Sun Tzus The Art of War

The Art of War – Ancient Wisdom for Business Success

In the thrilling world of classical literature, Sun Tzu’s masterpiece “The Art of War” applies much beyond ancient military strategy. It appears as a beacon of wisdom for the contemporary business arena. This over 2,500-year-old gem, originating from the depths of ancient China, might initially appear as an unexpected mentor for the bustling world of businesses. However, its profound insights and strategic principles have proven invaluable, steering entrepreneurs through the tumultuous waters of today’s modern competitive business environment with unparalleled relevance.

In classic literature, few works have transcended their original context to offer insights into the modern competitive business world as effectively as The Art of War.

Understanding the Terrain

He who knows these things [e.g. about the terrain], and in fighting puts his knowledge into practice, will win his battles. He who knows them not, nor practices them, will surely be defeated.

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War, X:22

Sun Tzu emphasises the importance of knowing the battleground. This translates to a deep understanding of the market landscape for businesses.

Grasping the dynamics of your industry, recognising your customers’ needs, and being aware of your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses is akin to knowing the terrain in warfare. This knowledge enables businesses to navigate the market effectively, seize opportunities, and mitigate risks.

The Element of Surprise

Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War, I:4

One of Sun Tzu’s most quoted strategies is the element of surprise. In business, this can be interpreted as innovation and differentiation. Businesses can gain a competitive edge by offering something unique or improving upon existing products and services in unexpected ways. This approach attracts attention and can disrupt established market patterns, creating new growth opportunities.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Sun Tzu advises leaders to be acutely aware of their strengths and weaknesses and those of their enemies. For businesses, this could mean conducting a thorough SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats).

Understanding what you do best and where you may be vulnerable helps focus efforts on what works and shoring up areas of weakness. Similarly, understanding your competitors allows you to identify gaps in their offerings that you can exploit.

Winning without fighting

Hence, to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.

— Sun Tzu, The Art of War, III:2

The principle of “winning without fighting” from Sun Tsu’s “The Art of War” emphasises achieving objectives through strategic foresight, diplomacy, and psychological warfare, thus avoiding the costs and uncertainties of open conflict. It advocates for understanding and influencing opponents’ motivations and actions, securing victory through superior strategy rather than confrontation. Another way may be to build resources before you go straight against another competitor who otherwise may have more resources.

This wisdom is considered in the Latin quote “Si vis pacem, para bellum,” which translates to “If you want peace, prepare for war.” This saying is attributed to Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, a Roman general and military author, in his work “Epitoma Rei Militaris”.

In a business context, for an SME, it may imply focusing on niche markets to avoid direct competition with more prominent players and to build up your financial strength and market capability before you compete straight with any more significant player.

Strategic Alliances

The importance of alliances is another crucial theme in The Art of War. In business, this refers to partnerships, collaborations, and networking. Building solid relationships with other companies, suppliers, and even competitors can open up new avenues for growth.

Strategic alliances can provide businesses with resources, knowledge, and market access that might otherwise be out of reach.

Flexibility and Adaptation

Sun Tzu champions adaptability in the face of changing circumstances. For businesses, this means being agile and responsive to market changes. The ability to pivot quickly, whether in response to new trends, customer feedback, or external challenges, can be a significant advantage. Flexibility allows businesses to stay relevant and maintain a competitive edge in a dynamic market environment.

Morale and Leadership

Lastly, the treatise underscores the role of strong leadership and high morale. For business owners, this translates to leading by example, fostering a positive company culture, and keeping the team motivated towards common goals. A motivated team can drive innovation, provide exceptional customer service, and effectively overcome challenges.

How we have applied this wisdom at Gislen Software

Gislen Software, through strategic adaptability akin to Sun Tsu’s “The Art of War,” has formed partnerships, notably with the Epical Group, to provide Systems Integration Services to prominent Swedish firms. This collaboration exemplifies their commitment to forming solid alliances, understanding client needs, and offering tailored solutions, reflecting Sun Tsu’s emphasis on knowledge, planning, and strategic partnerships. However, while the collaboration with Epical Group is unique, we generally see every client relationship as a partnership.

Gislen Software’s strategic approach also reflects Sun Tsu’s principle of “winning without fighting” by focusing on niche markets with a competitive edge, thus avoiding confrontations in overcrowded sectors. Their emphasis on quality and sustainability demonstrates the strategic foresight of long-term preparation, aligning with Sun Tsu’s teachings on the importance of readiness and adaptability.


While The Art of War was initially intended for military strategists, its principles still apply remarkably well to the challenges businesses face today. By embracing Sun Tzu’s wisdom, entrepreneurs can better navigate the complexities of the modern business world.

Here is a list of the key strategies that can propel businesses towards success:

  • Understanding the market terrain
  • Leveraging the element of surprise through innovation
  • Recognising strengths and weaknesses
  • Forging strategic alliances
  • Maintaining flexibility
  • Fostering strong leadership

In the ever-evolving battlefield of business, the ancient wisdom of Sun Tzu remains a guiding light for modern entrepreneurs.

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