Principles of Business War

War can be any conflict or competition founded on divergent interests in which two or more opponents contest for achieving own objectives. This contest for conflicting interests can be as violent as a nuclear holocaust between two nuclear states or as benign as a contest between two street hawkers for getting more customers. While the military contest is traditionally known as a War, the business end, however, is not known in this sense despite the fact that in both cases, there are conflicting interests and both sides contest for these interests. Let us do a critical analysis of the definition that “War is the contest of opposing wills” to find if there are corresponding shades between war and business.

Principles of Business War

Iftikhar Ahmed
M Sc (Strategic Studies), MBA (HRM)
Date: 26 August 2010
Contact: ift.khan at yahoo dot com

“Know your enemy and know yourself and in a hundred battles you will never be defeated. When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are sure to be defeated in every battle.”
(Sun Tzu)

Business is a War..!!

Business is a war…!! That’s not a common perception. War, as defined by Clausewitz, means, “use of physical force against an enemy to compel him to submit to our will.[1]” That’s why it is said that in recorded history of 3464 years of mankind’s existence, only 268 have seen no war.[2] Well, that may be true in a sense if war is seen as limited to application of overt military force against an enemy to gain own objectives. However, if one sees war in a wider perspective in the light of definition of war that “War is the contest of opposing wills”, it would no longer remain limited to military action only. This implies that war can be any conflict or competition founded on divergent interests in which two or more opponents contest for achieving own objectives. Now, this contest for conflicting interests, on a continuum, can be as violent as a nuclear holocaust between two nuclear states or as benign as a contest between two street hawkers for getting more customers. While the military contest is traditionally known as a War, the other end, however, is not known in this sense despite the fact that in both cases, there are conflicting interests and both sides contest for these interests.

Let us do a critical analysis of the definition that “War is the contest of opposing wills” to find if there are corresponding shades between war and business. In war:

(1) We have an opponent (enemy).
(2) We have opposing wills (politico-military objectives).
(3) We contest for achieving our objectives (through military strategy).

Let’s do the analysis of business on the same touchstone to discover common shades. In business:

(1) We have an opponent (competitor).
(2) We have opposing wills (business objectives).
(3) We contest for achieving our objectives (through business strategy).

This means there are extensive common shades between war and business since all the three cardinals of war are present in business. Similar to war, in business we struggle against a competitor, under a strategy and tactics, to out-manoeuvre him to secure more market share for our product. This struggle and competition is present at every level of business, be it between two street-hawkers, two shopkeepers, two restaurants, two showrooms, two shopping malls or two large firms etc. This contest is quite visible to a common person when he/she is bombarded daily by catchphrases from different businesses to attract customers; some of the common catchphrases are ‘we offer better quality’, ‘we have a lower cost’, ‘we have more variety’, ‘we deliver at home’, ‘we are located at a convenient place’, ‘we are everywhere’ and things like that.

With this perception of business as another kind of war, it can be said that mankind has never been without war throughout its history and will never remain without war in future as well. And also, war as contest for conflicting interests may not be limited to military only and may encroach to other sectors as well, like business. This awesome commonality between war and business is not only a matter of perceptual deduction but had been reflected by renowned military strategist Clausewitz in his famous book ‘On War‘ by saying, ” It would be better, instead of comparing it (war) with any art, to liken it to trade, which is also a conflict of human interests and activities; and it is still more like State policy, which again, on its part, may be looked upon as a kind of trade on a great scale.”[3]

Not only the military strategists suggest this relationship between war and business, the emerging nature of business as a war has been discussed in corporate literature as well. Kenneth Allard (2004) in his book ‘Business as War; battling for competitive advantage‘ professes that “today’s competitive environment for business leaders is sufficiently hazardous and uncertain that you are better off thinking of it not as business but as war.”[4] In another attempt, Mark Fuller (1993) comments in his article ‘Business as War‘ that “we have entered the era of total competition. No matter your industry, company or nationality, there is a battle-ready competitor somewhere who is busy thinking how to beat you. There are no safe havens.”[5] Also, Lee Albright and Brian Kleiner (1993), in their article “The Principles of War Applied to Business” write that business is warfare on a different battlefield, using different means from military warfare; but the basic principles and lessons of experience are the same.[6]

Business – A Rather more Complex form of War

Given the above facts, though business can be called a war, however, business is more complex as compared to a military war. Look at the following dangerous and complex features of business as compared to war:

(1) Military war is an extension of State policy but is not a normal course of action under ordinary circumstances and as such may be opted for a limited time only; business as a war is a policy in itself and is an on-going conflict which means a state of war exists at all times.

