By Amanda Khoza, Divisional Director: Transformation & Inclusion, Liberty Group
An analogy of war conjures up images of destruction, conflict, pain, looters, prisoners, death and losers. There are no real winners in war – victory and winning mean different things in wartime, yet it is used as a backdrop to many a competitive strategy.
To speak of war in strategy formulation is one of the most interesting perspectives that Sun Tzu introduced to conversations on the art of doing smart business. Much has been written on this subject – taking lessons into how business can maneuver and outmaneuver its opponents (or competitors as said in business-speak). So why would I go where others have trodden and not go the road less travelled? Well, though the principles written about are universal, there is something that we can learn about the wild and the make-up of each animal that lives there and how it faces its opponents (or prey in safari-speak). It is this image that comes to mind when I hear this song from Juluka, the question is what side of the war are you on and I propose that you can be on the most prepared side. The side that will know what strategies to employ and has a plan that will make them succeed when it hears: “war!”
In the grasslands and plains, the lioness is the hunter. She stealthily stalks her prey; she is calculating, measured and focused. Her body is a pale tawny colour to blend into its surroundings when on the hunt, but don’t underestimate her 2 metre length for it holds 150 to 200kg of power. Just imagine the weight of her pounce – heavy with determination and agility. Her paws are well-poised at the end of muscle and sinew and her grip is unwavering. She doesn’t chase until the time is opportune; she preserves her stamina for that critical moment. Her roar is deep and throaty often following a purr with head down low to the ground so that her roar reverberates from the earth. Now that’s a call for war.
Question to the entrepreneur is how prepared are you for the hunt, or for war? What is your plan and what are you about?
One of the lessons of war strategy is preparation, where defense is the best attack strategy. Is your business well-resourced with processes that work, skills that add value, differentiation that can compete? If your proposal, your business offering is not polished or ready to go, then it creates uncertainty about your capacity or capability. Is your business ready to compete for the limited funding or market opportunities availed? Are you built to survive? How ironic that African lions are listed as the most vulnerable (only 30,000 known to be alive in the wild today) and yet they are not protected under the Endangered Species Act.
What’s fascinating about lions is that they play to their strengths. Lions stay with the pride and protect it. They also don’t do most of the hunting as their mane makes them easy to spot on a hunt. Lionesses are more agile and able to blend in more easily which makes them best suited to hunt for the pride. In war, not all battles must be fought, just as not every call for tender must be responded to. Also, making sure that if an agreement is entered into, that it is agreeable and manageable on your terms is also good strategy. This may seem contradictory when access to markets is one of the key needs of a small business. However, knowing your business’ limitations is also important in knowing when to respond or renegotiate so that you don’t renege on expectations. The advantage of knowing your strengths means that you can decline, or outsource or divide your deliverables over a negotiated period and still deliver to market.
A parting lesson to learn about war is articulated in this Sun Tzu extract:
“If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
Definitely know your competitor landscape but know yourself just as well. As an entrepreneur don’t forget to invest in yourself in the process of organizing your organization. Nurture and cultivate your passions and ideas – strike quickly to sharpen your vision and your visualization of what stands before you. It will make you more efficient, and more prepared to see opportunity and grab it whilst the scent is in the air. All entrepreneurs have to carry an arsenal of sales acumen, fighters need to know where the attack is coming from, hunters have to know what prey can be captured.
Know your business, know what you have, know what you can and cannot do and know yourself. May war find you prepared!
Amanda Khoza is the Divisional Director: Transformation & Inclusion at Liberty Group, based in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is a passionate advocate for economic empowerment, financial literacy, and believes in the power of entrepreneurship to make real and lasting societal change happen on the African continent. Amanda is championing a host of initiatives for women entrepreneurs in South Africa, including partnering with Lionesses of Africa on the Lioness Lean In Liberty Sessions programme for intrapreneurs at Liberty, supporting The Mix newsletter each month as an impact partner, and joining with Standard Bank as the impact partners for the Lionesses of Africa Accelerator programme series in Johannesburg.
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