Starting a business is never easy, and it is progressively difficult as competition has become more global, intense and increasingly technology-dependent.
The Art of War by Sun Tzu presents a brilliant strategic philosophy that has proven itself over the millennia in all types of competitive endeavors.
In this article, we have chosen six principles from The Art of War that we think could translate to useful strategies to businesses and modern businesspeople today.
1. Capture Your Market Without Destroying it
“Generally in war, the best policy is to take a state intact; to ruin it is inferior to this….For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.” – Sun Tzu
Sun Tzu calls this the need to “win-all-without-fighting”. Since the goal of businesses is to survive and prosper, they must capture the market. However, it must be done in such a way that the market is not destroyed in the process.
Too often businesses fight over market share and start price wars, drawing the most aggressive responses from competitors. In the end, they only find they’ve won a costly yet unworthy victory, for the market they captured is left deprived of profits.
Instead, companies should do this in a manner that leaves the industry healthy. For example, they should discover new ways to serve the market or by using subtle, indirect and low-key approaches that will not draw a competitor’s attention or response.
2. Avoid Strength and Attack Weakness
“An army may be likened to water, for just as flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army avoids strength and strikes weakness.” – Sun Tzu
The Western approach to warfare has overflowed into business competition, leading many companies to launch head-on, unsubtle and direct attacks against their competitor’s strongest point in hope of profit.
This approach to business strategy rarely works and leads to battles of attrition, which end up draining resources and inspire the other company to fight back strongly.
Instead, companies should focus on the weakness of the competition, which maximizes their gains while minimizing the resources used. For example, instead of directly taking on the big names in cities, businesses should start out in small towns.
In this way, the companies will be able to eliminate weaker local competitors while simultaneously growing stronger. This, by definition, increases profits.
3. Maximize the Power of Business Intelligence
“Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril” – Sun Tzu
Business intelligence is essential to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the competitor and understand one’s own capabilities.
A deep understanding of their executives’ strategy, capabilities, thoughts and desires, as well as similar depth of knowledge of one’s own strengths and weaknesses is required to find and exploit the competitor’s weakness.
It is also crucial to understand the overall competitive and industry trends arising around you in order to experience the “terrain” where the battle will take place. In turn, to refrain competitors from using this strategy, it is critical to mask the plans and keep them secret.
4. Use Speed to Overcome Your Competition
“To rely on rustics and not prepare is the greatest of crimes; to be prepared beforehand for any contingency is the greatest of virtues.” – Sun Tzu
Just like war, speed is essential in business. The changes faced by companies, whether social, technological, political or economic, are only accelerating.
Hence, companies must be able to act with blinding speed. Speed is significant in being the first to market, allowing the companies to fully take advantage of fleeting opportunities and keeping the competition off-balance. If they cannot move rapidly to respond to market changes, they will not survive.
Despite that, to move with speed does not mean that you should do things hastily. In reality, speed requires much preparation. For instance, it is critical to reduce the time it takes to make decisions, develop products and service customers.
As a result, companies are able to bring new products constantly to market or finding new ways to deliver choice and convenience to customers via innovations.
5. Use Alliances and Strategic Control Points to Your Advantage
“Therefore, those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle and are not brought there by him.” – Sun Tzu
“Shaping your competition” means changing the rules of contest and making the competition abide by your actions and desires. It means taking control of the situation away from your competitor and putting it in your own hands.
One way of doing this is through the proficient use of alliances. By building a strong alliance, you will be able to limit your competitors’ moves. Besides, you can also control key strategic points in your industry.
By forming alliances with other companies, you can learn new capabilities and penetrate new markets. Even joining forces with competitors can be a wise strategy as well.
6. Develop Your Character as A Leader to Maximize the Potential of Your Employees
“When one treats people with benevolence, justice and righteousness, and reposes confidence in them, the army will be united in mind and all will be happy to serve their leaders.” – Sun Tzu
It takes a particular type of leader to implement these strategic concepts and maximize immense potential of employees. These leaders should be wise, sincere, humane, courageous and strict. They must also always be “first in the toils and fatigues of the army”, putting their needs behind those of their troops.
For leaders to put this into execution successfully requires not just intelligence; character is critical as well. They cannot align the team on the right path and deliver real value to customers long term without having adequate character, a sense of self-awareness and an understanding and empathy for others. It is leaders with character that get the most out of their employees.
If companies follow these six principles, success will not be an issue. These principles have been utilized throughout time in both the military arena and the business world to build creative strategies and achieve success in the long term. This is simply because taking lesson from the wisdom of the past can help you win the business battles of the future.
Feeling of not having enough wisdom from Sun Tzu’s philosophy? Here are 30 inspirational entrepreneur quotes to motivate you for greatness!
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