(2) Military war has the State’s consent and liberty to use physical force overtly to achieve objectives through physical degradation or destruction of the enemy; while business also seeks degradation or destruction of the opponent but it has no liberty to use brute physical force due to strict legal and ethical constraints and has to use other means.

(3) In military war, there is quite often one enemy who is visible and there are rare chances of new enemies entering the theater suddenly which allows lowering guards from other fronts; in business, there are multiple enemies some of which may be invisible and there are continued chances of new enemies entering the market which necessitates keeping vigilant watch at all fronts.

(4) In military war, one can exactly know about the enemy’s capability and disposition of his forces based on which one can hypothesize his intentions to reduce fog of war; in business, full or sometimes even partial knowledge about the opponent may not be available which intensifies the fog of war and severely restricts choice of exact course of action.

(5) In military war, there are chances that international community may jump in to bring about cease-fire in order to limit the destruction and its spill over to other States – which is favorable to the weaker side; in business, no such favorable interference is expected due to which the conflict may go on for a long time resulting in silent disruption, degradation or even demise of the weaker side.

(6) In military war, all the national resources, come what may, are pumped into to achieve own objectives; on the other hand, arranging resources for business remains the biggest nightmare and the situation is quite often resource-starved.

(7) Military wars are fought by soldiers who are permanent life-long employees, who can be well trained and groomed, usually are not allowed to quit Service without a proper procedure and hence can be relied upon to fight the war from beginning till the end; in business, hiring and retaining rightly qualified employees remains a cat and mouse chase, employees can turnover at the time of their own choosing without any regard to the organization’s state of affairs hence keeping the staffing state in a fluid and uncertain state.

With these complexities in place, business emerges to be a more complex form of war, where nerves are always tense due to a never ending state of conflict under strict legal and ethical constraints, multiple enemies with some being invisible, intense fog of war due to constantly changing variables, resource scarcity, chances of employee turnover at critical times etc. This state of affairs hence demands from business managers that they must keep their guards up and devise a sound approach under an overall ambit of some enduring principles.

Fred R. David (2001), in his book Strategic Management, professes that since business has much in common with war, military strategy learnt over the centuries can benefit business strategy.[7] Mark B Fuller, in his article Business as War, writes that in the life-or-death quest for strategic change, business has much to learn from war. Both are about the same thing: succeeding in competition.[8] Military wars are as old as the mankind itself is. Over the period of history, militaries have learnt the best ways that can be adopted to gain advantage over the adversary. These best ways are not the specific guidelines but the enduring principles that help in achieving success.

Craig Calvert (2004), in his article, ‘The Nine Principles of Business War’ has attempted to identify following principles; (1) Objective, (2) Take the offensive, (3) Be effective, (4) Be efficient, (5) Adapt, improvise & and overcome, (6) Unity of leadership, (7) Retain the best & maximize the rest, (8) Innovate and (9) Simplicity.[9] However, of these, some relate to principles used in military war while the rest do not fall in this category. With this perspective, let us see as to what these military principles of war exactly are and how these can be applied to businesses.

Principles of War and their Application in Business

Principles of War are aspects of warfare that are universally true and pertinent. These are neither the operational check-off lists for military commanders to tick off to achieve victory, nor are these items from which a commander selects some when employing his forces.[10] These are indeed those enduring principles that mankind have learnt through ages long experience and that guide the overall application of military resources in a superior way. However, having said that, a military that neglects these principles have more chances of failure than that which fully observes them.

The Principles of War may slightly vary from nation to nation and military to military but those that are found in most military literature are:

  1. Selection and maintenance of aim
  2. Maintenance of morale
  3. Offensive action
  4. Concentration of force
  5. Economy of effort
  6. Security
  7. Surprise
  8. Flexibility
  9. Cooperation

Having said that war and business have much in common, it sounds appealing that principles of one field must fit and work very well in the other field. It would be thrilling and interesting to try to discover the application of principles of war in business as well. Let us analyze these principles for their application in military as well as business.

