Vacations are a great time to get away from your business long enough to truly think about it, free from the daily distractions. This week, while in the Baltic republics, I have been reading Sun Tzu The Art of War for Managers. It’s rare for me to read a book from front to back cover, so having succeeded in that regard I can attest that it is a book that even I can get through.
“Sun Tzu – The Art of War for Managers” lays out the lessons of one of the all time best of strategists and tacticians. For one, the book starts with the most simple and clear definition of strategy and tactics. “Strategy is about doing the right thing. Tactics are about doing it right.” You need to understand both to be successful in business. So where does strategy end and tactics begin? Here is another simple rule: It happens at the point of contact. In war, it happens when you come in contact with the enemy; in business it is when you come in contact with the customer. This is not to say that the customer is the enemy, only that all preparations to create a business with potential customers meets the hard facts of reality at the point of first contact with customers.
Any business, large or small, can benefit from reading this book. No business is ever in a status quo. That will last about one minute. Businesses face dynamic situations that managed correctly can propel business growth, but dealt with incorrectly or not at all can drive a company into the ground.
If you have a military background, you’ll quickly relate to the book. I’ve never met a military veteran who doesn’t compare all his or her experiences to past military battles or preparations. If like most of us, you cannot say that you performed military service, it’s much harder to read through a book that stems from comparisions with military genious. So initially, the military examples throw me off, but as I pushed on, chapter by chapter, I started to get it. I started to equate military situations with those found in business. I learned about different types of attack, which types were best on certain terrain and with larger or smaller forces. I found the discussion of spies very entertaining. I thought there were only two types of spies, regular spies and double agents, but there are more. This book defines them, how to recruit and maintain them and their criticality for the preparation and execution of war. More importantly, I learned the business equivalents for military dimensions of the problem: moral influence = spirit of the mission, weather = outside forces, terrain = the marketplace, commander = leadership principles, doctrine = formula that defines success.
The authors, Geraldand Steve Michaelson do a great job of structuring the book. You don’t need to read through 50 pages of military strategy before you get down to business. You’ll find small digestable chapters following the military though of Sun Tzu. In each nuggle of Sun Tzu’s wisdom you’ll find commentary on business take-aways. After discussing plans for war, the execution of war, attack by strategem, maneuvering, tactics, terrain and more, all with relation to businessess, you would think that the book is done, the job complete. But not this book, which then provides in depth business examples from large corporations. Finally, the chapter concepts are summarized. I think the authors really respected the need for people to hear information in more than one way, understandding that no matter how good the presentation, good ideas still need to be repeated to be adequately remembered.
I don’t yet know how I’ll apply Sun Tzu’s principles specifically to my pest control business. I can tell you that I was thinking about my pest control company through every page of the book.
This is a book that will cause you to rethink the way you do business. A good point the authors make is that you should not limit your planning to what you can do with existing tools. “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything will look like a nail.”