What Can Sun Tzu tell Us About Business

Despite being over 2500 years old, the teaching of Sun Tzu are still the most profound thought on military strategy today. His philosophy and writings have been used to great effect, guiding military strategist, generals and leaders to victories throughout history.

Although not directly applicable to modern business practises and often in direct contradiction to the successes of collaboration and cooperation, Sun Tzu can still be relevant in the modern business context, particular his 10 principles for competitive success:

Learn to fight: Competition is inevitable in life so learn as much as you can about competing and your competition. Remain dispassionate and unemotional as emotion, particularly fear, can lead to poor judgement.

Do it Right: Effective execution is the key to success and it is the leader that defines the way forward. It requires that the leader identify or create favourable situations in which to compete and to take advantage of the subsequent opportunities.

Expect the worst: Hope for the best but anticipate the worst. In this you will consider and prepare rather than hoping that the competition will leave you alone.

Burn your bridges: When Cortez arrived in the new world he burned his ships so that his men became more motivated to survive. This unifies the purpose of the team and helps the leader establish cohesion in the team.

Show the Way: Leaders must ‘show the way’. They define the strategy and command the actions of the team in the move toward success. Leaders must display:

  • Vision

  • Commitment

  • Discipline

  • Understanding

  • Correct behaviour

Pull Together: By organising, training and operating together, the team will naturally become more cohesive. A common phrase in the military domain is ‘train as we mean to fight’ capturing the essence of team performance and building mutual trust by demonstrating the reliability of each member of the team. A common goal will also help bind the group together.

Know the facts: Time spent in reconnaissance is rarely if ever wasted. It is essential to know the facts and information is key to understanding the environment, the competition and the opportunities that exist.

Seize the Day: The Latin phrase for this is ‘Carpe Diem‘. The essence of success is to act. To succeed, do simple things frequently, moving towards your outcome and goals.

Keep Your Competition Guessing: The most effective strategies have no form. Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do estolls the virtue of formlessness as the opponent cannot discern any advantage on a strategy that has no form. You will follow your strategy and move toward victory and your competition will become frustrated and fatigued, trying to discover that strategy.

Although Sun Tzu’s teachings are over 2500 years old, the effective manager and executive can still gain value from the philosophy. All that is required is a little thought and focus.

Dare to Aspire



Filed under career, Improvement, Performance

2 responses to “What Can Sun Tzu tell Us About Business

  1. xeper

    Thank you for the nice post. However, I disagree with the part where you say Sun Tzu is against cooperative work. I hope to respond soon to this point in a post on my blog.

  2. Thank you for your comment xeper. My point, although poorly made was really that ‘warfare’ as a metaphor is probably not the best for modern business as it is based on conflict. Perhaps a better one is that of sport, where competitors force us to excel in the market place by applying different strategies rather than one forcing us to destroy our competitors.

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