Sun Tzu's The Art of War applied to modern business, focusing on strategy.
| PART THREE: ATTACK BY STRATAGEM
1. Sun Tzu said: In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them.
In War: The army itself is a spoil of war, as are the other elements of the country. To deprive your enemy of their benefit is good, but to utilize their benefit for your own good is much better. The terrible scorched-earth policy, which holds that it is better to destroy your own country than to allow it to fall into enemy hands, is the other side of this same coin and further proves the principle. Scorched-earth policies have been observed by Adolf Hitler and other failed generals throughout history. It should be noted that it has also worked, as it did against Napoleon’s ill-fated Russian invasion.
In Business When Your Client/Customer is Your Enemy: Precisely as Sun Tzu says; you don’t want to destroy your clients or customers. Their benefit is not only your own benefit, it’s your job, your professional responsibility. A salesperson doesn’t care about their customer’s wellbeing, but a consultant considers his- or herself responsible for the wellbeing of their clients. The healthier and more prosperous your clients are, the healthier and more prosperous your business will be.
In Business When Your Competition is Your Enemy: Here also, it is better to envelop all of your competition’s client base than to destroy it so that your competition cannot enjoy it. If you are a pet store owner, for example, you’d rather not damage the need for pets (which damages your own business), you simply want to capture the attention of the pet-loving public.
2. Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.
In War: War is costly and, although necessary to the State, is not always necessary. Fighting when it is not necessary is counter to Sun Tzu’s advice. Breaking down the resistance of the enemy, through embargoes and diplomacy, are always the alternative to armed conflict, which remains a position of last resort. Moltke's greatest triumph, the capitulation of the huge French army at Sedan, was won practically without bloodshed. Rome’s unlikely defeat of Carthaginian Hannibal was achieved by an unwillingness to face Hannibal in direct combat.
In Business When Your Client/Customer is Your Enemy: Here, breaking the resistance of your customer/client is exactly what you need to do. Each are resisting you at all times. Most business professionals agree that, at any given time, only three percent of the buying public wants any particular product or service at a given time. Are you selling a car this week? This week, only three percent of the buying public is ready to buy a car. That’s pretty strong resistance. Add to that figure the fact that salesmen are among the least-trusted of all professionals; more resistance. Economic factors, other necessities, competition; everything contributes to your enemy’s resistance. If you can break that resistance down, victory will be attainable; if not, then it won’t be.
In Business When Your Competition is Your Enemy: You can only break the resistance of your competition by driving them out of business by using superior tactics and having greater discipline and better information. You’re reading this book, so this is a significant step in that direction. They’re probably reading it too, however...
3. Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy's plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy's forces; the next in order is to attack the enemy's army in the field; and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.
In War: To avoid fighting is the best way to survive war, Sun Tzu seems to be saying. Barring that, prevent attack by the enemy by disjointing their forces. If necessary, attack in the field and lastly, siege a walled city if only absolutely necessary, as is it is the riskiest and most costly strategy. Modern warfare against Middle Eastern countries generally follow this step-by-step trajectory.
In Business When Your Client/Customer is Your Enemy: What are the parallels when dealing with a customer or client? You can’t avoid this “fight” and you don’t want to; you simply want to know you’re fighting the best fight, which plays to your advantages and strengths. How to do this? Let’s look at three models of client/customer outreach; brick-and-mortar shops, online marketing and telemarketing. To not fight might be to have a brick-and-mortar store, drawing in customers with advertising and your physical presence, such as at a mall or tourist attraction. When you attack in the field you are marketing online; customers meet you there voluntarily with as much power to click to another site as you have power to sell them using the site they’re on. The least preferable method is to besiege a walled city, or call somebody’s home (or even office) directly. When calling people at their homes after business hours you are at supreme risk. But even calling business-to-business carries its own professional baggage and drawbacks. Better that they should call you.
