Success and The Art Of War

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Business is the new age battlefield and surprisingly Sun Tzu’s 2500-year-old tactics can still be applied and found successful to this day. Bill Belichick, Patriots head coach, is known to have closely studied Sun Tzu’s teachings to give him insights in preparing for games, and no one can argue with that man’s success.  The brilliant and timeless philosophy The Art of War presents is still taught at places like West Point and Harvard Business School today. So, what can we, as CEOs, leaders, and decision-makers learn from this ancient military text?

“When he is taking ease, give him no rest.” The text is riddled with harsh words and phrases which have ruthless and cutthroat connotations in today’s society. And although many view the business world as ruthless, The Art of War teaches us more than simply being unforgiving towards our enemy or competition and crushing them with brute force. Sun Tzu says: “To win 100 victories in 100 battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.” We wish to achieve this pinnacle of skill within our own markets, to win with ease, exerting the least amount of effort necessary, with laser-like efficiency and wasting no movements or valuable resources. How does one win with ease? Sun Tzu stresses the importance of understanding our enemies, as well as understanding ourselves before we engage them in battle or enter into the market.

This is where the “Art” comes in. It’s about winning the battle before it is even fought. Out-thinking and out-maneuvering your opponent, understanding your strengths, recognizing your opponent’s weaknesses, and capitalizing on opportunities present in any given market. Sun Tzu says, “Know your enemy and know yourself and you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”  Once your company understands its competition as well as it understands itself, remaining one step ahead of them will become instinctive. Ultimately, who survives in the end? The ones best able to adapt to changing circumstances and modifying one’s plans accordingly.

With today’s rapidly evolving technology influenced age, this must be a constant battle waged in one’s own mind, or as Sun Tzu would put it “a general’s temple.” “The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.” So, leave nothing up to chance, calculate for every variable you can think of, measure, examine, and contemplate, this will reveal opponents’ vulnerabilities, and uncover the present opportunities in your market; all while discovering your own personal blind spots within your organization. The same amount of calculations as your competitors equals the same strategy; therefore, you must strive to exceed your competitor, make your strategy a point of differentiation within your market. The battle is won before it is even fought.

“Attack where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.” Technology is growing at an exponential rate and a new app tomorrow could completely change the market landscape. You and your company must be unpredictable to remain competitive. If you are using the same tactics or selling strategies you were using 10 years ago, you may have already been left behind. Constantly search for new avenues to reinvent yourself, while still remaining true to your original vision. Devise new ways to sell and brand yourself. “Attack where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.”

One final insight to take to heart: A business is ultimately only as good as the people working within it, and an army is no different. Sun Tzu recognized this and urged his readers to: “Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley.” Deep valleys will undoubtedly appear, regardless of your company’s current standing within the market. However, if you are prepared, well calculated, unpredictable, understand your competition as well as you understand yourself, and possess the unbridled trust of your company’s troops/employees; you need not fear the outcome of one hundred battles or the deepest of valleys. Your company’s success will be a guarantee before the battle is waged. Yet, you must always remain wary and ready to adapt to the inevitably changing circumstances in today’s competitive landscape.

Kelly D. Scott
The world’s leading business advisory and executive coaching organization

Race “With” Technology to Maintain Competitive Advantage

“Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.”–Stewart Brand, founder of the Global Business Network

Technology does not grow in a linear fashion, it grows exponentially. As time passes, this curve becomes steeper and steeper while technology improves at an unfathomable rate. This phenomenon makes technology particularly difficult to keep up with and stay ahead of. Our brains are wired for a linear world; as a result, exponential trends take us by surprise.

The Wright brothers achieved their first powered flight in 1903, marking an incredible achievement in human history. No more than 42 years later, we would use this same technology to drop an atomic bomb with the power of a small Sun. Fast forward 70 years and the computer that runs the clock in your iPhone is more powerful than the one that put a man on the Moon.  Steven Hawking states, “the computer in your cellphone is a million times cheaper, a thousand times more powerful, and a hundred thousand times smaller than the computer at MIT in 1965.” What used to take up the space of an entire room now fits in the palm of your hand and is exponentially more powerful.

This growth is only increasing. Businesses in countless industries are now implementing technologies such as A.I. to remain competitive in this fast-moving technological age. IBM’s Watson currently holds over 100 jobs simultaneously. It can file your taxes, has jobs in call centers, diagnoses patients in hospitals in China, and recently even beat the world champion at Jeopardy by a massive margin. These innovations such as Watson mean competition can come from places you do not expect.

In this machine age, if you are not striving to remain ahead of the curve you are likely already left behind. Wal-Mart is a great example of this. Sitting arrogantly atop its ivory retail tower, Wal-Mart and other retailers were blindsided by Amazon. Humbly beginning as an online bookstore, I doubt the Wal-Mart CEOs or board members saw them as a potential threat or competitor.

This is simply a microcosm of what is occurring in every industry. Netflix and Blockbuster, Uber and the Taxicab industry, Airbnb and the hotel industry, each of these booming companies surpassed their old slow-moving competition with better integration of emerging technologies. All while offering easier access to the masses, saving customers their most valuable resource: time.

With competition arising from unforeseen places, how do you maintain your competitive advantage amidst this rapidly evolving environment? If you try to race against the machines, you will undoubtedly lose every time, their growth is exponential. Erik Brynjolfsson, Director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy poses a different strategy: Race with the machines. Machines should be viewed as our teammates for increased growth and process time efficiency rather than our enemies that hinder jobs.

He brings up an example perfectly depicting this stating that the world chess champion is no longer a person; today, a chess program running on your cellphone can best any grandmaster. However, the world champion is no longer a computer either. A freestyle tournament was set up by the former world champion Gary Kasparov where teams of humans and computers could work together. Brynjolfsson goes on to say, “The winning team had no grandmaster, and it had no supercomputer, what it had was better teamwork. They showed that a team of humans and computers working together could beat any computer or any human working alone… Racing with the machine beats racing against the machine.”

Take this idea of teamwork with machines rather than a race against them to heart. Carefully study new innovations and incorporations of technology in various businesses, not only in your own industry but in other unconnected industries as well. You may never know where your next competitor will arise from. See if these technologies can be applied to your own business and daily work processes.

Although not every company has the resources or financial backing to incorporate A.I. into their business, gaining a better understanding of these technologies will aid you in your race with the machines, not against them, and help your business grow rather than leaving it behind in this inevitable exponential climb of technology.

Kelly D. Scott
The world’s leading business advisory and executive coaching organization