Selection and Maintenance of Aim

“You ask what our aim is. I can answer in one word, ‘Victory’; victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.”
(Winston Churchill)

This is the ‘Chief’ principle of war and needs no over emphasis. It lays down the desired purpose which a military force must achieve. The aim helps Commander in determining his objectives which are the end states towards which the military might is applied. The foremost step that a Commander must take is to set an aim in clear and concise terms. Once the aim is decided, all efforts must be directed towards its achievement. Not only that deciding the aim is important, maintaining it throughout the campaign is equally essential, unless the circumstances demand a change or modification. There are examples in military history where a force suffered retreat or defeat when it either failed to identify the correct aim or failed to maintain the aim throughout the war. The military aim at the top not only sets the overall tone of the war but also helps in determining tasks and objectives of lower formations, right down to an individual soldier, seaman or airman. If the task and objectives of the lower tiers flow from the superior aim, the resultant synergy achieves sweeping results. Conversely, if the lower tiers see the aim or tasks and objectives as unrealistic or inconsistent, the results are demotivation, frustration and lack of commitment ultimately leading to defeat.

All businesses exist with some purpose. The future state which a business dreams to achieve is called Vision which determines as to what a business wants to become in future. The vision sets the overall tone of the business as to how it sees itself, the value that it intends delivering to its customers, the contribution that it desires to make towards the larger society and the mother-nature etc. Good organizations do not keep their vision to emotional slogans only but convert it into a mission that shows as to what the business is engaged into, its products, its markets, its customers, its values and its philosophy etc to achieve its vision. A vision or mission once selected, must be pursued with all force and must not be changed or altered unless the circumstances so dictate; as said by Jack Welch, “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision and relentlessly drive it to completion.” This mission must then be converted into strategic business objectives at business or division levels, down to functional or departmental objectives, and flowing further down to teams and individuals. All functions, be it the R&D, HR, Production, Marketing, Finance etc, must get synchronized with each other and focus all resources and activities in time and space to produce maximum synergy to achieve the greater aim. Harmony and alignment in objectives at all tiers bring in synergy achieving outstanding results; disharmony and misalignment results in demotivation, frustration and lack of commitment resulting in lower productivity, higher costs, more wastage, low quality, higher employee turnover ultimately leading to loss of market share and hence degeneration and demise.

Maintenance of Morale

“Not numbers or strength brings victory in war, but whichever army goes into battle stronger in soul; their enemies generally cannot withstand them.”
(Xenophon, 400 BC)

This principle aims at creating and maintaining a motivated force as success in the battlefield is dependent more on morale than on any other thing. Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch once said, “The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.” Once the human soul is set on fire, no force can stop or block it from achieving otherwise impossible tasks. And Gen Dwight Eisenhower is quoted as saying, “I would rather try to persuade a man to go along, because once I have persuaded him, he’ll stick. If I scare him, he will stay just as long as he is scared, and then he is gone.” Militaries are well known for looking after their men very well. By feeding them well, securing them from social insecurities, developing an environment of comradeship, better training, inculcating in soldiers a sense of self-esteem, rewarding them for achievements, allowing them operational and tactical autonomy, providing challenging and demanding assignments and opportunities to do their best, militaries create a manpower that is highly motivated and battle ready.

Motivated manpower is as much essential for a corporate organization as it is for a military. Organizations, both military and corporate, are made of nothing but people. It’s people who manage other resources, it’s people who make or break organizations, its people who cannot be copied by competitors and it’s people who create and maintain an invincible competitive advantage. Organizations must take good care of their human resource as said by Sun Tzu, “Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.” Humans come with knowledge, skills, expertise, time, information, free will etc to contribute towards organizational success. They must be provided with an environment in which they can motivate themselves and give their optimum output. More motivated the people of an organization are, easier it is to beat the competitor. World’s Executive Digest says, “Highly motivated people usually reach their goals more successfully than people who may be better trained, better equipped or even smarter, but not as motivated as the former are.” Organizations that invest heavily in their human resource outclass those which ignore this vital asset.

Offensive Action

“He who remains in his trenches will be beaten.”

If war is the contest of opposing wills, then the side which undertakes the offensive action has more chances of achieving his objectives. The aggressor has an advantage that he can fairly predict or even modulate the initial shape of the battlefield which helps in achieving success and minimizing friction. A military commander can never influence the outcome of a campaign or operation without offensive action as Sun Tzu said, “Invincibility lies in the defence; the possibility of victory in the attack.” No skirmish, battle or war can bring about desired results if an army remains dug in trenches. The essence of offensive action is to seize the initiative from the enemy therefore an army must aim for offensive actions at the earliest possible moment. For a successful offensive action, a military commander must know and study the enemy system carefully and strike him at a time and space with required force to disturb his TSR (Time, Space, Relative strength) matrix.