In Business When Your Competition is Your Enemy: Again, the best way to beat your competition is to launch way ahead of them. If you can’t, meet them on the field of online marketing or even on the buyer/sales rep level. The riskiest move is to contract them directly in some chicanery. Indirect methods are strongest and least risky here. You may wind up divulging information you’d be better served to keep secret, or worse. The best option here is not to fight.
5. The general, unable to control his irritation, will launch his men to the assault like swarming ants, with the result that one-third of his men are slain, while the town still remains untaken. Such are the disastrous effects of a siege.
In War: The general, losing patience at the long delay, may make a premature attempt to storm the place before his engines of war are ready.
In Business When Your Client/Customer is Your Enemy: You may blow the sale from the get-go if you call people in their homes.
In Business When Your Competition is Your Enemy: Ditto.
6. Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy's troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.
7. With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete.
This is the method of attacking by stratagem.
8. It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten to the enemy's one, to surround him; if five to one, to attack him; if twice as numerous, to divide our army into two.
9. If equally matched, we can offer battle; if slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy; if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him.
In War: Numbers help dictate strategy.
In Business When Your Client/Customer is Your Enemy: Numbers will influence your every move here. How much money goes in or out, how many units, work hours. If you have greater numbers you can reach more clients and increase their purchasing frequency and quantity. If not, you’ll have to maximize other resources; such as cleverness, industry information, understanding of core human psyche, economic factors and more.
In Business When Your Competition is Your Enemy: Here, despite what Sun Tzu says, numbers can really work against you. Bigger competition means tougher competition, that’s all there is to it. They buy in greater bulk and can offer greater discounts. And your average doctor or lawyer is hit hard too; by branch firms that advertise and grab an increasing share of the available client pool. If your competition has you beat on numbers, you’ll need a clever alternative and a smarter use of the resources you do have.
10. Hence, though an obstinate fight may be made by a small force, in the end it must be captured by the larger force.
In War: Thermopylae, the Alamo; history his littered with the bones of soldiers of obstinate smaller forces.
In Business When Your Client/Customer is Your Enemy: If you’re trying to bag a client who simply can afford better or has no need of your particular services, you may want to cut your loses and look elsewhere until you’ve grown into the company suitable to fulfill those needs. Client companies go through several sets of professionals, so your chance may always come again.
In Business When Your Competition is Your Enemy: If you’re pulling a David-and-Goliath with a huge chain, be careful and be smart or be ready to relocate.
11. Now the general is the bulwark of the State; if the bulwark is complete at all points; the State will be strong; if the bulwark is defective, the State will be weak.
In War: More figurative here, but still important. All war generates from the general outward. The strength of the source will determine the strength of all that follows.
In Business When Your Client/Customer is Your Enemy: It all comes down (or up) to the person in charge. And somebody’s always in charge somewhere, at least until one gets to the bottom of the corporate chain. And even employees control the cash registers which they lock up and then restock. But in this instance, we’re thinking about managers, supervisors, CEOs and those with considerable responsibility. And those who aren’t there yet should think of themselves as about to get there. How? Assume responsibility as if you were in charge, and you soon will be. And if you are strong, the State (or the business) will be strong. If you are weak, the State will be weak. And if you actually are the person in control, the branch manager, the small business owner, the company CEO, know for a mortal certainty that the success or failure of your company, region, small shop or whatever, will be laid at your feet whether that is reasonable or not. And it is.
In Business When Your Competition is Your Enemy: Likewise, think of yourself as the first and last option against the competition. Lead from the front. Take responsibility and others around you will be inspired to do the same. You be the one to bring some new and vital industry information into the office, it’ll make you stand out and, when your bosses hear it, they’ll see you as a source of that information and thus as a person of value. Information is vital and your bosses know that. Toss them a few nuggets and see what kind of reaction you get. Not sure how to put this to use? Remember the fried chicken franchise owner who heard about the regional beef recall? He offered his customers a free soda with every meal to raise awareness of this public menace and brought a lot of business into his store. Are you a mid-level executive at a big candy concern? Keep an eye on resveratrol, which is a potent antioxidant found in red grapes and in dark chocolate. It appears in the news all the time as a leader in holistic research and can offer you all kinds of statistics to share with your superiors: When they hear you mention casually that a new study suggested resveratrol can reduce the risk of heart attacks by 30%, and that dark chocolate is one of the most popular ways to get it into your system, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor.
