020.