“Battle plan”, “conquest”, “enemy”, “deterrence”, “element of surprise”… As you will have no doubt noticed, corporate strategy borrows a fair part of its rhetoric from military strategy. Listening to CEOs explain their strategy, you often have the impression of hearing generals on the battleground. Is this analogy relevant?
Of course, at its origins, corporate strategy took great inspiration from military strategy. Corporate strategy was born in the 1960s in the United States, when four Harvard Business School professors used the SWOT model to enrich their General Policy classes. This was also around the time that Bruce Henderson founded the first strategic consulting firm: Boston Consulting Group.
There are no air miles or business class when parachuting into a battle zone.
At first, corporate strategy classes were often given by military personnel, and the reference texts used were for the most part by great military authors like the Chinese Sun Tzu or the Prussian Clausewitz. At the time, the directors being addressed by the recently created corporate strategy were all men, the majority of whom had served their country during World War II and the Korean War, and came from one of two backgrounds – business and military. It is therefore not surprising that they made use of their knowledge from the battleground and applied it to the business world.
However, corporate and military strategy are fundamentally different:
- First of all, while company directors certainly experience a significant level of stress, it has nothing in common with what is experienced during a real military conflict: there are no air miles or business class when parachuting into a battle zone.
- Secondly, and most significantly, unlike in war, the objective of corporate strategy is not to annihilate your competition. Rival companies may be adversaries to fight (in the sporting sense) but they are certainly not enemies to shoot down. No, what really matters is seducing the customer. The customer is an absolutely key part of corporate strategy, but there is no equivalent in military strategy. It is not a question of conquering a territory, dominating populations and seizing resources, but rather seducing a customer, who has their own free will. Furthermore, if several competitors manage to win over the same customers, that is not a problem. Your true objective is to attract your customer base, not kill your competitors.
Corporate strategy was created by men, former soldiers, in reference to their military past. In another context, it could very well have borrowed its rhetoric not from war, but rather from the art of seduction.
This review was previously published in French by Xerfi Canal.
This post gives the views of its author, not the position of ESCP Business School.
License and Republishing
The Choice - Republishing rules
We publish under a Creative Commons license with the following characteristics Attribution/Sharealike.
- You may not make any changes to the articles published on our site, except for dates, locations (according to the news, if necessary), and your editorial policy. The content must be reproduced and represented by the licensee as published by The Choice, without any cuts, additions, insertions, reductions, alterations or any other modifications.If changes are planned in the text, they must be made in agreement with the author before publication.
- Please make sure to cite the authors of the articles, ideally at the beginning of your republication.
- It is mandatory to cite The Choice and include a link to its homepage or the URL of thearticle. Insertion of The Choice’s logo is highly recommended.
- The sale of our articles in a separate way, in their entirety or in extracts, is not allowed , but you can publish them on pages including advertisements.
- Please request permission before republishing any of the images or pictures contained in our articles. Some of them are not available for republishing without authorization and payment. Please check the terms available in the image caption. However, it is possible to remove images or pictures used by The Choice or replace them with your own.
- Systematic and/or complete republication of the articles and content available on The Choice is prohibited.
- Republishing The Choice articles on a site whose access is entirely available by payment or by subscription is prohibited.
- For websites where access to digital content is restricted by a paywall, republication of The Choice articles, in their entirety, must be on the open access portion of those sites.
- The Choice reserves the right to enter into separate written agreements for the republication of its articles, under the non-exclusive Creative Commons licenses and with the permission of the authors. Please contact The Choice if you are interested at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Extracts: It is recommended that after republishing the first few lines or a paragraph of an article, you indicate "The entire article is available on ESCP’s media, The Choice" with a link to the article.
Citations: Citations of articles written by authors from The Choice should include a link to the URL of the authors’ article.
Translations: Translations may be considered modifications under The Choice's Creative Commons license, therefore these are not permitted without the approval of the article's author.
Modifications: Modifications are not permitted under the Creative Commons license of The Choice. However, authors may be contacted for authorization, prior to any publication, where a modification is planned. Without express consent, The Choice is not bound by any changes made to its content when republished.
Authorized connections / copyright assignment forms: Their use is not necessary as long as the republishing rules of this article are respected.
Print: The Choice articles can be republished according to the rules mentioned above, without the need to include the view counter and links in a printed version.
If you choose this option, please send an image of the republished article to The Choice team so that the author can review it.
Podcasts and videos: Videos and podcasts whose copyrights belong to The Choice are also under a Creative Commons license. Therefore, the same republishing rules apply to them.