Offensive action is not a principle limited to battlefield only; its understanding and application in business is equally essential. Business is all about outdoing the competitor by getting more share in the market and this share can never be achieved through mere defensive and reactive philosophies. Organizations must never remain dug in trenches and must take initiative to seize the opportunity from the opponents by aggressive strategies and tactics. Gaining and maintaining market share, and hence enhanced productivity, requires bold and aggressive moves from all functions of an organization. Aggressive moves in R&D, innovative production techniques, novel HR strategies, bold financial moves, product features, price, positioning, promotion etc can help in offsetting the competitor and bringing in better market standing. Offensive action also helps in accruing the first mover advantages like securing access to rare resources, gaining new knowledge of key factors and issues and carving out market share and a position that is easy to defend and costly for rival firms to overtake. [11] A prerequisite to offensive action is the full knowledge of the customers, market conditions, competitors’ strategies and their strengths and weaknesses etc. With complete knowledge of these factors, offensive must be directed towards exploiting the TSR matrix of the competitor; entering adversary’s market without considering his TSR is a blunder and quite often results in own retreat or defeat and hence wastage of resources. If a weaker side is confronted with a stronger opponent who is preparing to launch an offensive, the weaker side must consider the option of pre-emption; a move that catches the offending adversary unprepared to launch his offensive with full might and may result in degradation or disruption of adversary’s those vital nodes which would have guaranteed him success. For example, a weaker side sensing a new product launch by the opponent can pre-empt this offensive by aggressive moves in marketing mix of their own product which will minimize the impact of opponent’s new product.

Concentration of Force

“The idea is to concentrate our strength against our competitor’s relative weakness.”
(Bruce Henderson)

It is essential to concentrate superior force against the enemy at the decisive time and place to achieve success in war. Concentration does not strictly means gathering of forces at a given geographical point but placing them in manner that will deliver the decisive blow to adversary. Concentration of required force against an adversary at a given time and place is perhaps the fundamental principle in the employment of forces in war. The hallmark of a good military strategist is to study the enemy system and assess his strengths and weakness and then concentrate the required forces at a time and place of disadvantage to the adversary to defeat him and achieve own objective. Hence the aim of concentrating a superior force against an adversary is to disturb his TSR matrix. Effectiveness of concentration of force depends heavily on full knowledge of the adversary, his objectives, his strategy and his strong and weak points; weak points being almost inherent in enemy system as said by Sun Tzu, “Should the enemy strengthen his van, he will weaken his rear; should he strengthen his rear, he will weaken his van; should he strengthen his left, he will weaken his right; should he strengthen his right, he will weaken his left. If he sends reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak.”

No organization is blessed with gigantic resources to pitch them in the face of the opponent to totally annihilate or eliminate him. Since the resources are scarce, organizations must endeavor to put them in the most advantageous manner to beat the adversary and achieve own objectives. William Cohen highlights the importance of this fact by saying, “The opportunities and threats existing in any situation always exceed the resources needed to exploit the opportunities and avoid the threats. Thus, strategy is essentially a problem of allocating resources. If a strategy is to be successful, it must allocate superior resources against a decisive opportunity.” Corporate adventures that do not take into account the best positioning of resources vis-⇒-vis the opponents and are undertaken bluntly are often beaten back. The concepts of market segmentation and target market acknowledge this fact and recognize that organizations cannot appeal to all the buyers in the entire marketplace. Kotler and Armstrong, in their book ‘Principles of Marketing‘, stress that buyers are too numerous, too widely scattered and too varied in their needs and buying practices therefore a company must identify the parts of market that it can serve best and most profitably.[12] Once the target market has been selected and opponent’s weakness has been identified that can be exploited to gain own objective, full and focused efforts must then be employed to accrue the desired effects with full management support and back up by the entire organizational resources. This would imply focused R&D, HR with relevant skills, concerted production, dedicated finance and aggressive marketing support. Any distortion of focus or investment of resources away from this focus must never be allowed lest retreat or defeat will be the destiny.

