You may be wondering how an ancient Chinese military philosopher, who authored The Art of War around 500 BC, is relevant to modern business. Surprisingly, Sun Tzu still has a profound impact, not only on modern military leaders, but on today’s strategic business thinking.

When corporate leaders are asked to identify the writer whose thinking is most clearly reflected in the business world, Sun Tzu is the name you’ll usually hear in response. CEO.com includes The Art of War on its list of recommended reading because it still contains relevant valuable lessons for those seeking to compete in the Machiavellian, 21st Century business environment.

Here are five of Sun Tzu’s key teachings, what they mean in a modern commercial context, and how they can be applied to your business.

"The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting." - Sun Tzu

Gain strategic control of the industry by outmanoeuvring your competitors

The skilful use of strategic affiliations and partnerships can limit your competitors’ freedom of action. Do not get drawn into petty conflicts that benefit no one, and only engage in confrontations that you know you can win. Control strategic areas of your industry and your competitors will be forced to react to you, and not vice versa.

"Know the enemy and know yourself, and in a hundred battles you will never be in peril." - Sun Tzu

An understanding of rival firms maximises your own competitive advantages

Identifying and exploiting your competitor’s weakness requires a deep understanding of their strategy and capabilities, as well as an appreciation of your own strengths and weaknesses. Likewise, in order to keep your competitor from utilising this strategy against you, it’s critical to keep your own plans secret.

"An army may be likened to water, just as flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands." - Sun Tzu

Avoid your competitor’s areas of strength, and attack their weakness

Many companies launch direct attacks against their competitors. This approach leads to protracted wars of attrition, which can be disastrous for all parties. Instead, concentrate on the competition’s areas of weakness, which maximises your gains while minimising the use of resources. By definition, this is bound to increase your profits.

"Generally in war, the best policy is to take a state intact." - Sun Tzu

Capture your market without destroying it

The market is essential for your own business survival and prosperity, but capturing it must be achieved carefully. A key strategy involves identifying sectors of the market where demand is high and supply is low. But price-wars should be avoided as they will provoke a swift and aggressive response from competitors, leaving the market drained of profits.

"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

Effective leadership can maximise the potential of your employees

An effective business leader should be wise, courageous, and fair when administering discipline. Leaders must also sacrifice their own personal needs for those of their group. Successfully implementing Sun Tzu’s philosophy in the modern business arena is not easy, but if you possess the leadership traits necessary for doing so, then it’s likely that success will be forthcoming.

Master the art of business with the MSc in Strategic Business Management.

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