During the Vietnam War, the most important supply route for the North Vietnamese was the Ho Chi Minh trail.
The majority of their supplies went down this route.
The Americans knew roughly were it was.
But because it went through the jungle, they couldn’t see the exact location.
Except at one point.
Where it crossed the river, over a bridge.
There was no way to hide that.
So they sent in an airstrike to destroy it.
They took out the entire bridge.
But within a day or two, the North Vietnamese had rebuilt the bridge.
It was back up and operating again.
So the Americans sent in another airstrike.
Destroyed the bridge again.
Within a few days it was back up and operating again.
So the Americans went in again.
Took out the whole bridge again.
Within a few days the Vietnamese had it back up and operating again.
That’s pretty much how it went on for the entire war.
The Americans would take it out.
The North Vietnamese would rebuild it.
And so on.
The Americans were forced to keep attacking it.
Because the Ho Chi Minh trail was vital to the North Vietnamese.
But somehow the supplies just kept getting through.
The North Vietnamese kept the Ho Chi Minh trail open, and eventually won.
After the war was over, the Americans found out the truth.
The bridge wasn’t a real bridge.
It was a fake.
That’s how the North Vietnamese were able to rebuild it so quickly each time.
It was put there as a target for the American Air Force.
Its purpose was to draw their attention away from the real crossing-point.
A few hundred yards upstream.
Here the North Vietnames had a ford across the river, just below the surface.
From the air it was invisible.
But trucks could still cross it at night.
The Americans never found it, they were concentrating on the bridge.
I saw a similar thing in Oxford Street.
Either side of our agency were two massive record shops.
Towards Oxford Circus was HMV, towards Tottenham Court Road was Virgin.
Some days I’d walk to one, some days to the other.
Virgin was obviously more successful.
Every time I went there they were packed.
Absolutely full of teenage boys playing video games, looking through the racks of CDs and DVDs.
So I stopped going there, it was too crowded.
I used to go to HMV instead, it wasn’t nearly so crowded.
Just people around my age in the rock section, or the modern jazz section, or the country music section, or the classical music section.
I much preferred HMV, even if wasn’t so successful as Virgin.
But a funny thing happened.
Virgin went out of business.
See here’s what was happening that I didn’t see.
All the people in Virgin were youngsters.
Time rich, cash poor.
They’d spend hours killing time in there, playing free games, flicking through CDs and DVDs.
But they didn’t actually buy much.
Whereas the people in HMV were working guys, roughly my age.
Cash rich, time poor.
We rush in, in the lunch hour, pick up the CDs we want.
Maybe buy a few more while we’re in there.
Maybe grab a couple of DVDs, too.
Then get back to work.
So HMV always looked empty while Virgin always looked full.
But it wasn’t about what I saw.
It was about what I didn’t see.
Just like the bridge.
The Americans did the obvious, and the North Vietnamese were creative.
Virgin did the obvious, and HMV were creative.
I once heard creativity described as, “Looking at what everyone else is looking at, and seeing something no one else sees.”