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Is War a Good Analogy for Business?

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Michael Robbins, the editor of Military History, took the stage this afternoon at the Inc. 500|5000 Conference to discuss Sun Tzu's 2nd century classic, The Art of War.

"There is a metaphorical connection between warfare and other human endeavors," Robbins said. "There are serious lessons to be learned."

Robbins is hardly the first to make the connection between war and business. Mark McNeilly's book Sun Tzu and the Art of Business, famously outlined six management principles from the text, including: "Capture your market without destroying it;" "Avoid your competitor's strength, and attack their weakness;" and "Use speed and preparation to swiftly overcome the competition."

At the same time, Robbins cautioned against making the leap from war as a metaphor for business, and war as a reality for business.

"There is a distinction," he said. "Subjugating and killing one's enemies is not proper conduct when applying it to one's customers."

"Although I don't know your businesses," he joked.

What do you think? Is war an appropriate analogy for business, or does it make you uncomfortable to think about business in terms of violence? Let us know in the comments section below.

Last updated: Sep 24, 2011

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