“Every battle is won before it is fought.” This is a phrase coined by Chinese General Sun Tzu around 500 B.C. His book The Art of War has been used by military leaders throughout history, including General Colin Powell. His military principles were adopted in the 1987 movie Wall Street by the character Gordon Gakko.
Many successful industry leaders have followed suit and used these military principles as rock-solid principles in their own careers. These principles include the importance of gathering intelligence and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent. They also include calculating risk and choosing the right strategies and tactics to overcome challenges that every business faces.
“Every battle is won before it is fought” is a phrase I have often used in both my business and personal life. At Paraco Gas, where I hold the title of Chief Executive Officer, it is a principle that has become part of our culture. Understanding that every battle is won or lost before it is fought has helped me anticipate conflicts, challenges, and business battles before their occurrence, thus giving me time to plan.
In my experience as the CEO of Paraco, I have learned that you can foresee most business problems, as they tend to be repetitive. (To name a few, issues such as new or increased competition, challenging business cycles, employee and management issues, and changes in your industry environment.) Regardless of the challenge, a well-planned business strategy should begin to be formulated before the business challenge that is sure to occur.
Let’s start with the importance of gathering the needed intelligence to meet the challenges ahead. Well-prepared companies have the necessary technology, a network of professionals with expertise in your industry, and a collaborative culture that will foster teamwork within your organization. This foundation may take many years to build.
One of the reoccurring common business challenges is that of competition. As in the military, your competition needs to be viewed as your enemy. We need to know everything about each of our competitors; their strengths and weaknesses compared to ours. In this way, we can develop separate and distinct strategies for each of our market segments and geographic territories.
Now that we are properly prepared to formulate our strategy, the next step is to evaluate the business risk. In The Art of War, General Sun Tzu discussed alternatives to war. He outlines these as the possibility of postponing the battle, finding other options, or first creating alliances to improve your odds of success. The same principles apply to business.
Every business situation is unique and needs to be evaluated on its own merits. If we decide to postpone the battle, it must be out of rational analysis, not fear of failure. Business is about taking risks, and the adage ”No risk, no reward” certainly applies to the business world. We can never eliminate risk, only reduce.
Assuming we have chosen to go to battle, what is left is choosing the tactics. Business tactics are defined as short-term, strategic plans that support the strategy. Examples of business tactics include the personnel we choose to carry out the battle, the technology and processes in place, and the support needed outside the business organization. Business tactics need to be fluid and flexible so we can change them “in the heat of the battle.”
Business battles are indeed won and lost before they are fought. Whether with competition, a labor dispute, negotiating an acquisition, overcoming a crisis, or dealing with COVID, success depends on our preparation and the strategy that evolves.
The outcome is inevitable. Success or failure is just a natural result of what you have done before the battle begins.