Failblazing

During strategy lectures you’ll often hear the term “first mover advantage”, which refers to a company being the first one to enter a market and carving out a dominant position for itself. This does exist, although examples are more rare than you think. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Yahoo and AltaVista were the number one search engines before Google showed up with a better algorithm and consigned them both to the rubbish bin.

While there can be advantages of going first, there are also drawbacks. The reason almost every modern underground system is better than London’s is because London went first and built tunnels that were too small and stations that were too curved. They had no idea in the 1860s that this thing they were building would become the main method of shuttling millions of people around major cities; had they done so they may have planned it better. By the time Moscow (1930s), Paris (1900s), Tokyo (1920s), and New York (1900s) came to build theirs, valuable lessons had already been learned. Alas, it was too late for London whose underground is still hobbled by design decisions made with no experience to draw on. No doubt there are other examples of pioneers helpfully making mistakes their rivals won’t have to, and readers are welcome to share them in the comments given I’m too lazy to think of them right now.

Anyway, a tweet by Lord Ashcroft reminds me of the benefits those who come later can draw from those who went first:


It’s not inconceivable that a second EU member state will look to leave in the next ten years. One would hope that, unlike ours, their political classes are at least on board with it and actually want to leave but it is likely to be as divisive as Brexit has been for the UK. The lesson future leavers will draw from the Brexit experience is to prepare for a No Deal well in advance of invoking Article 50, as there will be no guarantee the EU will agree to anything which can be sold to the public. The EU has made it plain they want to make leaving as painful as possible for Britain pour encourager les autres. What in fact they’ve done is give any would-be leavers a good look at their strategy, and allow Brexit to become a training manual on what not to do. As a minimum, I expect the next country to leave will put in place robust rules regarding former ministers and non-government politicians meeting with EU negotiators outside the formal process. They may wish to include a set of gallows to accompany that.

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34 thoughts on “Failblazing

  1. Aah, early-adopter syndrome. The entire British railway network suffers from that, not just the London Underground.

    Being a slightly later adopter you do indeed learn from other people’s mistakes – and indeed, Brexit negotiations would appear to fall into that. Frankly, it’s just been a shitshow from start to finish, being negotiated on the one hand by people whose hearts weren’t in it and had zero idea how to negotiate anyway, and on the other hand by people who just kept saying “no” hoping that HMG would eventually blink.

    As you say – plan for no deal, invoke A50 and say “OK, let’s talk, but we’re totally cool with no deal”.

  2. The trouble is, as is now abundantly clear, no deal takes a hell of a lot longer than 2 years to pull off without a high risk of trashing your economy. Involves negotiations that would be legally extremely questionable while a member of the EU. No doubt this is one of the motivations behind the negotiating period being so short.

    I guess if one of the Baltics wished to return to the bosom of mother Russia, it would be achievable, but that hardly seems like progress.

    Ashcroft seems to imply that there is a “leave” where you get to cherry-pick the benefits of membership and dodge the costs of membership. But realpolitik is – and whether the EU is wonderful or evil (rather, where on that spectrum it is at any time), they aren’t ever going to let that happen to any country that wants to leave, are they?

  3. The lesson learned is you first plan for no deal then invoke article 50 telling the EU you’re leaving but willing to discuss anything mutually advantageous

    Not possible.

    If we had tried it, then the continuity Remainers would have (a) obstructed no-deal preparations as much as possible (eg, by saying ‘why are we spending money on this wholly theoretical outcome instead of on this real problem in the here and now?’ and (b) at every junction said, ‘No, we can’t invoke Article 50 yet, we aren’t prepared enough, let’s prepare a bit more first and then do it.’

    Same as those who say that it was a mistake to invoke Article 50 without a plan (conveniently forgetting of course that the EU refuse to even begin negotiating anything until it was invoked).

    If the decision had been taken to only invoke Article 50 when there was a plan, Remainers would have poked holes in every plan (and as there’s no such thing as a totally comprehensive plan, if you’re acting in bad faith and you want the plan to fail you can always find a hole to poke) and then kept saying ‘we can’t invoke Article 50 yet, the plan isn’t settled.’

    And Article 50 would never have been invoked. We’d still be waiting for it to be invoked now Eventually, the plan would be to have got past a general election and then say, ‘Well, we have a new government now, with a new mandate, maybe sometime we’ll eventually get around to resuming the Article 50 / no-deal planning, but right now, let’s focus on X, Y and Z’

    Lord Ashcroft’s plan sounds sensible, but really it would just be giving in to the Continuity Remainers without ever firing a shot, by allowing them to choose the field of engagement.

  4. Oh damn. I obviously meant ‘juncture’, not ‘junction’. Stupid finger. Please don’t ignore the rest because of one mistake that makes me look like I’m an idiot who doesn’t know English.

