War and Business Strategies have similarities and also significant differences

One of the Business Strategy forums has a current discussion on what can be learned from War Strategy and applied to Business Strategy. While there are a lot of similarities, there are some key differences that need to be considered when comparing the two. Often businesses miss these nuances when developing their own strategies. Here are five key differences to think about when comparing the two:

* War strategy is about dominating the opponent. The goal is to continue until the opponent gives up and surrenders. In business the focus should be on winning over the customer. You can dominate your opponent and still lose if the market changes around you.

* A third party gets to decide the winner in business. Your customer gets to ultimately decide whether you or your competition gets the sale (maybe both of you get the sale if you are positioned differently and deliver different value). A third party exists in war (the population of the warring countries) but they rarely get to decide the outcome.

* There can be multiple winners in business. A great strategy gives a business a unique position to profit in the market. There can be multiple successful businesses in a market segment, and multiple companies can serve a single consumer group.

* The territory being disputed in war is typically a fixed geographic area that is easy to define. The territory in dispute in business competition is a market segment or consumer segment that is very fluid. The territory could change or even disappear while competing businesses are fighting over it.

* War typically involves two sides (us and them) while business strategy involves numerous competitors who are all bumping into each other in the market.

Studying war strategy is valuable but not sufficient to understand business strategy. The same could be said about applying business knowledge to the battlefield. Useful and interesting to learn from each other, but not identical situations.

Eric Bartsch