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6 Principles of Business Strategy and the Art of War

Sun Tzu was a Chinese military general, strategist and philosopher who lived between 544-496 BC. His book ‘The Art of War’ has become one of the most significant influences in business strategy formulation in modern times. Business strategy defines what a company will do to be successful. A military strategist must accomplish objectives often with limited resources and strive to protect and make the most of those resources. The same challenges faced by business managers. Strategies aimed at business growth must be chosen carefully to increase the likelihood of success. Sun Tzu teaches us to minimize conflict, exploit our opponent’s weaknesses, play to our strengths and clearly define our goals. The following principles will support effective business strategies:

  1. Effective Strategies Minimize Conflict – Conflict costs. The best business strategies focus on achieving objectives with little or no conflict. When striving for business growth there will always be competition. Sun Tzu espouses the theory that objectives are best accomplished by strategies that minimize the likelihood of conflict from the opposition.
    1. “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” … Sun Tzu
    2. “Ultimate excellence lies not in winning every battle, but in defeating the enemy without ever fighting.” … Sun Tzu
    3. “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
  2. Matching Strengths to the Opponents Weaknesses Brings Success – In competition a realistic assessment of strengths and weaknesses is paramount. A business that recognizes its strong and weak points as well as those of the competition will have a supreme advantage.
    1. “To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.” … Sun Tzu
    2. “So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong, and strike at what is weak.” … Sun Tzu
  3. In Implementation of Strategies Timing is Everything – A well thought out strategy will bring maximum results when initiated at the most optimal time. If put forth at the wrong time success will be diminished or possibly nullified. Once the strategy has been formulated careful consideration must be given to the time of implementation.
    1. “The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy.” … Sun Tzu
    2. “He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.” … Sun Tzu
  4. Engagement without Strategy is Rarely Successful – Charging ahead without a strategy will result in failure the majority of the time. Success can be achieved if there is little or no opposition but this situation is almost non-existent in today’s environment.
    1. “Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory is won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory” … Sun Tzu
  5. A Coordinated, Diversified Attack Ensures Success – A well thought out strategy implemented in a timely fashion will have a vastly improved chance of success if multiple modes of implementation are employed. A diversified attack is much more difficult to defend against.
    1. “There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard. There are not more than five primary colors, yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen. There are not more than five cardinal tastes, yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.” Sun Tzu
  6. A Successful Strategy Requires a Clear Definition of Success – Without clearly defined goals success can never be realized. Clearly defined objectives are necessary for a strategy to be effective.
    1. “In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.” … Sun Tzu

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