The 10 Principles of War

On war ClausewitzAround the start of my career in the late 80’s, Eastern thought was very big in the workplace. There was a growing awareness of Japanese solutions such as Kanban and Keiretsu. Management books such as Miyamoto Musashi’s – The Book of 5 Rings and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War were massively popular as books on strategy. What I found strange though was that these two books were very old. The Book of 5 Rings was written in 1645 and the Art of War in around 500BCE! What was going through my head at the time was, “If I am going to apply military strategy to business, surely there must be something a little more up to date!”. I was certain that we must have learnt something over the last couple of hundred if not thousands of years.

Of course, the answer was staring me in the face. In the Army I had learnt about the 10 Principles of War. These were the ideas first acted upon by French General & Emperor Napolean Bonaparte, then codified by the Prussian Officer Carl von Clausewitz in his essay “The Principles of War” in 1812. Since then these Principles of War have been further tweaked and are now taught in every Military Officer school on the plant.

Each of them are quite simple and in every case can be applied to commercial operations to improve the chances of their success. So what are they?

  1. Selection and Maintenance of the Aim
    A single, unambiguous aim is the keystone of successful military operations. Selection and maintenance of the aim is regarded as the master principle of war.
  2. Maintenance of Morale
    Morale is a positive state of mind derived from inspired political and military leadership, a shared sense of purpose and values, well-being, perceptions of worth and group cohesion.
  3. Offensive Action
    Offensive action is the practical way in which a commander seeks to gain advantage, sustain momentum and seize the initiative.
  4. Security
    Security is the provision and maintenance of an operating environment that affords the necessary freedom of action, when and where required, to achieve objectives.
  5. Surprise
    Surprise is the consequence of shock and confusion induced by the deliberate or incidental introduction of the unexpected.
  6. Concentration of Force
    Concentration of force involves the decisive, synchronized application of superior fighting power (conceptual, physical, and moral) to realize intended effects, when and where required.
  7. Economy of Effort
    Economy of effort is the judicious exploitation of manpower, materiel and time in relation to the achievement of objectives.
  8. Flexibility
    Flexibility – the ability to change readily to meet new circumstances – comprises agility, responsiveness, resilience, acuity and adaptability.
  9. Cooperation
    Cooperation entails the incorporation of teamwork and a sharing of dangers, burdens, risks and opportunities in every aspect of warfare.
  10. Sustainability
    To sustain a force is to generate the means by which its fighting power and freedom of action are maintained.

I tend to think that this is a great framework for both building a plan within, as well as analysing the plans of others. Just replace the word military with commercial and it all tends to make sense. But the big one for me is the first, and master principle – Selection and Maintenance of the Aim. Get this right and everything else starts falling into place.