  5. “As a minimum, I expect the next country to leave will put in place robust rules regarding former ministers and non-government politicians meeting with EU negotiators outside the formal process. ”

    But they’ve have to do that whilst members of the EU, and would be hauled over the coals by the ECJ if they did.

    On the substantive point of the post, we must always remember that just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t do it. I think the mood in the country is beignning to change – people don’t like the idea of not being able to leave at all, even if they’re currently happy….

  6. But they’ve have to do that whilst members of the EU, and would be hauled over the coals by the ECJ if they did.

    I think if they were serious about leaving – and Brexit will show them they must be – they wouldn’t care too much about what the ECJ thinks of their preparations to leave.

  7. “No doubt there are other examples of pioneers helpfully making mistakes their rivals won’t have to, and readers are welcome to share them in the comments given I’m too lazy to think of them right now.”

    Case in point: jet airliners. The UK got there first with the de Havilland Comet. Unfortunately they made the mistake of choosing square (as opposed to round) windows, which led to increased metal fatigue resulting in catastrophic in-flight decompressions. In America, Boeing and Douglas were able to seize a march on de Havilland, as while the Comet was grounded, they developed the 707 and DC-8 respectively with round windows. By the time the problems with the Comet had been sorted, airline companies who’d cancelled their Comet orders were ordering from Boeing and Douglas. In the end, the plane considered by everyone to be a world-beating trailblazer became one of aviation’s also-rans.

  8. You’re being very generous to the majority remain ‘establishment’. The complete horlicks May and her coterie have made of Brexit is deliberate. She and they never wanted to leave, and in tandem with the likes of Selmyar, Juncker et al they are doing their best to force us to stay or agree to such a terrible deal we are tied to the EU as chattels in perpetuity. The primary lesson for any other country looking to leave is to put in place a strong, unwavering, leave leadership who will drive the process forward.

  9. Trailblazing? Anyone would think nobody had even negotiated anything before. The trick with any negotiation is to take control. Always be one jump ahead. Know what you want your final position to be, demand far in excess of it, then let yourself be reluctantly bargained back to what you’re content with.
    But as I was saying loudly & often, when the referendum was but a dream, if the result’s Leave the first obstacle will be the political class. Leavers should have had a game plan to counter it. The Brexit Party should have fought the 2017 election, not the next. Whenever that may be. There has been no Brexit negotiation with the EU because May never had any intention of leaving. The only negotiating she’s been doing is with the Westminster MP’s on how soft a BRINO she can get them to swallow. By the look of things now, she may even have got what she’s been trying for. A postponed leave with the can kicked so far down the road it’s out of sight.’, never to be found again.
    “Involves negotiations that would be legally extremely questionable while a member of the EU.” Bollocks. Sovereign states make laws, they don’t obey laws. Unless it suits them. The UK could have done anything it wanted by taking the whip hand & putting the EU countries in the position, they had no alternative but agree. Drunker Junker & his cronies only have the illusion of power because the EU governments are willing to go along with the theatre. Threaten the national interests of France & Germany & they’d soon be brought to heel.

  10. Seems to me Theresa May knows exactly what she’s doing, and she’s doing it very well. Once she’s ousted from office, the consulting gig in the EU is a certainty. Imagine how grateful they’ll be! “Expert in Exit negotiations”. Much better pay than anything Her Majesty’s government will provide.

  11. As above, to get out of the EU you need a government that is determined to do so with a majority in Parliament or the equivalent.
    That might well happen here given the mess being cooked up.
    Once that is achieved the rest is simple.
    Without that you can’t get out.
    Hopefully Parliament will again vote down Mays turd this week. Then either we leave on WTO terms, or May carries out her threat to rescind the article 50 letter.
    In the latter case a subsequent govt. can resubmit.

  12. The retort to first mover advantage is ‘pioneers get scalped’ to leading edge technology is ‘bleeding edge’
    Etc
    There were advantages to London in being first. Sure they got some things wrong, but I’d rather travel on the Tube than the subway in New York or the Paris Metro.

  13. The Brexit Party should have fought the 2017 election, not the next

    While that might have seemed like a good idea at the time, in retrospect we know it would have ended (thanks to May’s inability to campaign) in a Corbyn government. How could that have helped anything? If Corbyn was strong enoguh to stand up to his party’s Remain wing, we’d have ended up in a permanent customs union (basically because Corbyn likes anything with the word ‘union’ in it, I don’t believe he has the intellectual capacity to understand what a customs union is) and if we wasn’t we’d have rescinded the referendum.

    Seems to me Theresa May knows exactly what she’s doing, and she’s doing it very well. Once she’s ousted from office, the consulting gig in the EU is a certainty.

