Important Business Lessons From The Art Of War Book
'The Art Of War' is a book about military strategy and tactics.
Written sometime between 475 and 221 B.C.E., by the author Sun Tzu, a military strategist and general, it has been passed down over many years and has become a best-selling book.
It's quickly become a book read by not only military leaders but by business leaders alike as it teaches valuable lessons on strategy and tactics to thrive against the competition.
The book is divided into 13 chapters, all of which are split into short, numeric lessons.
Modern military strategists have managed to condense the book down into six key principles.
- "To win without fighting and thus achieve the objective without destroying it."
- "To avoid strength and attack weakness, always striking the enemy where they're most vulnerable"
- "The use of deception and foreknowledge - that is, winning the information war"
- "Preparation and speed, moving swiftly to overcome all resistance."
- "Shaping the enemy by making them meet at a time and place of your choosing."
- "character-based leadership, or leading by example."
Some of these lessons have direct business influence, for example, avoiding strength and attacking weakness is like building a product where the competition falls short on.
You'll never be able to beat large competitors to market - this is why businesses that differentiate themselves, start small, and build up are the most successful.
Preparation and speed are crucial for a startup business - as a startup, you have the advantage of knowing what has worked, what hasn't, moving quickly, and iterating fast.
Aside from these 6 principles that have been inferred from the book, there is a sea of knowledge left to talk about which can be applied to the world of business.
In this article, we're going to be discussing the most important business lessons from 'The Art Of War.'
Lessons on Planning
Planning in business can be both a good thing and a bad thing.
There are two types of entrepreneurs - one that plans and plans, without acting, then there are those that act without planning.
I believe the optimal position to be in is where there's a delicate balance between the two.
When I started Condensr, my goal was to turn it into an app used by the whole world of life-long learners and entrepreneurs.
This required lots and lots of funding.
However, to raise funding, you need a business plan - a 30 page (plus) plan that outlines any and everything you're looking to do in your business.
This is not something I was looking forward to doing.
"Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt."
See, planning is an extremely important part of business. To succeed, you need a roadmap that you follow that shows you where you're going and what you should do to get there.
A plan drives the action needed to get to your goals.
However, in business, the landscape can change within seconds.
Starting a business, you might think that you're going to do one thing, a few days or weeks into the business, your plans can change dramatically.
This is where a business plan is not necessary - but general planning is.
You'll want to know everything you can about your market, the landscape, the customers, the problems they face, the competitors, time till profitability, etc.
Lessons on leadership
"A leader leads by example, not by force"
One of my first few articles on this blog spoke about how leadership is the no.1 skill needed as an entrepreneur.
Leadership is crucial in both business and war.
Owning my marketing agency was the first time I had a team to manage.
Starting off, I had a virtual assistant who was helping us find and book calls with potential clients.
Hiring her, we expected a lot, however, we should have first been good leaders.
You can't expect someone to come in and turn your business around when you are the one heading it.
A team is only as good as its leader, then the people in it - no matter how smart the team members are, or how much they know, if the leadership is flawed, the business and the team will be flawed too.
Building a team, you must be able to find people who fit into your team and vision - those who share values similar to yours.
You may even have to make the hard decision to pass on talent/skill for heart and passion.
After all, those who have the determination will find a way to make it work.
Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, has a great rule of thumb for hiring.
He says 'If you don't see yourself working for the people you hire, you shouldn't hire them.'
This means that if the tables were turned and the person you're about to hire is hiring you, would you work for them?
If the answer is no, then you shouldn't hire them.
Leadership is the singular skill that one must master to be successful.
It's the clash of knowing what to do, who to hire, how to manage, how to lead, and how to succeed, that make up a leader.
One of my favorite speakers, Simon Sinek, wrote a book called 'Leaders Eat Last.'
It's a simple book that talks about how to be a great leader.
A simple lesson in the book is that "When leaders take care of their people, the numbers will take care of themselves."
He talks about how walking into a meeting, the leader should be the last one to speak as this will give you the chance to let everyone put their best foot forward.
Micromanaging as a leader is one of the fastest ways to get employees to stop liking you.
"If a general shows confidence in his men but always insists on his orders being obeyed, the gain will be mutual"
Even worse, micromanaging employees can get them to leave.
A great leader knows how to lead without force, but by example.
A leader sets the stage and lets everyone work in the way they see fit.
This trust must be mutual, and it all starts at the roots - who you hire.
Lessons on competition
Competition, in business, is a concept I have struggled with for a long time.
Not long ago, I wrote an article solely on competition and how to handle it.
I could never understand why so many businesses offering a homogenous product or service existed and how they thrived too.
Take Uber as an example.
Here in London, there are tons of Uber competitors, many of which are massive businesses.
Bolt is the largest one, followed by others such as Ola, FreeNow, and much more.
Sun Tzu teaches one key lesson in 'The Art Of War.'
That is "To win without fighting and thus achieve the objective without destroying it."
Sun Tzu doesn't believe in second place - you want to be the first one to market, the first to do something because, as he says:
"Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight."
Perhaps this is where someone like Peter Thiel gets his passion for dominance from.
In the practical world of business, you don't always have to be the first to market. In fact, in many cases, being first has been called a disadvantage rather than an advantage because a great product, first to market will likely be swarmed by competitors.
Look at Airbnb, for example.
As soon as Airbnb started seeing some sort of traction, it wasn't long until the competition start to latch onto the idea.
Therefore, this is why it's important to stay ahead of the competition.
Staying ahead means you'll have the upper hand. you're able to stay a few steps ahead of the competition and thus be victorious.
Lessons on attitude
"In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity."
Having the right attitude towards your business is crucial for its success.
I remember when I first got my door-to-door sales job.
My attitude stunk!
I was never more miserable to do something than to wake up early in the morning, take public transport, to go and sell people door-to-door in disastrous weather.
Before the start of every day, we would go into the office where we'd have a bit of time to talk and prepare for the day.
All I could see were people happy to do what they were doing.
Every day, I tried to tell myself it was going to be a good day.
After getting my first no, my attitude and mood crashed down to a 0.
I got annoyed and my desperation grew.
Door after door, it got worse, and it showed in my tone of voice and animation.
Attitude is very important in business.
It relates to our lessons on leadership.
Sun Tzu says: "He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks."
A team can only win when their attitude and spirits are always aligned with positivity.
Whether the situation is positive or negative, having a positive attitude is a must.
One person's negative attitude can impact the whole team.
Once again, it comes down to who you hire and how well they fit into your business and vision.
Lessons on readiness
In business, you always want to be ready.
You want to be ready for challenges that arise unanticipated, things steering off course, and more.
Business is never a straight path to success.
You need to be hopeful, yet prepared for the worst to come.
In every situation, no matter how well it may seem like it's going, will eventually go wrong.
It's why many people, Dave Ramsey in particular, preach about having a 6-month emergency fund available.
Starting a business, you never know what's going to happen.
All of a sudden you could lose everything, and without this emergency fund, you'll be in ruins.
This is why it's important to prepare and be ready for every situation that arises.
Great leaders are those who are able to stay steps ahead of everyone else by being ready.
They think of as many possibilities and outcomes as possible and plan accordingly.
When the unexpected happens, they would have already been prepared for it.
These were 5 of the most important business lessons from 'The Art Of War' book.
The book is a short yet powerful book that can teach many lessons to a new and seasoned entrepreneur.
Have you learned something new in this article?
Let me know in the comments below.
Till next time.