Business is not war

You know what really annoys me?

Idiots who think reading Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” is a good primer for business. Okay, it’s a good managerial treatise if you’ve managed to somehow travel back in time and are running a rice distribution business in China in the sixth century BC. That’s when it was written.

Nowadays “The Art of War” is a historical relic. The idea of business as war is no longer relevant or even profitable. Unless you’re a Mexican drug lord. (Although the smarter ones have worked out it makes more sense and money to work together with other criminals than wildly shooting each other.)

The militarization of business language is probably the main reason why many still see an analogy between business and war. Blame this on Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz who (aside from having a great name to run his own law firm) wrote what is considered Europe’s premier work on the philosophy of war. Clausewitz was a not very successful Prussian soldier and German military theorist who stressed the political and commercial aspects of war.

Clausewitz saw military force as an instrument that states and other political actors use to pursue the ends of policy, in a dialectic between two opposing wills, each with the aim of imposing his policies and will upon his enemy.

Despite being a bloody stupid way to try and sell somebody something, Clausewitz ideas on ‘strategy’ and the rest of it became business parlance. Words like ‘company’ (unit of 130 to 150 soldiers), ‘executive officer’ (second in command), ‘division’ (usually made up of three brigades) , ‘tactic,’ ‘campaign,’ ‘mission,’ ‘defense,’ ‘attack,’ ‘operation,’ ‘scenarios.’

Hell, even ‘captains of industry’ are rooted in military thinking.

Continuing to define businesses and corporations with a military mindset means everyone continually sees everything as a state of war. Great when you wanted to focus on discipline. Not so great (okay, totally useless) when it comes to creativity and growth.

Corporations need to lose they reliance on a military model if they want to survive into the future.

If they want to thrive, they need another model altogether.

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