The language of business and the language of war are often identical. Terms such as target market, competition, offensive and defensive strategy, and war room scream conflict. And these terms have come into our vocabulary because business can indeed feel like a war.
But the truth is business is much more than a war. A true, healthy business is an almost paradoxical blend of war and art. It is not just about defeating the competition. If your only focus is defeating the competition, the market will leave you behind. Think about the market for buggy whips. What market? Exactly. There isn’t much of a market for buggy whips today. But at one point, there was a market for whips. If you ran a buggy whip company and only focused on your competitors, the market passed you by. Business is just as much about creating value as it is about competition.
This is what most leaders trained in business fail to realize. The great businesses of our times were ones that created value to the consumer. Apple, Microsoft, Google, and even Wal-Mart are great examples. These companies were not started by MBAs. There were started by programmers, creatives, and shop owners. These were people who understood their markets and saw opportunities to make a difference. Perhaps some of these businesses have lost their way, but at one time they were making a real difference.
So what’s the big deal? Why is it dangerous to think solely about warfare in business? Because war means casualties. The casualties of excessive competition are often consumers. When CEOs and leadership boards focus too much on their strategy, innovation halts. Healthy competition drives innovation. Unhealthy competition stifles it.