5 Ways To Apply War And Military Strategies To Your Business
Because some philosophical wisdoms, such as Sun Bin's Art of War, never get old.
What does a Chinese general and military strategist, who lived more than 2,500 years ago, know about doing business in the 21st century? More than anyone would care to admit, says Wee Chow Hou.
Wee is a professor of strategy and marketing at the Nanyang Business School, in the Nanyang Technological University.
Outside of academic circles, he is a consultant and executive trainer who has worked with over 300 major organizations in 30 countries, including Bank of China, Siemens Corporation and the Lippo Group.
His area of expertise: The modern-day practical applications of the philosophies of Chinese strategist Sun Zi, as laid out in the world-renowned treatise Sun Zi Bing Fa.
Since 1985, Wee has been teaching the subject to corporates and written numerous books on it. His latest tome is Sun Zi Bingfa: Strategic Applications to Business and Marketing Practices, published this year.
Don’t get him wrong though, Wee is not advocating war. In fact, he emphasises that Sun Zi never championed it. Instead, it is about how to win without fighting, because an army engaged in a protracted campaign cannot be assured of a victory.
Here, Wee offers five ways that Sun Zi’s philosophies can be applied when in a boardroom battle, to ensure triumph.
1. Win through detailed planning
No general goes to war without planning. Likewise, any CEO and senior management of a company cannot go into business without planning. The focus must be on how well, detailed and thorough the plan is. It has to take in all the possible parameters, including the need for contingency planning, scenario analysis, and survival planning (including the issue of sustainability).
In today’s highly turbulent and uncertain world, I would argue that there is even more urgency and importance to assess and plan well. In particular, the concepts of contingency planning, scenario analysis and survival planning (including the issue of sustainability) take on more significance today.
2. Any planning must be grounded in intelligence
Before launching a new product or service, it is important to understand how yours differs from the others already available. Once that is established, the next step is to think about
when and where to enter the market. Timing is important in business. Be mindful too that how good or well-desired your product or service is does not solely depend on you, but on others such as consumers, competitors and distribution channels.
3. Choose routes and battlegrounds that are ignored by the enemy
Pursuing opportunities yet unidentified or sidelined by competitors is a good strategy to adopt. DHL is a good example of adopting this. While FedEx and UPS were busy contesting each other in the US market, they missed out on the relatively less developed non-US markets like Asia. Sensing the potential, DHL entered it and built itself a tremendous reputation and market share.
4. Be proactive in defence
It is never easy to create your own sector entirely without any competition. A more realistic, practical and prudent approach is to defend aggressively what a company has — coined “proactive defence” by Sun Zi — while looking out for new opportunities. To ensure that competitors do not encroach, a company should constantly upgrade, improve and reinvent itself in every aspect of the business. These would include continual product/service improvement, innovation and refinement; increased productivity through automation and application of information technology; changes in packaging, design, colours, logo, and etc; selective promotion to defend or gain market share; finding new usages or users and applications; exploring new ways of doing business like Internet sales and warehouse sales; brand extension to other products; strategic alliances and buying up competitors through mergers and acquisitions.
5. Seek the early mover advantage
There are many benefits to this, including having adequate time and opportunity to establish market share and a brand name, creating barriers to entry, and dictating industry standards. In addition, with limited competitors, mistakes are more easily accommodated by the market, and the company can also can make excess profits, and build up its resources to take on late-comers. Finally, it may even be able to embark on product extension and diversification.