The Art of Business War: 4 Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Sun Tzu

What can entrepreneurs learn from Sun Tzu, an ancient Chinese military general, strategist and philosopher? Quite a bit. Most notably Sun Tzu authored The Art of War, an...

What can entrepreneurs learn from Sun Tzu, an ancient Chinese military general, strategist and philosopher?

Quite a bit.

Most notably Sun Tzu authored The Art of War, an influential ancient Chinese book on military strategy, which has been put into practical use by multinational corporate leaders and small businesses, alike. If you’re unfamiliar, the premise sheds light on the importance of positioning in military strategy, which can easily correlate to entrepreneurship.

“The decision to position an army must be based on both objective conditions in the physical environment and the subjective beliefs of other, competitive actors in that environment. Sun Tzu thought that strategy was not planning in the sense of working through an established list, but rather that it requires quick and appropriate responses to changing conditions. Planning works in a controlled environment; but in a changing environment, competing plans collide, creating unexpected situations.”

How are Sun Tzu’s military strategies relevant to your small business?


Four Business Lessons Learned from Sun Tzu’s Art of War

Here are four lessons entrepreneurs can leverage and employ to position themselves for victory:

1. Strategy


“All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.” Sun Tzu


In a utopian business society, entrepreneurs would first develop a perfect strategy then execute on tactics. This is ideal, but it’s not a reality for most small businesses.

However, if you’re picking your marketing tactics out of a proverbial hat, it may be time to give thoughtful consideration to how you gain customers, market your business and increase sales. These thoughts can generate ideas, that will lay the foundation for your strategy — thus improving your trial and error.

Why is strategy so important?

Because it lays out a blueprint in which you can focus and derive tactics. As you scale your company, if you continue to operate on a “wild, wild west” tactical plan without a true strategy that delineates focus your company could easily fall on “friendly fire.” This can play out in various ways — inefficient use of budgets, lost sales, high customer acquisition costs and so on.

It’s easy to observe other companies in your industry and see the tactics that make them successful. But don’t forget that there is likely an overarching strategy guiding their tactics.

This is why many deem it unwise to do what you see your competitor doing, and think “If it worked for them, it can work for me!” This is rarely the case.

Your business is unique and so are your customers. In order to develop winning tactics, set out an unassailable strategy from which your victory will evolve.

2. Mindset


“You have to believe in yourself.” Sun Tzu


Does a military commander go into battle without a high expectation of winning? Not likely.

So why do you?

Do you believe you can secure startup capital? Do you believe that your team has the talent and skill to increase market share?

If you don’t believe you can — you won’t.

Belief in yourself and faith in your abilities is a common thread amongst all successful entrepreneurs. The human brain entertains 70,000 thoughts per day. Not all of them are productive. So it’s important to selectively entertain thoughts that lift your vision and business higher.


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