Saturday, August 26, 2017

ART OF WAR: for Women in Business

“Business is war.” So says Kevin O’Leary, billionaire businessman and regular participant in the wildly successful U.S. TV program, Shark Tank.

Twenty-five hundred years ago, the Chinese sage Sun Tzu (pronounced “SUN Zuh”) wrote a classic military text, The Art of War, and recently various authors have praised it as being quite applicable to business. One such author is a marketing multi-millionaire, Dan Lok, who subtitled his adaptation, Strategies for Winning in Business Today.

Sixty and Me readers seem unlikely to be quite so fierce in commerce as a Kevin O’Leary or a Sun Tzu, but there are some lessons in The Art of War that you could translate into business success.

Know Your Enemy and the Battleground

Information is key in business and war. Some facts you obtain through observation and open sources. Some you buy. Some you get from spies.

Well informed, you then need to choose battlegrounds favorable to your capabilities and compete with weaker competitors. Timing may become critical, too, as these factors will change.

You want to match your strengths against your competitors’ weaknesses, and avoid competing against well-established products or services. Information helps you make these selections in your planning.

Dan Lok writes, “No one plans to fail, they just fail to plan.”

Use Deception

Just as information is of value, so can be disinformation. You will want to shield your plans from the prying eyes of your competitors. You may want them to believe what isn’t true. As Shakespeare’s Lady MacBeth advised, “Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent beneath it.”

Looking good helps, also. Appearances count. Cosmetics can convince.  “Optics” has become a buzz-word.

Use Honesty

While using deception in shielding your plans from competitors, you want to maintain a reputation for honesty and trustworthiness, especially with respect to allies, employees, customers, and civil authorities. A successful leader needs to be respected and trusted.

Be Unpredictable

Your friends and followers will appreciate your constancy and predictability, but your competitors will take advantage of knowing your plans, so use your creativity to make rapid, clever alterations from time to time.

Avoid Head-to-Head Conflict

Find your competition’s weaknesses and focus your efforts there. Better yet, find unoccupied, open opportunities, niches, to move into. Once you make a move, do it decisively. Half-measures often fail.  Crush the competition, if present, and then hold the market tenaciously, giving your customers excellent value for their money.

Follow up your victory. Don’t become complacent. Don’t let the competition recover.

Rewards and Punishments

In business and in war, to keep morale strong, your allies and associates need to benefit from your victories. Michael LeBoeuf called this The Greatest Management Principle. It boils down to rewarding good behavior and punishing poor.

Treating your troops fairly, generously, will make them likely to behave loyally. Similarly, reward your allies.

Punishments may be needed. Do so reluctantly, however, as those punished will resent it, even as observers will learn from it. Anything can be over-done, however, and as effective as Sun’s beheadings were for shaping up the Concubine Army, we cannot recommend them.

Do not do your “enemy” a small harm. This breeds resentment. When you strike, strike decisively. Try to make them incapable of retaliating.

Problems Are Opportunities

The same factors that hamper you may impede your competition or create need in potential customers. Overcoming “barriers to entry” puts you in position to succeed, strengthening you. “Every knock is a boost,” someone other than Confucius or Sun Tzu has noted.

Be Adaptable

As conditions change, your tactics must also. Major changes may require changing even your strategies. Presumably, your goals will remain constant.

Others have said it, if Sun Tzu did not, “The best plans last only until the battle begins.” Be prepared to change.

In Conclusion

Business competition is not war, but close to it. We can profit by taking seriously the advice written two millennia ago by a Chinese sage: choose our battles, advance with speed and deception and determination, reward and punish frequently and appropriately.

Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D., is a former Harvard science professor. He still publishes, and he helps others write and publish their books via his business website, His life's central theme has been his half-century romance with his wife, Tina Su Cooper, now quadriplegic for thirteen years due to multiple sclerosis, receiving 24/7 nursing care at home, as discussed in his latest book.


Published mid-August in slightly different form at

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