    I think this is unfair on Theresa May. She is no Tony Blair. All May’s faults, and they have sadly turned out to be many, spring from cowardice (she wants to be able to say she fulfilled the mandate of the referendum while making as few changes as possible) or incompetence (mostly a lack of being able to react to changing circumstances, as seen in both the election campaign and the negotiations), not pure selfish evil.

  14. I’d rather travel on the Tube than the subway in New York or the Paris Metro.

    London Underground is very good now, thanks to massive upgrade projects. I’m not sure I prefer New York’s metro to the Paris one, though. And Ligne 1 of the Paris metro, the driverless one which runs on tyres, is excellent.

  15. @S “it would have ended … in a Corbyn government. How could that have helped anything?”
    Corbyn would now have all the problems May’s got. Remain MP’s from constituencies voted strongly leave. A party fighting itself. And Corbyn wouldn’t have the comfy relationship with the Civil Service mandarins the Tories have. The Establishment hate Corbyn a lot more than the Conservatives because he really would intend to overturn their troughs. It’d be a battleground over every bit of legislation he tried to bring in. They’d be polling single figures by now. Look how badly they’re doing in opposition against a government couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery.
    And it wouldn’t be the same Tory Party, would it? A spell in opposition would have shaken up the smug cvnts. And a clean Brexit would have been the only game left available for them to play.
    But I’m biased.I may detest Labour but at least they have amusement value. The Tories I want to see utterly destroyed. The bodies dismembered & the parts scattered to the far quarters. The party’s a stinking festering corpse long overdue for burying.

  16. Jimmers calls it right. Treason May and the gang knew exactly what they were about from Day One.

    She IS still thick and was gulled by leftist pollsters into trying for June 2017. The 20 points lead bullshit gave her visions of 150 chinless BluLabour wonders majority to nod her evil BRINO through without a hitch.

  17. The trouble is, as is now abundantly clear, no deal takes a hell of a lot longer than 2 years to pull off without a high risk of trashing your economy.

    Well, we don’t know that. If no deal had actually been seriously planned for, perhaps we might. But it wasn’t. It’s been more like three years since the referendum hasn’t it? Should have been doable. Still, ten days to go, plenty of time to dust off the contingency plans.

  18. Corbyn would now have all the problems May’s got. Remain MP’s from constituencies voted strongly leave. A party fighting itself. And Corbyn wouldn’t have the comfy relationship with the Civil Service mandarins the Tories have.

    Right so… how does this end up in Corbyn (who has never been the sharpest tool in the box, remember) anything other than massively outmanoeuvred by Remainer Labour MPs on the one side and the civil service on the other, into either a deal even worse than May’s, permanent customs union and agreement to match standards on everything basically guaranteeing the EU dominion over us in perpetuity, or simply staying in the EU?

    I mean, if you want the UK to leave the EU, May’s been bad, but surely Corbyn as PM would have been much much worse?

  19. To be honest I think such basic ideas as “If you rule out a no-deal Brexit, you give the EU the power to impose whatever crazy conditions it wants” should require observing other exit negotiations to grasp. Five seconds’ thinking should be enough.

  20. “To be honest I think such basic ideas as “If you rule out a no-deal Brexit, you give the EU the power to impose whatever crazy conditions it wants” should require observing other exit negotiations to grasp. Five seconds’ thinking should be enough.”

    Exactly. Whats transpired leaves only two conclusions – 1) those in power are so moronic they can’t even see the above, or 2) they know it only too well but ignored it to achieve the desired aim, thus proving they’re treasonous c*nts who need stringing up. Neither bodes well for the fate of the nation.

    I’m with BiS, I’ll take Corbyn and co, it’ll be a laugh to see socialism crash and burn (again), especially when the Millenials finally get a lesson in how socialism works in practise. I’ve got enough cash I could get on a plane and never have to come back if necessary.

    But I want the Tory party and its MP inhabitants razed to the ground and the soil sown with salt.

  21. it’ll be a laugh to see socialism crash and burn (again),

    As someone who lived through the end of the cold war, no, it would not be a laugh to see socialism crash and burn in the UK. I despair as much as you about the millennials and their ignorance of history, and I would love for them to suffer, but what matters is the United Kingdom, not what you or I might wish.

    I probably have enough cash, if I sell my portfolio, to leave and never come back too. But I want to be buried in British soil that will remain British. That’s more important than fleeing to a comfortable life.

  22. The trick with any negotiation is to… know what you want your final position to be, demand far in excess of it, then let yourself be reluctantly bargained back to what you’re content with.

    Thanks bloke, you just saved me four years of business school

  23. The choices as I see it are:

    1) Vote and accept Mays deal and stay permanently in the EU and subject to all its rules etc.
    OR
    2) Vote against Mays deal so she refuses to leave the EU and stay in the EU and subject to all its rules etc.

    Can someone spot the flaw in this reasoning?

