Many of us in the business world are familiar with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. As a result, many of us have used deception for the sake of business gain, and have had mixed results. Sometimes, we burn bridges, or get other undesirable results. Why?
Reading further into the book, one must have the moral authority, the will of the people, as a requirement for waging war. Without having the hearts and minds of the governed, results similar to those from the Viet Nam era will result. As applied to business, executives who rely on deception often reap the consequences of their own actions. In business, we may not be at war, but you have at least one competitor desperate to make their quarterly numbers, and willing to “not play nice” to achieve their goal and keep their job. You and I would be tempted to do the same if we were in a similar situation. Intrinsic motivation is better, but extrinsic realities are a big part of the field of play. Also, a good vendor can be a helpful, powerful ally and change agent.
In any civilized culture, there are laws. There are also mores and folkways. This means that there are legitimate expectations of other members of our society(1). If a stranger on the street asks for directions, there is no law that we not intentionally mis-direct them, but it is not culturally acceptable. However, when $60 million accounts are at stake, all three of the above will be challenged.
How then, do we compete with others in highly competitive, “Red Ocean” markets? Here are some ways:
- The best advice I have heard is from Mark Cuban: “Work like there is someone working twenty-four hours a day to take it all away from you.”
- Remember that there are only four market strategies that work. Each has its comparative advantages.
- Turn your “Red Ocean” into a “Blue Ocean“— make your solution and insight supplied to your customer so unique, that they can only get it from you. We are all unique individuals, and we all have unique contributions to make. Make yours as special as you are.
- Hire your competitor, partner with them, or help them find work to which they are better suited.
- Remember “You don’t play against opponents, you play against the game of basketball.” — Coach Bob Knight
- Accept that if you are doing anything worthwhile, there will be someone else who, in their mind, thinks they know what your job is, and can do it better than you.
- The person with the most discretion, humility and tact, who can engage powerful stakeholders while avoiding entanglements, tends to maintain the confidence of the customer and win the day.
Competition is unavoidable, and we must be prepared for it. Building personal alliances will help keep you advised of their methods and activities. Refer non-competitive business to them. Help them succeed in ways that better match their profile. Treat them like the neighbors that they are– we are not at war here.
1. “Politics is the art of associating (consociandi) men for the purpose of establishing, cultivating, and conserving social life among them. Whence it is called ‘symbiotics’. The subject matter of politics is therefore association (consociatio), in which the symbiotes pledge themselves each to the other, by explicit or tacit agreement, to mutual communication of whatever is useful and necessary for the harmonious exercise of social life.”– Johannes Althusius, Politica, 1603, page 1. See my post on Johannes Althusius.
For more information:
YouTube– History Channel– Sun Tzu The Art of War
History Channel– Sun Tzu The Art of War
Download Brigadier General Samuel B. Griffith Translation