AKF Partners

Abbott, Keeven & Fisher PartnersPartners In Hyper Growth

Principles of War as Applied to Business Leadership – Part 1


Many authors have previously described the relationship between business and war and we believe that the most successful businesses approach their operations as would General Douglas MacArthur when he claimed that “In war, there is no substitute for victory”.

Carl von Clausewitz offered several tenets of war in his essay “Principles of War” and later expanded upon those in his book “On War”.  Many armed forces throughout the world have taken portions of these tenets and adopted them for their own use.  This post is the first in a two part series relating the 9 US Armed Forces Principles of War to your everyday business activities, strategy and tactics.  The 9 US Principles of War are Objective, Offensive, Mass, Economy of Force, Manuever, Unity of Command, Security, Surprise and Simplicity.  We will discuss the first 5 in this post and the next 4 in a subsequent post.

Objective.  The US Armed Forces definition is to direct every military operation toward a clearly defined, decisive and attainable objective.  We think this is pretty self explanatory and includes concepts about which we’ve previously blogged such as the need to set aggressive but achievable goals.  The most important aspects of “Objective” as applied to your business are for your goals to be clearly defined, well understood, measurable and attainable.

Offensive.  The military definition is to seize, retain and exploit the initiative.  The business definition here is found by looking at what Offensive implies – specifically that it’s all about time to market and getting the right features, products and services out and adopted first.  Being first offers the best chance at achieving virility within the market, and creating a viral marketplace or product is the military equivalent of seizing the high ground.

Mass.  The military definition is to mass the overwhelming effects of combat power at the decisive place and time.  Mass here in military terms is different from the concentration of forces which may not be desirable.  Combat power refers to all the aspects of military power from infantry and armor, to field artillery and other combat multipliers. The business equivalent is to ensure that your business units are aligned with your greater business objective and that they are contributing to it properly.  Your technology, product, marketing and finance teams should all realize and be contributing to the core objectives necessary to win your business battle.  If you wish to win quickly, they cannot be marching to separate agendas and they should not be fighting with each other.

Economy of Force.  This one can be confusing, but within the military definition is a reference to “No part of the force should be left without a purpose”.  The military definition also hints that every part of the force should be used in the most effective way possible.  Goals and objectives are again part of this, but more importantly you should be able to answer the question of whether you are using the right team for the job at hand.  Not only should you ensure that every organization has a purpose directly relating to your most important initiatives, you need to ensure that they are the best team to have those specific goals and objectives.  Client Services and Customer Support teams might be useful in helping to QA new products but allocating them 100% to such an endeavor is probably not the most leveraged use of their time.  Conversely, forgetting to include Customer Support or Client Services in any product rollout is a failure to employ a very important part of your “combat power” in achieving product success.  While its useful for engineers to understand customer needs and complaints, allowing more than 5 to 10% of their time to be taken up by such activities is a costly endeavor relative to your future product needs.

Maneuver. Place the enemy in a position of disadvantage through the flexible application of combat power.  This one relates to how flexible you are in your product delivery lifecycle, and whether you are set up to respond to your competitors actions in the marketplace.  This IS NOT an argument that you should abandon products in flight and constantly change your strategy.  Constant change in strategy is a clear indication of a management team incapable of defining a winning path and it’s a early indication of likely future failure.  You should be flexible, and changing features or making course corrections a few times a year is appropriate.  Ensuring that your product delivery processes allow you the flexibility to change (with the additional cost that implies) is critical to success.  But constant change is not a strategy – it’s a recipe for disaster.

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