| Sarasota Herald-Tribune
While cleaning out my garage, I stumbled upon a box that was labeled: “Books I no longer read.” Opening the box and dusting off the cobwebs, I saw “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. For some reason, I had written my name and the date on the first page. Perhaps I had loaned this book to someone decades ago and wanted to make sure I got it back for my garage library time-capsule.
Twenty-eight years have passed since I cracked open this classic. This book was compiled over 2,000 years ago by a mysterious Chinese warrior-philosopher during the Warring States period of ancient China, around the fifth to the third century BC. It is still considered one of the most influential books on strategy ever written.
Many of the principles expressed in “The Art of War” apply today to business competition and conflict as much as they do to military campaigns and politics. Why would anyone think that two millennia would make a big difference?
I have culled from it some of the principles that should be of interest to business owners today. In short, “The Art of War” is about being invincible, experiencing victory without a battle and being strong by understanding the physics, politics and psychology of conflict. In the end, it is about peace. As you read the list below, think about how many of these principles are adaptable to your business and your industry.
37 strategic principles:
- The less needed the better.
- Knowledge of the problem is key to the problem.
- Make conflict unnecessary; win without fighting.
- Plan for what is difficult while it is easy.
- Understanding conflict can lead to resolution and avoidance.
- War is destructive, even for the victors.
- A small group can prevail over a large group.
- Know when to advance and when to withdraw.
- Promote for ability.
- Draw up plans for success.
- Planning should be secret, attacks swift.
- Success is often gained by not doing.
- Know what not to do and when not to do it.
- Leaders consider problems and prevent them.
- Know others while being unknown to others.
- A military operation involves deception. Even though you are competent, appear incompetent.
- Avoid confrontation with a strong opponent.
- Wear opponents down, foster disharmony, manipulate their feelings, use their anger and pride against them.
- Conserve energy and material resources.
- Emphasize speed and efficiency.
- Gain victory while keeping as much intact as possible.
- Overcome opponents at the outset by foiling their plans.
- Isolate opponents and render them helpless.
- When victory is won, it should be complete.
- Skillful warriors only fight when assured of winning.
- When you know yourself and others, you are never in danger.
- Keys to victory are adaptability and inscrutability.
- Take on opponents only when they are vulnerable.
- Use orthodox and guerrilla methods of war.
- Get opponents to spread themselves thin.
- Act after having made assessments.
- A surrounded army must be given a way out.
- Draw them in with the prospect of gain, take them by confusion.
- Attack when they are unprepared; make your move when they do not expect it.
- Attack alliances.
- In battle, confrontation is done directly; victory is gained by surprise.
- The important thing is victory, not persistence.
While reviewing this list of strategies, you may be thinking about U.S. military efforts deployed against ISIS, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and North Korea. This is only natural. But think about your business and what these principles mean in that context.
I have used many of these principles successfully and benefited from the wisdom expressed in these strategies. So, I thank Sun Tzu for his wisdom from 2,000 years ago.
Dennis Zink is an Exit Strategist, business analyst and consultant. A Certified Value Builder and SCORE mentor, and the past chapter chair of SCORE Manasota. Dennis created and hosts “Been There, Done That! with Dennis Zink,” a nationally syndicated business podcast series and “SCORE Business TV” available at www.Time4Exit.com. He facilitates CEO roundtables for the Manatee and Venice chambers of commerce. Dennis led a SCORE team to create the Exit Strategy Canvas and Exit Strategy Roadmap program that provides a real-world methodology for business equity realization. Email him at dennis@Time4Exit.com.