Lessons from Sun Tzu: The Art of War

Image of a hand holding a clock

Have you ever read The Art of War by Sun Tzu?  Sun Tzu was assigned to assist General Wu Zixu as head of troop discipline.  He lived from 544 to 496 BC.  (to put that in perspective…Confucius was also alive at this time)  You might be thinking what is the big deal about a book written about war thousands of year ago.  Sun Tzu’s insight into war can be applied to business today. 

The Art of War has five major principles.  The one that is speaking to me today is:


He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.


Sun Tzu understood that there were two main keys to winning in battle….speed and surprise.  In order to achieve both, preparation was key.  However, Sun Tzu didn’t see preparation as a passive activity.  He saw it as a very active position.  He gave many examples of how to prepare and be in action at all times.  Here are some examples (how war applies to business):

  1.  Know where your enemy is at –  What is your competition doing?  How are they positioned?  What are their weaknesses?  What are their strengths? 
  2.  Prepare for the offensive –  Don’t compete where your enemy is strong…attack where they are weak.  Make sure your business or team are preparing for offense.  You don’t win in business by holding on to your current customers…you must gain new clients/ territory.
  3.  Have a defense – Customer retention allows you to keep your current client base secure while you grow.  Don’t forget that you should be providing the best service to keep clients not just expand your territory.
  4.  Be ready for opportunity – Your enemy will always give you an opening.  Be ready to strike with speed.  Don’t look for the obvious…sometimes the opportunity isn’t what you expected.

As business leaders, we spend way too much time thinking preparation is about reading, learning and training.  If you look at any military unit, preparation is an active state.  It isn’t a rest or passive state.  In order to be ready for battle, you must be prepared.  Being prepared allows for speed and surprise advantage.

What areas of your business need some preparation?  Where are you weak in your customer retention?  Is your marketing and sales funnels strong?  Have you neglected areas of your business?


Sun Tzu left us with this thought-provoking statement.

“Those that are skilled move the enemy; they aren’t moved by the enemy.”

Are you moving your competition or do they have you on the run?