  24. “Know what you want your final position to be, demand far in excess of it, then let yourself be reluctantly bargained back to what you’re content with”

    Its more than that. There is always a default position that occurs when everything breaks down and neither side can agree anything. You have to be able to cope (no more) with that, as a final backup position.

    That is where the UK position is utter shit, by their own choice. Its no good them going into the negotiations wanting x, so demanding 2x, hoping to be negotiated back to x, if the opponent knows that they HAVE to have an agreement, regardless of the content, because they can’t cope with not having one. Then its a simple case of ‘We want this, take it or leave it’ safe in the knowledge they’ll have to take it because they can’t walk away.

    As I said above, I can’t work out whether they really are that stupid to not get this (which is possible I suppose, the class of people we are talking about are used to getting exactly what they want all the time so could well be this naive) or are traitors.

  25. To a loose first-order approximation there are two types of negotiations:

    One in which both parties act in good faith and know that the eventual outcome will be, to use a hackneyed phrase, win-win. All you’re really doing is trying to get the best deal possible.

    A second in which one or both parties treat the negotiation like a zero sum game and usually at least one of them acts in bad faith. These rarely end well for either side.

    Obviously there’s shades of grey between.

    A50 negotiations may have started out in case 1 but it quickly became obvious that they had moved to case 2. Partly because we were seen as “wanting our cake and eating it” and partly because the EU needed to be seen to give a punishment beating pour encourager les autres.

    Having incompetent politicians who didn’t have a clear vision didn’t help.

  26. @Jim
    This is where I come down on the side of the whole thing being a fit-up colluded between May & Juncker. No-one ever goes into a negotiation without the walk-away option. A shrewd player would have been very visibly doing the preparations for a No Deal WTO exit all the way through the negotiation process. The UK had a very strong hand. It could walk away. The referendum wording implied that. Juncker & his team had to get a deal. Failure would have been unacceptable to the national governments.

  27. This is where I come down on the side of the whole thing being a fit-up colluded between May & Juncker

    It’s not a fit-up, it’s simple incompetence. May is a Remainer and always has been; she pretended to have been converted in order to win the leadership, but all along she has seen her job as how to get into a position where she can say she fulfilled the mandate of the referendum by leaving, while ensuring that nothing actually changed.

    Effectively she has been trying all along to fulfil the letter of the referendum while betraying its spirit.

    So that’s the first reason she hasn’t prepared for no-deal: because she saw her job as avoiding no-deal at all costs because it would mean actually leaving.

    The second reason is that, especially after the fumbled election, she was desperate to appear in control and on course for success. She was terrified that if she spent money on preparing for no-deal someone would ask her, ‘You say you’re going to get a deal but you’re preparing for no-deal; does that mean you think you might fail to get a deal?’ And she couldn’t cope with that question (or any question really, see again the election).

    Barnier obviously took full advantage of this ridiculous position, but there was nothing ‘cooked up’ between them, just pure incompetence and lack of vision.

  28. Movie sound. The first couple of sound movies were produced by Warner Bros: Don Juan and The Jazz Singer and these used a system called Vitaphone where the sound was sent out on a separate disc. Companies like Fox and RKO worked on optical sound instead. They were beaten to market by Warners, but Vitaphone had problems like distribution, discs wearing out and synchronisation. They had to do an embarassing climbdown to cinema owners who had invested in Vitaphone and switch to other systems.

  29. Another point for the next people planning to leave. Have a plan that appeals to at least some of the vested interests. That way you’ll have people lobbying for you instead of all against.
    Besides, don’t give up. Dissatisfaction with the EU has been rising throughout Europe since its inception and I don’t see that trend reversing barring the EU fundamentally changing its approach.
    And I doubt many will see May’s deal as leaving even supposing it gets implemented- she might think people are ignorant but they are not.
    Wrt. the last general election, at the time it was ca!led most people didn’t like Cornyn and didn’t know May very.well, hence her lead in the polls. By election day people had decided they didn’t think much of May either, hence the result. As far as I can tell both are less popular today than they were at the last GE.

  30. Hopefully Parliament will again vote down Mays turd this week. Then either we leave on WTO terms, or May carries out her threat to rescind the article 50 letter.
    In the latter case a subsequent govt. can resubmit.

    Who would trust the EU not to change the Article 50 process in the meantime?

  31. NTSC vs PAL.
    America had colour TV before the rest of the world, but ended up with an inferior standard.

  32. NTSC vs PAL.
    America had colour TV before the rest of the world, but ended up with an inferior standard.

    To add a slightly different perspective VHS versus BetaMax. The latter was far superior in quality, but VHS won hands down because it was cheaper. The same could be said of EasyJet versus Ryanair (although the differences may appear marginal to the consumer, they aren’t when you examine them from the perspective of business models, even though they originate from the same source – SouthWest airlines in the US)

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