Economy of Effort

“Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical. If it is to your advantage, make a forward move; if not, stay where you are.”
(Sun Tzu)

It is impossible to be strong everywhere, and if decisive strength is to be concentrated at a given time and place, there must be no waste of resources elsewhere. Economy of effort at places which do not contribute significantly towards the critical military objective ensures availability of more resources for the critical objective. Economy of effort also implies the correct distribution of forces, effective arming of these forces, using effective weapon systems and judicious allocation of other resources. The idea is twofold; firstly, avoid undue wastage of resources where not required, secondly, where required, avoid exaggerated and excessive use of forces to avoid an overkill. The second inference entails that there is a fine line between concentration of forces and economy of efforts, to avoid over use of resources for a given objective.

‘Scarcity of resources’ paradigm is the very reason for economy of efforts. Resources are limited and demand is unlimited; organizations get a limited share out of these scarce resources and these must be employed in the most efficient and effective manner. Given the selection of target market and assessment of opponent’s weaknesses, an organization requires mustering of considerable resources to jump in the market to evict or out-maneuver the opponent. If at this point in time, an organization fails to ensure enough resources for the venture and wastes resources in peripheral issues, the retreat or defeat becomes evident. An organization launching a new product in a tough competition market would require all its resources for backing up this venture and if at this critical time, some resources are directed towards non-issues like procurement of new office furniture or pumping in additional resources behind products that are no longer profitable, the new product venture is bound to become resource-starved and defeated in the market. At this critical point in time, R&D must put a hold on non-relevant projects, HR must invest in relevant skills only, Production must get focused to this new product only, Finance must stop funds’ hemorrhage to non-issues and Marketing must shelve other campaigns and focus on promotion and support of this product. On the other hand, excessive and exaggerated use of resources for this new product venture would result in an overkill and non-availability of resources for other vital issues of the organization. This overkill may be in the form of buying the most advanced technology that is more than required, employing very highly skilled employees for jobs that may not require those skill levels, maintaining inventories those are not required in near future etc. The concepts like TQM, Six Sigma, outsourcing, automation, Just-in-time inventories, flat organizations etc all aim at preventing wastage of valuable resources and making them available for critical times.


“That general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack.”
(Sun Tzu)

Since war is the contest for achieving own objectives, and the two opponents constantly seek to beat each other’s strategy and exploit each other’s weaknesses, it becomes paramount for a side to provide physical protection to its infrastructure, human and material assets and information denial of its strategy, plans, maneuvers etc to its opponent. Security is essential to all military operations. Security enables friendly forces to achieve their objectives despite interference by the enemy. A well conceived but poorly guarded military maneuver can end up in a failure if it gets leaked to the enemy who becomes fully prepared to beat the plan. Military history is full of such examples where wonderful plans were beaten back as these could not be guarded very well.

Security is as important to business as it is for war. Ranging from security of business strategy, R&D outcomes, product features and marketing plans, to security of human capital, information technology and new acquisitions, all merit measures against any leakage to competitor and deny him preempting own business tactics. Lack of security measures for organizational premises, persons, plans, strategies will deny competitive advantage to a firm and will help its competitors to beat back its strategies and tactical moves and evict it from the market. A business that cannot guard its R&D work, its production plans, its marketing strategy, its future ventures, its information base, its human intellect etc can never beat its opponents in the marketplace and will find its opponents ready even before it enters the market with some offering. Also, security is an essential prerequisite to achieving surprise over the opponent.


“If you decide to go into battle, do not announce your intentions or plans; project “business as usual.”
(Sun Tzu)

Surprise is the most powerful weapon in the hands of a military commander which can help him to achieve out of proportion results. In cases when a military is facing an adversary with overwhelming force, surprise may be the only way available to the weaker side. Surprise may be achieved at all levels of war, be it the strategic level, operational level or tactical level. It can be achieved by many ways like anticipating enemy plans, out-thinking him in time, space and relative strength, exploiting new technologies, material or techniques. A Commander must ensure safeguarding his own forces against surprise action. Elements of surprise are secrecy, concealment, deception, originality, audacity and speed.

