Can War Teach Us To Do Business?
Essential on War for Business, edited by Pritsikha Anil and extracted from the writing of the Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz, offers to bring the “key lessons from the battlefield needed to succeed in the twenty-first-century world of business.” The obvious problems with such books are that business is not war nor any other such epochal activity, business doesn’t have the same implications as war and managers are not generals. We do live in an unprecedented context, never before have businessmen been heroes. Either our definition of, or our expectation from, heroes has degraded.
Shorn of the baggage of Clausewitz’s story, the book may offer some valuable experiential learning for specific situations. Clausewitz’s original work was based on his experiences more than academic assessments, and that delivers some good ideas. For example, “firmness has at its roots the strength of a feeling in relation to the force of a single blow; staunchness in relation to a continuance of blows,” says Clauswitz on the subject of what drives the commander of armies. How would a leader go about sensing morale? The importance of ideology; the question of morality; the question of finding worthy deputies; the importance of knowledge and strategy—these questions have interesting answers in the book.
In Clausewitz’s discussion of the uses and conduct of a war, one can see the clear ideological line that extends up to the catastrophes of the First and Second World Wars. With frequent crises in markets and the tenuous nature of inefficient market environment, vitiated by concentrated power and inherited wealth, an analogy of war for business is probably the last thing we need.
New age idea about that age-old challenge - sales
The Daniel Pink was once a scriptwriter for Al Gore, the US presidential hopeful in 2000. He has since become a business guru; his books investigate the importance of emotion and psychology in business. Three of his books have been successive bestsellers. A Whole New Mind argued that the future belongs to those with a different kind of mind (artists, inventors, storytellers, etc.). Drive focused on what motivates us (no, its not incentives). To Sell is Human is a new age idea about that age-old challenge—sales or, put differently, about moving people to do what you want them to do.
Pink has two points to make. One, we should realise that we are all sales people, all the time, in some situation or the other. Someone who wants to persuade you to buy a pair of shoes is no different from the parent who is trying to persuade his daughter to study harder.
His second point is that selling has changed fundamentally because people have more information. To use an academic term, ‘information asymmetry’ between a seller and a buyer is much less now. A salesman could easily dress up his wares and pass them off as a great bargain because there was only so much you could know about them, as a buyer.
Buying a used car, for instance, was endless haggle to overcome this asymmetry—the suspicion of the buyer and his lack of knowledge about the car he is buying. All this has changed. Today, customers are far better informed. Pink gives real-life examples of a highly successful user-car sales company that does not bargain; instead. it gets fully on the side of the buyer to create confidence and remove suspicion.
Pink argues that using old-school techniques of selling will get you nowhere. You need to be attuned to the buyer and be clear and honest with your information. Pink ends the book with how to implement the right selling processes. This is certainly an excellent book for not only sales people but just about everybody because, everyday, we need to ‘move’ others, who are naturally characterised by inertia.