Being a mother of five sons I have had many discussions about Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. It’s a classic that was written centuries ago about the winning strategy of war but is often touted as a great strategic guide for business. Mark McNeilly agrees and his book translates the principles of Sun Tzu with a business mindset.

The fundamentals of The Art of War are how to gain a competitive advantage over your enemy, in business the idea is to gain the same advantage over your competitors.

In a nutshell, McNeilly has done a great job of putting together six principles from the art of war and showing us how they can apply to business.

I – Capture Your Market without Destroying It (Win All Without Fighting)

Many business owners will fight competitors for a share of the market by reducing price. This is not a great victory as it damages the market and drains the business of profits. We can all think of industries that have waged huge price wars only to send many of them broke and see customer service at a minimum.

A true strategic victory is to secure your hold on a strong, healthy market.

II – Striking Where They Least Expect It (Avoid Strength and Attack Weakness)

“An army may be likened to water, for just as flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army avoids strength and strikes weakness.” – Sun Tzu

Rather than go into direct battle and challenge your competitors provoking them to fight back hard, it is better to be subtle and strategically look at their weaknesses. Find an area that they are not servicing, begin there and build steady growth.

III – Maximize the Power of Market Information (Deception and Foreknowledge)

“Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril” – Sun Tzu

When building a strategy it’s imperative that you know your own strengths and weaknesses and that of your competitors. There is so much information out there to assist you in doing a complete competitor analysis, take advantage of it, do your research and get to know your competitor like you know yourself, learn about trends and what is actually happening in your industry. What is your customer after?

IV – Move Swiftly to Overcome your Competitors (Speed and Preparation)

“Take advantage of the enemy’s unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions.” – Sun Tzu

One of my favourite lines in the book is “To move with speed requires much preparation.” You must examine and reduce the time it takes you to produce and deliver your products and services. Markets change at such breakneck speed, particularly the social media world; you need to be on top of it to take advantage.

V – Employing Strategy to Master the Competition (Shaping Your Opponent)

This principle talks about the power of alliance partners, how they can strengthen the position of your competitor, you need to address them. On the other hand strong alliances can bring great benefit to your strategy by opening doors to new products, services and markets.

VI – Develop your character as a leader to maximize the potential of your employees. (Character based Leadership)

“When one treats people with benevolence, justice and righteousness, and reposes confidence in them, the army will be united in mind and all will be happy to serve their leaders.” – Sun Tzu

My favourite of the principles. If the team have not aligned themselves with the leader it will be extremely difficult to succeed. For a leader to build and grow a business they need a strong inner circle based on trust. To really align a team, a leader must have strong character based on self-awareness, respect, gratitude and empathy for those who work for them.

So there you have it, Sun Tzu’s Art of War for your business. See how you go applying the principles to your business.