The aim of all business strategies is to out maneuver the competitor. Who could be better placed than a firm whose competitors do not know what is coming up and what to defend? A firm must aim to surprise its opponents by creative R&D outcomes, new product features, innovative methods of doing work, new target markets, new marketing techniques and novel product support plans etc. Achieving this surprise heavily depends on market surveillance, reconnaissance, intelligence operations directed against opponents’ strategies and plans, faster information channels, smarter networking, shorter decision making cycles, alertness to market happenings etc; indeed a shade of Information Warfare as called in the military. In order to capitalize upon the attribute of surprise, a firm must aim at appearing at a place in the market where least expected, at the time when least expected, with product which is least expected and with a force that is least expected by the opponents. This maneuver must be done with speed and accuracy lest it may become overt to opponents who could then anticipate it and blunt it. Such a maneuver, and in fact all such maneuvers, must be guarded with elaborate security arrangements to deny vital information to opponents. Alongwith security, deception is an essential prerequisite to surprise which would imply radiating wrong signals to competitors to focus their attention away from the actual type, plan, time and place of business maneuver. Such deception may be in many forms like indicating bogus business strategy, fake plans, over / under exaggerated product features, a different target market, counterfeit market penetration tactics, incorrect time of product launch, confusing support features etc which will compel the opponents to field their forces in a wrong manner. Nothing can better explain the framework of such deception than saying of Sun Tzu, “Brilliant strategists forge ahead with illusion, obscuring the area of major concentration, so that opponents divide their forces in an attempt to defend many areas. Create the appearance of confusion or vulnerability so that opponent is helplessly drawn toward this illusion of advantage.


“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent but the one most responsive to change.”
(Charles Darwin)

While the military aim, once selected, must be maintained, there may arise situations which may entail commander to exercise his judgment and modify his plans to meet changing circumstances and taking advantage of fleeting opportunities. This flexibility, however, may not mean altering the overall military aim but changing strategy to achieve it in a better way. It requires trust, training and flexibility of mind and rapidity of decision on the part of commanders and their subordinates which ensures that time is not wasted. It also requires a good degree of mobility that ensures that redeployments can be adopted rapidly and economically. Military is famous for having ‘Plan B’, called Variants, ready for contingencies which ensures that own forces remain flexible to changing situations without having a need for a re-appreciation.

Like militaries, businesses strategy must remain flexible to changing situations so that the best plan can be adopted to achieve the overall business aim. A business plan must have ‘Plan B’, or ‘Variants’ ready to be adopted in emergent situations. A firm must be ready to change a strategy if it seems to be failing in achieving the overall aim of the business; stubbornness or unduly sticking to the initial plan would inevitably result in failure of the strategy and hence the overall business aim. Firms must be aware of and responsive to changing environment and must never blindly adopt the slogan of “not done this way here” or “we do not do what others do”. Adapting to changing environment, social trends, customer preferences, new studies on human behavior, new technology, new ways of doing work, new ideas, concepts etc must be the hallmarks of firms operating in today’s volatile and tough market conditions. Diversification, divestiture, liquidation, disinvestment from weaker to invest in stronger front, closing down and shifting to profitable segments, changing target market, changing product features, cost, services and changing marketing strategy must never be strange words to smart organizations. Organizations must encourage innovation by employees and give them sufficient autonomy to make on-spot decisions suitable to emerging ground situation. Top management must avoid interfering in tactical decisions which can best be made by people operating at tactical level, as said by Sun Tzu, “Skillful leaders do not let strategy inhibit creative counter-movement. Not should commands from those at a distance interfere with spontaneous maneuvering in the immediate situation.”


“No employer today is independent of those about him. He cannot succeed alone, no matter how great his ability or capital. Business today is more than ever a question of cooperation.”
(Orison Swett Marden)

Since military war is the extension of State policy, it does not occur in vacuum rather it is orchestrated along with other elements of national power. And down at military strategic level, the individual Services operate in unison to achieve the military objectives. Further down to operational and tactical levels, various components of the three Services are jointly applied to achieve lower objectives. This co-operation becomes a means of attaining concentration of force with economy of effort in pursuance of the aim. Only by full cooperation between the Services can the right balance of forces be achieved to be applied at the right time and at the right place to offset enemy designs and achieve own objectives. A classical example of this cooperation is amphibious operation whereby all individual Services i.e. Land, Sea, Air and Marines, operate in a seamless manner, each delivering its own part of the task in a manner that each task leads to or builds up the ladder to the next level of the operation.