12. There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his army.
13 (1). By commanding the army to advance or to retreat, being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey. This is called hobbling the army.
In War: Hitler sent his troops to cross Russia on foot in the winter, a classic hobbling, and an example of strategic suicide.
In Business When Your Client/Customer is Your Enemy: Don’t hobble your client/customer with too little information or too many choices. Don’t hobble your workforce with too many work hours, insufficient information, unrealistic quotas.
In Business When Your Competition is Your Enemy: The same holds true when dealing with your competition, because a well-organized workforce is your best way to do that. If anything, try to put your competition in a position where they might be hobbled. Do you sell bikes? Get an exclusive contract with a local manufacturer and your competition will not be able to compete with you on this level and so will be hobbled.
14 (2). By attempting to govern an army in the same way as he administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which obtain in an army. This causes restlessness in the soldier's minds.
In War: Ts`ao Kung's note is, freely translated: "The military sphere and the civil sphere are wholly distinct; you can't handle an army in kid gloves." And Chang Yu says: "Humanity and justice are the principles on which to govern a state, but not an army; opportunism and flexibility, on the other hand, are military rather than civil virtues to assimilate the governing of an army."
In Business When Your Client/Customer is Your Enemy: As I said, there is a difference between warfare and the world of business. Knowing that difference, and when to act accordingly, is crucial not only to your success in business but in humanity. Never sacrifice the latter for the former.
In Business When Your Competition is Your Enemy: Let your competition make this fatal mistake.
15 (3). By employing the officers of his army without discrimination, through ignorance of the military principle of adaptation to circumstances. This shakes the confidence of the soldiers.
In War: Tu Mu quotes: "The skillful employer of men will employ the wise man, the brave man, the covetous man, and the stupid man. For the wise man delights in establishing his merit, the brave man likes to show his courage in action, the covetous man is quick at seizing advantages, and the stupid man has no fear of death." So a good general deploys the right officer for the right occasion, and the foolish general deploys officers without discrimination.
In Business When Your Client/Customer is Your Enemy: In this instance, you have no real use for the stupid man (or woman). The others are all straightforwardly beneficial to any business team.
In Business When Your Competition is Your Enemy: Does your competition employ the stupid man? If you knew that, and who it was, you could use it to your advantage. The stupid man, not afraid of death (or in this case bankruptcy) will be easy competition to outwit and outsell. If not, how brave are they? How shrewd? The more you know, the stronger your position will be, as will be discussed further.
16. But when the army is restless and distrustful, trouble is sure to come from the other feudal princes. This is simply bringing anarchy into the army, and flinging victory away.
In War: The results of a poor general’s mistakes are dependable; competition. A weak force is certain to be challenged, perhaps successfully. Alexander the Great’s forces felt he’d lost touch with his extended campaign, they lost confidence in him and this began his military downfall, which was cut short by his physical downfall and premature demise.
In Business When Your Client/Customer is Your Enemy: If your employees are unhappy, your business will not run smoothly, which will lead to a downward spiral resulting in your business’s demise. Keep them rewarded but disciplined and this harmony with your forces will serve you well.
In Business When Your Competition is Your Enemy: Is your enemy’s army distrustful or restless? Does the enemy commander have the moral law on his side? If not, these can be used against him. There’s no reason talented people should remain in an unhappy circumstance; poach them if you can. If not, you can surely make use of spies (a later chapter) to further disintegrate the esprite de corp of your enemy and let it fall under the weight of its own discontent. Or, if they are in good shape on these counts, you may want to employ another, more timely and effective strategy.
17. Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory: (1) He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. 2) He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces. (3) He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks. (4) He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared. (5) He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.
18. Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.