Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War. While it sounds like a military book, it’s a terrific strategy guide that should be at least skimmed by anyone who works in the tech space.

There is a ton of competition in just about every tech sector, so why not conquer your enemies with a few tips from Sun Tzu! It could help anyone with regards to competition.

Sun Tzu Tip #1: Know When To Pivot

Okay, so Sun Tzu didn’t provide lean start up advice. However, he did say:

There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare. — Chapter II, Paragraph 6.

This means two things for techies and especially startups. From a competitive point of view, it means you shouldn’t make your competition the only thing you focus on. So that means don’t just look at their features and play catchup — because you won’t unless you have more resources. Think of new features that make your product unique.

It also means that you need to pivot before it’s too late. Pushing all your resources into a product when the market doesn’t see it as a true solution for a MAJOR problem they’re trying to solve means you’re looking for disaster.

Sun Tzu Tip #2: Find Blue Oceans in Existing Markets

AKA, disrupt the marketplace. Sun Tzu said:

If the enemy leaves a door open, you must rush in. — Chapter XI, Paragraph 65.

When you’re calling customers to develop your product, and you hear that their current solution (whether it’s the competition or home-grown) has problems, take advantage of that! This leads to new features and helps you develop a unique selling position and tell the story about how you’re different.

Sun Tzu Tip #3: Create a Minimally Viable Product (MVP)

Sun Tzu believed in moving quickly. He said:

Rapidity is the essence of war. — Chapter XI, Paragraph 19.

That means be fast. Be agile. Make a product, get it to market, and learn from their usage and insight. Don’t spend tons of time building a solution without getting it into the marketplace, there’s a very good chance you’re missing out on insight that can point you in the right direction.

Get your product out there and start rapidly improving it!

Sun Tzu Tip #4: Do Your Market & Competitive Research (MVP)

Sun Tzu was a proponent of learning as much as possible. He said:

Spies are a most important element in war, because on them depends an army’s ability to move. — Chapter XIII, Paragraph 27.

This can be taken a couple of different ways. For instance, it could mean that you need to understand what your competition is doing. Remember, because he says spies, he doesn’t say make it the focus of all your attention. But be aware. Understand what they’re doing to disrupt the marketplace and stay ahead of them.

It can also mean that you need to understand your audience. If you don’t know what your audience wants, what direction do you point your product teams? Without customer insight, it’s like you’re stuck in the fog of war. Instead, find your ideal customer and discover what they need and build that.

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Sun Tzu Tip #5: Know When To Split Up Your Team and When To Get All Hands on Deck

When you’re developing your product, you’re going to run into obstacles. Managing your team and divvying up resources appropriately is important:

Whether you concentrate or to divide your troops, must be decided by circumstances. — Chapter VII, Paragraph 16.

For instance, there’s times when you need your team to focus on building multiple features at once. At other times, like when you’re having a major product hang-up, you need to focus on getting one thing right so you point your entire team in that direction.

Sun Tzu Tip #6: Be Fast Early, Be Sure Later

Sun Tzu also broke down market penetration.

When you penetrate deeply into a country, it is serious ground. When you penetrate but a little way, it is facile ground. — Chapter XI, Paragraph 44.

Once you have earned a decent marketshare, it’s hard to pivot and change to a different market. Once you’ve established yourself in a marketplace, you’ll face difficulty. Stand your ground and keep moving.

But early on with your product, if it’s the right fit for a certain marketplace audience, it should be easier to get a little traction in a market place. If you’re struggling early, pivot.

Sun Tzu Tip #7: Don’t Recreate the Wheel

If there is already a solution to your problem that does it better and has dominated every aspect of the marketplace, find another way to be successful. Per Sun Tzu:

The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be avoided. — Chapter III, Paragraph 4.

Basically, find another way to disrupt this marketplace. It’s hard to dominate the online search industry based on quality of search alone, like Google did.

That doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. Find your niche or attack the problem differently, like the search engine DuckDuckGo did by saying they won’t track you at all when you search. They’re not the best search product, but they could very well be the safest search product.

Sun Tzu Tip #8: Pay Attention to the HiPPO

Sun Tzu even knew the importance of finding the budgeting authority.

In war, the general receives his commands from the sovereign. — Chapter VII, Paragraph 1.

Don’t spend time selling to the wrong audience. Especially in the B2B space, make sure you’re selling to someone with the budget authority, or the HiPPO. Who is the HiPPO? It’s the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion (HiPPO), and they are ultimately the ones who make the decision.

Concluding Remarks

Overall, Sun Tzu has provided a great strategy book. Do you like The Art of War? Are there any of his tips that you think we’re missing here? Leave us a comment and let us know your thoughts.

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About Curtis Peterson

I'm the Digital Marketing Manager for SmartFile who loves content, email marketing and web analytics. As a child, I built awesome websites with animated starry night backgrounds and multi-colored font headers on AngelFire and GeoCities.