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Sun Tzu – The Art of War for Managers

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Sun Tzu The Art of War for Managers
The Arts of War for Managers

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.”

5 Comments

  • R says:

    Ah, yes. In one way or another I’ve had to read this book so many times since I was 18 years old. Its very simplistic approach orgainizing a process of thought is so undiluted that a range of diciplines outside of warfare have referenced it.
    One of my favorite lessons from it is the idea of knowing one’s self, and knowing one’s enemy. Paraphrased somewhat “If you know yourself but not your emeny, or you know your enemy and not yourself then your victory’s are 50-50 per engaugement. If you know yourself and your enemy you will always win. And if you know not yourself or your enemy you will always lose.”
    This basic idea seems overly elementary but once you dig into it, the words are asking you very complex questions and telling you how important being honest with youself is. To know one’s self is more then knowing your capabilities, its knowing your mental and emotional limits, where your confidence is justified or a liability, even knowing your oragainzations members as in where can they excel, the state of their moral, how far they can be pushed, and when improvement is needed. Of course all of this applies to knowing these things about your adversary as well.
    What you don’t know is just as important. Is the fact that the enemy didn’t shoot back a sign they are not there, or are you about to run into a huge trap. What you don’t know, and that you can be honest about not knowing it can be a great benifit. This tells you what needed to be learned, loosing or mistakes turn into quite valueable oppurtunities for learning and improvement.
    One example of an idea I had for employing the Art of War’s ideas into pest management was the use of fire. Sun Tzu describes the use of fire in various ways, and yes, he is speaking about an actual buring fire, but consider the following: Fire is something everyone is fimilar with, it causes the same response and reaction for all humans. Fire dominates a given area for a period of time, does its job, and moves to a new area. It also demands our complete attention. Well, what if like a fire, all of your operators tackled their routes the same way. All the company’s vehicles and techs sweeping through one specific area. The residents of that area would by human nature have to notice and observed the show, they would see vehicles everywhere that day, techs would knocking out massive amounts of stops as they consolidated work and teamed up on larger accounts. If you didn’t know any better driving through, you’d think that company owned that who place. The show of force comparable to seeing a massive fire roaring down a large forest or hillside. As the stops were completed, much like a fire searching for more fuel, a new area becomes consumed.

  • R says:

    Bien sur.

  • smooth says:

    do you have individual company website

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