What We Can Learn About Strategy Implementation From Ancient China
Very often, old ideas are highly relevant for modern times, if correctly interpreted and adapted to today's world. This holds true for the book "The Art of War" written by Sunzi some 2,500 years ago. As a general of the ancient Chinese emperors he was concerned with strategy and tactical issues, and it is said that generals like Napoleon in the 19th century and Collin Powell (US Army) in the 21st century still refer to it. So how can strategists benefit from it today?
First of all, don’t be misled by the term “war”. It is not to say that competition is war in the conventional sense. It is about achieving the organizations’ targets under certain circumstances. Just like companies try to gain a competitive advantage through their strategy. This can include cooperating with competitors.
"The Art of War"
So, what does Sunzi say about “The Art of War” and how does it relate to modern strategy?
He writes: “The Art of war is of vital relevance for the state. It is a matter of life and death, a road to security or to ruin. Therefore, it should not be – under any circumstances – be neglected.” (p. 21)
Weak or no strategy can lead companies into ruin
In recent history, we can observe various cases of weak or no strategy that led companies into ruin:
The demise of Kodak in the early 2000s where no stringent strategy was developed in order to react to the market changes associated with the digitalization of photography.
Or the ruin of Siemens mobile phones, once a market leader in that field, where management decisions lead to the loss of market leadership resulting in the sale to BenQ.
The three pillars of strategy success
This brings us to the three pillars of strategy success laid out in Sunzi’s work that are still highly relevant in today’s business world.
- a good strategy,
- a strong action/implementation, and
- strong leadership.
All three elements are interdependent and if one of these elements fails, your strategy will not succeed. Let’s look at each of them.