Sun Tzu’s Art of war in coaching start-up companies

Today I gave a free consultation to a friend who is working on a new start-up company. Having gone through the cycle of creating and running start-ups several times, I was happy to share what I had learned.

While giving advice, I realized how many times my advice is in alignment with Sun Tsu’s Art of War which I reviewed last night.

You could argue that business is not a war, and these principles do not apply. You could also argue that if you view business as a war, it’s not a healthy approach. I personally think that business is about value creation and transaction of value. However, many of Sun Tzu’s advice in military strategy are really good advice and can be applied to just about anything in life. Most of it is simple common sense that is bound to be successful.

Here are a few good points you can apply to your startup or area of interest (bold is quote or paraphrase, followed by my commentary):

  • Know your enemies and know yourself.
    Know your strengths, weaknesses and what is your contribution to the market.
    Also know your market and competition.
  • Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.
    Good planning and preparation is essential.
  • With limited resources, it’s important to outsmart rather than outfight.(paraphrase)
    In start-ups – and many companies in tough economy, lacking resources need to be replaced by working smarter.
  • When general’s orders are not clear and distinct; when there are no fixed duties assigned to officers and men, the result is utter disorganization.
    It’s important to delegate in a way that clearly articulates what needs to be done. Chain of command and organization needs to be clear and support proper delegation. Forget micromanagement and unclear management structures.
  • Clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease.
    It’s important to have a comfortable path toward the goal.
  • Essential in war is victory, not prolonged operations.
    It’s important to find a way to reach your goals. If exit plan, revenue or some milestone is important, focus on achieving that as soon as possible. Be lean and focused in the operations.

The list of quotes and their applications to modern world goes on and on. Above is just a few of my favorites. There are books written on how to apply these 13 chapters in different areas of life and society. It’s fascinating how (according one history version), in survival situation, serving higher purpose and when facing ten times larger opponent, Sun Tzu came up with this wisdom. Many of the common phrases we use every day are originating from General Sun Tzu.

Back to my story about my friend with his start-up company. After going through all sorts of creative tactics to win the ongoing battles, we decided on a new strategy that was not capital intensive, it was simple, and exactly what is needed to get to the next level in the business.

I’m tempted to continue writing. But I better focus on my next challenges.

Enjoy and be smart in what you do.

Eero

Ps. Here’s an awesome documentary that will give you a taste of what art of war is about:

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