Find business strategies and powerful questions by applying the principles of Sun Tzu

Written 2,500 years ago, Sun Tzu’s renowned “The Art of War” has been repurposed for everything from business to sports because of its timeless strategies. If there was ever a need for powerful strategies during a crisis, it’s now.

“The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy not coming, but on our readiness to receive him.” – Sun Tzu

The ancient advice of “The Art of War” pairs well with modern tools, specifically the SWOT analysis (situation, weaknesses, opportunities and threats), and making lists of positive questions. The right questions can help push the mind into problem-solving mode.

Here are three pieces of advice that are particularly relevant to getting through a crisis:

1) “If it is to your advantage, make a forward move. If not, stay where you are.”

Now is a perfect time to conduct a SWOT analysis. Review your situation, outline your weaknesses, determine opportunities and identify any threats. What are your goals for the quarter or for the year? Take the time to assess where you are and where you want to go. As Sun Tzu says, “Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.”

Take stock and try to go beneath the surface. Yes, the reality of the situation is dire. The world of finance (along with everything else) changed overnight with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s unclear how long this crisis will continue and what type of lasting changes will remain in its aftermath.

Turn now to your questions. What deeper lessons are we learning about human behavior right now? What have you learned from interacting with clients virtually? 

2) “Make your way by unexpected routes and attack unguarded spots.”

Focus on the opportunity section of your SWOT. What are your competitors doing that you can do better? What are the missed chances? What can you do now or in the future that nobody else is doing? Where can you get ideas?

Based on your SWOT, make lists of questions and possible action items, mind maps and even drawings. You may have an idea that sounds crazy at first, yet it may also provide you another way of thinking and operating in your business that sets you apart for the competition. 

Take the time to bounce ideas off of trusted members of your network. Make a note of which ideas land with them and which ones didn’t. This process may seem time-consuming, but it may well lead you to a new idea that you would have never tried in the first place.

3) “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

In war, information is the most valuable resource. The battle with the coronavirus is no different. Learn as much as possible about the coronavirus, follow the news (but set limits on yourself, you don’t want to be overwhelmed by bad news) and find out how your local government is handling the crisis. 

More importantly, how are your clients feeling? What are their concerns? What are you doing to address them and what more could you be doing?

By outlining new strategies via SWOT analysis and examining them with creative questions, you are well on your way to winning the battle and setting yourself up for success once the pandemic has ended. In the words of Sun Tzu, “In war, the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won.”

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