Debunking the Myth that Business is "War"

Last Updated Jan 24, 2011 9:39 AM EST

Commenting on a recent post, BNET reader craigpanza insisted that "business is war."

It's common thinking, and I disagree. And I'm depressed and frustrated by the persistent enthusiasm with which executives and MBA students clutch their deg-eared copies of Sun Tzu's Art of War as though the manual will guide them to success.

So: why isn't business war?

  • In business, people don't die. Or at least, that isn't the idea. Yes work can seem like a matter of life and death, but it isn't. It's helpful to remember that if you haven't seen your partner or spouse for a few days. There is life and there is work and they overlap but when they become synonymous - go home. The idea that a bad day (which may make you feel like death) is the same as death dishonors those who do die in battle.
  • In business, your adversary will never be defeated. You may see off one competitor, a whole host of them. But there will always be competition from new companies, new products, new solutions. Always. The sooner you understand this and work with it - instead of against it - the better.
  • War has a vast absolute, human and economic cost. Business is supposed to be a benefit: to those served by it, to those who work in it and to the community at large. I hope you measure your success by how those benefits grow, rather than the cost of extinguishing the opposition.
  • It is possible for societies to flourish without war - but they won't do so without business. I can contemplate a peaceful world with equanimity; I don't get the same warm feeling when I try to imagine a world without work.
That's just for starters...I could go on. But I'd rather you did. What do you think: is business war - or something else?
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    Margaret Heffernan has been CEO of five businesses in the United States and United Kingdom. A speaker and writer, her most recent book Willful Blindness was shortlisted for the Financial Times Best Business Book 2011. Visit her on www.MHeffernan.com.