The Art of War, written by the ancient Chinese general and philosopher Sun Tzu, has been considered one of the most influential books on military strategy for centuries. However, its teachings have also been applied to the world of business, where strategy and competition play a significant role. In this article, we will delve into the principles of The Art of War and how they can be applied to modern-day business.
The Philosophy of The Art of War
At the heart of The Art of War lies a philosophy that is relevant even today. The book seeks to delve behind the mechanics of war and focus on the deeper principles that govern it. Sun Tzu believed that the objective of war should not be the unnecessary destruction of lives and resources, but to achieve a sustainable outcome. He said, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
This same philosophy can be applied to business, where the objective should not be to destroy competitors but to find a way to win without creating a loser. Sun Tzu’s teachings remind us that in business, as in war, there is no benefit to prolonged competition.
The Actors in Strategy
In military strategy, two actors are usually considered: ourselves and our enemy. The strength of our army and the resources we have to fight are considered, as well as the strength and resources of our enemy. This same principle can be applied to business, where the company and its competitors are the two actors.
However, in business, strategy is a relatively new enterprise that only came into existence in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It was an offshoot of military strategy, and many people believe that it is all about analyzing numbers and quantifying everything. However, this is not the case. The philosophy behind strategy, as taught by Sun Tzu, has remained constant even as the world has evolved.
The Objective of Strategy
The objective of strategy, in both war and business, should be to make sure that the outcome is sustainable. In business, this means expressing your strategy in a way that causes potential competitors to choose to compete elsewhere, and hopefully succeed there. This is the perfect strategy because it creates a prolonged peace rather than a prolonged war.
To achieve this, it is important to ask yourself, “What can I uniquely do for a particular set of customers?” If you can answer this question, you can be sure that would-be competitors will choose to do something else because you do that thing better.
Choosing the Right Playing Field
One of the key principles taught in The Art of War is to choose the right playing field, or in this case, market segment. You should only engage in competitions where you can create a win without creating a loser who will keep attacking you.
It is important to ask yourself, “On what playing field or market segment am I going to play, and on which am I not?” And then, “How am I going to be the best and win on that playing field?”
Surrounding the Army
Another important principle taught in The Art of War is that, “When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.” In business, this means that you either have to entirely eliminate a competitor or give it a chance to find another place to play. You can create for them an escape road to a different part of the market or segment, but you should not completely crush them.
The Art of War, written by Sun Tzu, offers timeless wisdom on strategy and competition that can be applied to modern-day business. At its core, the book emphasizes the importance of sustainability, choosing the right playing field, and surrounding the enemy without completely crushing them. By focusing on these principles, companies can find ways to win without creating losers, establish sustainable outcomes, and choose market segments where they can be the best. The philosophy behind The Art of War is still relevant today and can help businesses find success in a competitive world.