Sunday, April 22, 2012

Five Principles of Carl Von Clausewitz's Strategy

The truth is: we are part of a wider system that controls us more than we could ever know.

Von Clausewitz's book On War is classic, he had a career in the Prussian army, and served in a number of major campaigns, he was a thinker and philosopher who studied war to with in-depth knowledge that no one else had ever done before. He also believed that war was more like a business. As he points out, both war and business involve the clash of interests, although one obviously results in lots of bloodsheds, the other lots of logistics,  that’s why his insight and strategy also significantly influence modern business. Here are five principles the business can learn from Clausewitz's strategy:

1. Principle of Plan Well with Simplicity

Prepare clear, uncomplicated plans and concise orders to ensure thorough understanding.

Von Clausewitz was a great fan of planning and believed that war plans should cover every aspect of the conflict, weaving them into a single operation with an ultimate objective. In his view, no one should start a war without fully understanding what they intended to achieve by it (the political purpose) and how they intended to conduct it (the operational objective).

Same as running business or project, good planning is half of success. Always start with strategic planning with a clear goal and value proposition,  following a series of cohesive actions to execute it.

2. Principle of Unity of Command

For every objective, seek the unity of command and unity of effort.

Von Clausewitz discussed the importance of the unification of forces in time. His main argument is actually quite simple and focuses on whether it's best to throw all your men into an engagement at once or hold some back ready to join when really needed. In his view, it is far better to apply all your forces simultaneously: their effectiveness will be far greater because everything can be concentrated in a single action in a single moment in time.

Same principles fit for business, keep focus, stay hungry. It’s critical to well integrate the best talent, the effective process, and the latest technology seamlessly & synchronously to achieve the high-performance result.

3. Principle of Historical Examples

The historical examples provide the best kind of proof in the study of war.

Von Clausewitz was emphatic in his view that historical examples provide the best kind of proof in the study of war. He cites four key uses of historical examples. First, they may be used as an illustration of an idea; second, they serve to show the best practice of an idea; third, they can prove the possibility of an effect, and finally, they may be used to develop theory. But he goes on to warn of the dangers too, such as only using those examples supporting a particular opinion.

Von Clausewitz also recognizes the root cause of both success and failure is an essential skill if you are to remain successful and avoid the mistakes of the past. It worths the effort to find out why something succeeds or fails by investigating the underlying factors and behaviors of those involved.

Same principles can be practical for the business, always learn from other’s million dollar mistakes, breakdown the problem and solve it via analytics and logic step, also can develop the new knowledge and theory via the experiences.  

4. The Number Effect

It's crucial to use the superiority of numbers to good effect.

When Von Clausewitz discusses the effect which superiority of numbers has on war, he does so only on the basis of having stripped out all the other factors associated with strategy and tactics first. His argument is that without a good strategy and excellent tactics, we are left with nothing more than a shapeless battle in which the only distinguishing factor is the number of troops on either side. He also points out that having more men may ultimately contribute very little to the outcome of engagement and will only do so if the numbers are great enough to counterbalance the strategy and tactics of their opponents. In other words, although it is essential to fielding as large a force as possible, it's crucial to use the superiority of numbers to good effect.

Business needs to adopt the same principle Von Clausewitz discovered: It can be very big, and it can be beautiful, but when it comes to the numbers game, the question is: are you using your resources wisely?

5. System Thinking

The truth is: we are part of a wider system that controls us more than we could ever know.

In many ways, Von Clausewitz was ahead of his time, but there was one area in particular where he was light years ahead: Systems Thinking. Although systems theory as we know it today had yet to be defined or articulated, Von Clausewitz understood war was not an isolated act. In his view, opponents in war could not regard each other as abstract entities; they were part of a wider system that included individual behavior as well as politics. As a result, it was a relatively straightforward process to understand and model the motives of a potential enemy; all you had to do was observe. And because the war was part of a larger ‘system,’ it rarely broke out spontaneously nor could it spread instantaneously.

The principle is extremely practical at today’s over-complex and hyper-competitive global business environment, the business can no longer survive in its own four wall surroundings, it needs to shape the new eco-system to compete and collaborate at the same time, it also needs to craft the new business model via systematic thinking and holistic view. Its value chains are cross-industrial, cross-cultural silos, its influences are global and amplified via the digital fabric.


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