Understanding Concepts of Strategy in Business and War

Understanding Concepts of Strategy in Business and War

Without strategy, war would be nothing but chaos and death, a game of chance in which survival depends on luck. This may well have been the case in prehistoric times with violence a way to gain power, as perceived by educator Nick Thorpe (2000) in his study of the Mesolithic period. He notes that massacres and violent deaths were not unusual in prehistoric Europe according to archeology studies, even though that period usually has been considered a peaceful era. Conflict leading to an act of war is obviously a common element of the human condition. The art of war, on the other hand, as opposed to the act of war, has been defined by Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu as a way of thinking that calls for developing a working plan before going into battle. It was written more than 2300 years ago and has become the basis of military strategy.

Rather than looking at war as a violent, aggressive and hostile act, his perspective was to defeat the enemy without fighting by using strategy to counter the enemy’s every move (Griffith, 2005). Planning ahead and understanding the enemy was the philosophy, and this concept currently has been utilized in the business world. Although business actually cannot be defined as a military endeavor, there are several notable parallels between the strategy of war and the strategy of business.

 Comparing Strategies of War Planning and Business Planning

Strategic planning is a way to unbalance the opposition. In order to succeed in both war and business, it is necessary to establish targets and goals designed to gain power. It is equally important to be knowledgeable about factors leading to success or failure. Good leadership and control must be put into place at the outset, and resources must be carefully examined. Last, but not least, understanding the opposition and their strategy is a specific requirement (Thornton, 2006).

Targets and Goals

In war, strategy calls for a careful study of the weakest areas within the enemy camp, and in business one of the first steps in the struggle to succeed is to target the weak spots in the structure of a rival company. It is equally important to establish a final goal. Is winning enough? The strategy is not successful if a country or a company cannot maintain its position, especially in a global society. There must be a plan for follow-up when the initial goal is met. One example of the failure to establish a final goal is the “war” in the Middle East. The concept in both war and business is to be a winner and not a loser, but U.S. presence in Iraq shows no signs of reaching its unrealistic goal.

Factors Leading to Success or Failure

Setting a target and meeting goals could be regarded as two of the external environmental factors necessary for success in both war and business. However, in addition to understanding the opposition, it is important in both areas to train a contingent of individuals, whether troops or employees, to learn the rules and work together to resolve any weaknesses within the organization or bloc. This would be one of many internal environmental factors needed for a successful endeavor.

Leadership and Control

Thornton (2006) notes that by establishing organized troops and having a vision of what he wished to achieve, Alexander the Great from the small country of Mesopotamia was able to defeat armies ten times his size due to his strong leadership skills. These are the skills needed by CEOs in successful companies and can be considered another of the inner environmental factors needed in both war and business planning.

Examining Resources

Planning ahead to acquire needed equipment and training people to use the equipment properly are major priorities in accumulating resources. This has never been more important than in the 21st century with instant communication available throughout the world. In this respect, war strategy and business strategy merge. The inner environment of a regiment or a department calls for trained personnel as well as loyalty to the service or company involved.

Understanding competition and strategy

In the past, war has been waged by the United States as retaliation against an “enemy,” one country reacting to attack by another country. The strategy of the attacker was the element of surprise, as in Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in the 20th century and the use of aircraft to destroy the World Trade Center in New York City in the 21st century. After the Japanese attack, the battle was joined by other nations and the result was World War II. In the business world, several industries turned to military manufacturing and the companies that took advantage of the opportunities and were able to meet military needs enjoyed economic success during the course of the war. War economy is notably successful for companies prepared for military needs. The Iraqi war is no exception. But strategy requires the ability to look ahead and overcome the opposition before it retaliates or recovers. Economic success in a company might be due to a war economy, but war does not insure a stable economy.

Contrasting Strategies of War Planning and Business Planning

War is power, control, and conflict, while business is or should be based on cooperation, competitive awareness, and collaboration. The strategy in business might parallel the strategy in war in the beginning, but that is not sufficient. Business success depends on much more than that.

End Result

In planning strategy for a war, a distinct termination phase should be identified as part of the campaign. The end result of war is submission on one side and control on the other. In business planning, however, there never should be an end. Competition calls for flexibility and a company’s willingness to change tactics when necessary in order to stay ahead (Strategy, 2006). Business success depends on establishing stability and creating uncertainty in the competition. It is an ongoing effort.

Financial Planning

War requires large amounts of money to finance troops and supplies with no monetary return, while business relies on profit by developing a product that the public will want. This is one of the areas where strategy of war veers away from strategy of business.

Inner and External Environmental Factors

Business expertise calls for foresight and imagination, with the ability to accept compromise and to cooperate with rival companies, thereby strengthening the global marketplace.

SWOT analysis is a tool for auditing an organization and its environment. It is the first stage of planning and helps marketers to focus on key issues. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Strengths and weaknesses are internal factors. Opportunities and threats are external factors.


In the long run, three specific steps are recommended for success in business:
Strategic analysis is being aware that external factors might influence a position. Strategic choice is understanding expectations in the market place and selecting strategic options. Strategic implementation is translating options into organizational action, taking into consideration internal factors. Although initial planning in business is parallel to war planning, business requires constant change to keep up with electronic advances and global concerns.

Griffith, S. (2005). Book Review “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. Center for Internet Marketing Research and Education. Retrieved September 1, 2006, from http://bizinfo.manila.ph/art-of-war/

Strategy  – what is strategy? (2006). Retrieved September 3, 2006, from http://www.tutor2u.net/business/strategy/what_is_strategy.htm

Thornton, G. (2006). On War and Strategy. Catalyst Management Issues. Retrieved September 2, 2006, from http://www.grantthornton.ca/mgt_papers/MIP_template.asp?MIPID=29

Thorpe, N. (2000). Origins of war: Mesolithic conflict in Europe. British Archaeology, Issue 52, April, 2000. Retrieved September 2, 2006, from http://www.britarch.ac.uk/BA/ba52/ba52feat.html

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