No organization has unlimited resources. With limited resources, an organization can achieve limited objectives only and hence remains dependent on others for achieving its full aim. This is the world of inter-dependence where even the gigantic firms have to rely on others for some resources. No organization can operate worldwide, get access to all the markets and satisfy all the customers alone effectively; it has to rely on others for support. That becomes the very reason for cooperation and no organization is above this compulsion. Cooperation can help in saving scarce resources by joining hands with others and hence making these resources available for other vital tasks. Terms like out-sourcing, alliances and joint ventures are not new to the corporate world rather these have become the preferred options. By cooperation, a firm cannot only save precious resources but can also expand its access to other geographically far flung and culturally diverse markets that are better served by its allies. Examples of cooperation could be sharing the R&D work, exchanging skilled human resource for hi-tech ventures, sharing knowledge of efficient methods and processes, carrying out joint market research of a large market, utilizing each others’ marketing channels, using each others’ successful products as carriers of own marketing campaigns like Credit Card bills carrying brochures of other firms etc.


With the above discussion and analysis of application of Principles of War in business, it is evident that these principles can be applied verbatim in business. Not that these are something new for businesses but the point is that businesses must keep these principles in sight and must endeavor to follow them in their true sense.

With further studies of military war, one can learn that not only the Principles of War but military tactics and other methodologies can equally be applied to business and can prove truly beneficial. Military concepts like Center of Gravity, Decisive Points, Critical Vulnerabilities, Counter attack, Counter offensive, Riposte, Defensive balance force and Strategic reserves all can be applied to business wars in the market. Phillip Kotler (2003) in his book Marketing Management has mentioned that given clear opponent and objectives, five military attack strategies are available; these are Frontal attack, Flank attack, Encirclement attack, Bypass attack and Guerrilla warfare that can be employed in businesses.[13]. These attack tactics can very well be applied in business to out-maneuver the opponent by attacking his product or strong areas with smarter moves suitable to the situation.

Given these enormous similarities between military war and business, another military war methodology that can be used in business is the philosophy of war-gaming. Militaries are very methodical in evolving their future development and employment concepts which are concluded after thoroughly playing the war in future scenario with near realistic inputs. This war-gaming requires considerable brainstorming to study the future environment and drawing relevant conclusions, selecting own mission in the light of higher directives, analyzing own and enemy’s future forces, hypothesizing enemy’s likely courses of action, developing own response based on enemy’s most probable course of action and determining Variants to deal with different enemy moves. Businesses can also benefit from such a methodology to determine their future strategies and dealing with future threats and opportunities in the face of tough market competition. In fact, such war gaming is already being done in some good organizations and some business schools have included war gaming in their syllabus.

At the end, it may not require over emphasis that in the modern era of globalization and information technology, corporate competition is no longer restricted to domestic firms only rather strong international competitors are knocking at the market doors, trade barriers are being pulled down and restrictions are being removed for international trade to flow across the globe. Customers are no longer loyal to one firm but prefer the products that satisfy their needs best. The emerging market is an arena where multiple contestants are constantly working on ways and techniques to seize the gains from their competitors. The emerging market situation is more like a military battlefield where opponents pitch in to contest for opposing objectives; which in turn demands handling such a situation with matching skills. Businesses can benefit from those enduring principles which militaries have developed over history and are using them even today.


[1] Clausewitz (1962) On war, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, pp.1

[2] [3] Clausewitz (1962) On war, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, pp.121

[4] Allard, K. (2004) Business as War; battling for competitive advantage, New Jersey, John Wiley and Sons, pp.1

[5] Mark, B. F. (1993) ‘Business as War’, Fast Company Magazine, Issue 00/October 1993, (Online), [6] Albright and Kleiner (1993) The Principles of War Applied to Business, International Journal of Value-Based Management, Volume 6, Number 1/March 1993

[7] David, F. R. (2001) Strategic Management, 10th edition, New Jersey, Prentice Hall, pp.57

[8] Mark, B. F. (1993) ‘Business as War’, Fast Company Magazine, Issue 00/October 1993, (Online), [9]Calvert, C. (2004) The Nine Principles of Business War, (Online), [10] Doctrine of Pakistan Air Force, 3rd Edition, pp.22

[11] David, F. R. (2001) Strategic Management, 10th edition, New Jersey, Prentice Hall, pp.216

[12] Kotler and Armstrong (2007) Principles of Marketing, 12th edition, New Jersey, Prentice Hall, pp.184

[13] Kotler, P. (2003) Marketing Management, 11th edition, New Jersey, Education Inc, pp.265-266

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