AKF Partners

Abbott, Keeven & Fisher PartnersPartners In Hyper Growth

Principles of War as Applied to Business Leadership – Part 2


This is the second on our two part post on the Principles of War and our interpretation of them relative to the business world.  The 9 US Principles of War (derived from von Clausewitz’s essay “Principles of War” and his book “On War”) are Objective, Offensive, Mass, Economy of Force, Maneuver, Unity of Command, Security, Surprise and Simplicity.  We will discuss the last four of these in this post.

Unity of Command.  The US Armed Forces definition is that for each objective, there should be a single owner or commander and that the forces necessary to achieve that objective should be placed under the authority of that commander.  In the business world, this does not mean that you should slice your technology, client services and product teams into separate groups under each general manager or objective owner.  Rather, it means that the person responsible for achieving some business objective should have the authority to direct the resources necessary to achieving that goal.  These resources could be set up in project teams that respond to the needs of the objective owner, or they could be “dotted lined” to the individual.  The key here is that for any objective there should be a clearly defined and empowered owner of the objective.  


Security.  Security enhances freedom of action by reducing vulnerability to hostile acts, influence or surprise.  While you may jump immediate to “information and technology security” implemented as policies within firewalls and such, we believe this has a much broader meaning.  Portions of this principle speak to your actions and efforts to get early warning of competitive threats – not just the threats afforded by hackers and the like.  What are you doing in an ethical fashion to find out how your competitors are responding to your actions?  How do you monitor the strategies and products of your competitors?  How well do you know your competition?


Surprise.  Strike the enemy at a time or place or in a manner for which he (or she) is unprepared.  This principle is the hardest to achieve within the business world, but can have incredible results when it is in fact achieved.  Surprise is achieved when a struggling computer company releases a portable personal music device such as Apple did with the iPod.  Sony, the creator of the portable music device phenomenon was taken completely by surprise and had previously never even considered Apple a competitor.  Surprise, therefore, does not have to be a principle you apply to those you currently consider to be your competitors – it can be applied to markets tangent to the ones in which you currently operate.  Surprise can also manifest itself as a change in approach such as Nintendo’s approach with the Wii.  While Microsoft and Sony focused on more complex graphics and processors, Nintendo took the surprise approach of using less sophisticated graphics and processing power (thereby offering a lower initial price) and focused their approach on a revolutionary game controller (the Wii Nunchuk and motion system). 


Simplicity.  Prepare clean, uncomplicated plans and concise instructions that ensure thorough understanding.   This is perhaps the most easily understood within the business context of all the principles of war.  Simply stated, you need to make sure your plans, orders, and objectives are understood by all parties and are unambiguous.

Summarizing the nine principles from our two posts, then leave us with 9 Principles of Business in a slightly restated fashion:


  1. Create Clearly Defined Aggressive But Achievable Goals (Objective)
  2. Be First to Market and Aggressive in Your Implementation (Offensive)
  3. Align Your Companies Organizations with Your Objectives (Mass)
  4. Employ Your Teams and Organizations in Accordance with Their Capabilities (Economy of Force)
  5. Maintain Business Flexibility but Do Not Oscillate Constantly (Maneuver)
  6. Clearly Define Ownership of Objectives and Empower those Individuals (Unity of Command)
  7. Sense and Respond to your Competition (Security)
  8. Surprise your competition with your timing or approach (Surprise)
  9. Constantly Communicate and Simplify Your Plans (Simplicity)