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Strategic learning from the Art of War

The Art of War

art1Initially I was surprised when Professor S Krishna handed over book “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, and suggested that we read the ancient book before our China module sessions. I could not understand how the book relates to our course but  after reading the book once, I have realized that this is a must read for every management student.

Even though the original version of this book was written two and half thousand years ago, the concepts mentioned are relevant to date. Each chapter details different strategies on how to prepare and wage a war. The principles the book details will be aptly be applicable in today’s business world. This book helps with strategic thinking to solve business issues, deal with personnel and understand business directions.

I would like to bring out parallels  of some points mentioned in this book to some of learnings  I have from this course so far.

  • “Know your enemy, know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster” – To find and exploit your competitor’s weakness requires a deep understanding of their strategy, capabilities, as well as similar depth of knowledge of your own strengths and weaknesses. It is very important to have a feel of “terrain” on which you will do battle.

  • “The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger” – Sun Tzu describes many traits of the preferred type of leader. If leader is wise, sincere, humane, courageous and strict, and his needs are less important compared to that of troops then leaders can get most out of their employees.

  • He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks”

Art2 – Successful leader should be able to unite team with singleness of purpose and should be able to successful to inject business mission and vision.  At Standard Chartered, Peter Sands and his predecessor, Mervyn Davis, turned an institution its own employees thought was mediocre into a respected global leader that sailed smoothly through the economic storms. Sands is a highly ambitious leader who was successfully able to forge powerful strategic visions from a more comprehensive view of his organizations’ resources. He built widespread commitment and capabilities to achieve visions by steadily nurturing organization as communities of shared purpose. ( HBR, The Higher-Ambition Leader, Sep 2011)

  • “He first of all considers the power of his army in the bulk; afterwards he takes individual talent into account, and uses each man according to his capabilities. He does not demand perfection from the untalented” – Leader or company should understand the strength and weakness of the firm and individual resources and act or make decisions based on the capabilities. I would like to highlight a blog written by Denise Morrison, President and CEO at Campbell Soup Company. She emphasis on developing the right structure with strong leaders across organization, having people processes in place by understanding cultural strength and weaknesses, aligning organization to develop and implement an agile and decision-making model, making every single member in the organization accountable to for their actions and the results.

  • “He who only sees the obvious, wins his battles with difficulty, he who looks below the surface of things, wins with ease” – Don’t be carried away and make decisions on what you see is obvious. You will be successful if you can comprehend what is not obvious. Paul M. Anderson mentioned a case of Henry Ford II. He quoted “When Henry Ford II was alive, when I worked there; imports were just coming into the States. He said that he wasn’t worried about imports because no one he knew drove a foreign car. I thought: of course, no one you know drives one, you live in Grosse Pointe, Michigan.”. Henry ford II completely ignored the fact of foreign car competition and had struggled to survive.

  • “You may advance and be absolutely irresistible, if you make for the enemy’s weak points ; you may retire and be safe from pursuit if your movements are more rapid than those of the enemy” – This is the core of competitive strategy. Firms will be successful if act on the competitor’s weak areas and act very quickly in closing art3the gap. During 1999, Monster.com came up with a business model to post jobs on the internet. The incumbent newspapers such as Boston Globe, The New York Times could not catch up the trend and few instances ignored the opportunity assuming it to be insignificant. Monster.com seized the opportunity very quickly and had a tremendous growth.

  •   “To defeat the enemy, you must be flexible as water. Water has the ability to quickly art4take the shape of any container it finds itself” – your overall business strategy must be flexible and opportunistic with respect to prevailing situation. You must constantly review your strategies and make necessary adjustments. Blackberry (RIM) was once considered as a darling of the enterprise (crackberry.com) and ruled mobile world until iPhone launch in 2007. Blackberry was valued $83.4 billion in 2008 but now it’s worth is $3.4 billion. Blackberry was not able to connect with changing customer requirements. They completed failed how products were thought about, created, iterated, marketed, and sold (economic times). Blackberry got the hardware and the operating system but could not catch up with consumer app side of things. Hope they identify right strategy, execute and come back with flying colors.

All thirteen chapters in this book are filled with ever green principles which are relevant to today’s business management. The book has truly inspired me and I am sincerely grateful to the professor for exposing us to great book.

Further Reading

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Contributed by  Mr. Suman Chittimuri,  AMPGS 2013