Carl von Clausewitz
Business is War
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Carl von Clausewitz: Business is War
"Rather than comparing [war] to art we could more accurately compare it to commerce, which is also a conflict of human interests and activities; and it is still closer to politics, which in turn may be considered as a kind of commerce on a larger scale." On War, Book I, Ch. 3

"Business is war. Arm yourself." Motoman 2-page ad in Manufacturing Engineering, August 1994.

Mission Statement
Clausewitz.org is about putting the principles of  history's greatest leaders and organizational developers to work in the modern workplace. Levinson Productivity Systems, P.C. offers management consulting services that can make these principles work for your organization.
Overview
War is the oldest form of competition between human organizations; business is a relative newcomer. There were no large business organizations (with a few exceptions, like Britain's East India Company) until a couple of centuries ago. Humans have been fighting wars for millennia and war has driven the evolution of techniques for organizing, supplying, leading, and motivating large numbers of people.

The idea of quality management systems, or mutually supporting and synergistic activities that make sure "things go right," is but a few decades old. The ISO 9000 standard for quality systems is, as of 2000, less than a decade old. The harshest possible environment, one in which not only natural forces but the opponent is trying to cause an organizational system to fail, drove the evolution of military organizational systems. Many aspects of these systems are adaptable to civilian activities.

History's greatest generals may or may not have been outstanding strategists and tacticians but they were always outstanding organizational developers. Two of the greatest commanders who ever lived, Alexander the Great and the Russian field marshal Alexander V. Suvorov (1729-1800), created or improved outstanding organizations.

  • Alexander's father Philip II developed the Macedonian Army into a highly professional fighting organization. Philip's innovations included drills, logistics for rapid movement, and equal discipline for officers and enlisted troops. Alexander maintained this system, and his personal behavior earned the commitment of his troops.
    • Frederick William I left his son, Frederick the Great, a superbly-trained army. As these soldiers suffered attrition through battle or retirement, Frederick's ability to win declined. Although Frederick was a skilled tactician and strategist, he was not a great organization-builder.
  • Suvorov encouraged self-direction and innovation by enlisted soldiers in an era when commanders relied on tight control: Taylorism before Frederick Winslow Taylor. Suvorov's leadership, like Alexander the Great's, promoted outstanding commitment, morale, and enthusiasm.

  • Intellectual Heritage of Clausewitz.org

    Every thoughtful man has an idea of what ought to be; but what the world is waiting for is a social and economic blueprint. …We want artists in industrial relationships. We want masters in industrial method, both from the standpoint of the producer and the product. We want those who can mold the political, social, industrial, and moral mass into a sound and shapely whole.
                       --Henry Ford, Ford Ideals (1922)

    Quoted in the Preface to Levinson, 2002, Henry Ford's Lean Vision: Enduring Principles from the First Ford Motor Plant (Productivity Press).
    Through the travail of the ages,
    Midst the pomp and toil of war
    Have I fought and strove and perished
    Countless times upon this star.

    In the forms of many peoples
    In all panoplies of time
    Have I seen the luring vision
    Of the victory Maid, sublime.

    I have known the call to battle
    In each changeless changing shape
    From the high souled voice of conscience
    To the beastly lust for rape.

    I have sinned and I have suffered,
    Played the hero and the knave;
    Fought for belly, shame, or country
    And for each have found a grave.

    I cannot name my battles
    For the visions are not clear,
    Yet I see the twisted faces
    And I feel the rending spear. 

    Perhaps I stabbed our Savior
    In His sacred helpless side.
    Yet I've called His name in blessing
    When in after times I died.

    In the dimness of the shadows
    Where we hairy heathens warred
    I can taste in thought the life blood–
    We used teeth before the sword.

    While in later clearer vision
    I can sense the coppery sweat
    Feel the pikes grow wet and slippery
    When our phalanx Cyrus met. [1]

    Hear the rattle on the harness
    Where the Persian darts bounced clear,
    See their chariots wheel in panic
    From the hoplite's leveled spear.

    See the goal grow monthly longer,
    Reaching for the walls of Tyre.
    Hear the crash of tons of granite,
    Smell the quenchless Eastern fire. [2]

    Still more clearly as a Roman,
    Can I see the legion close,
    As our third rank moved in forward
    And the short sword found our foes.

    Once again I feel the anguish
    Of that blistering treeless plain
    When the Parthian showered death bolts,
    And our discipline was vain. [3]

    I remember all the suffering
    Of those arrows in my neck,
    Yet I stabbed a grinning savage
    As I died upon my back.

    Once again I smell the heat sparks
    When my Flemish plate gave way
    And the lance ripped through my entrails
    As on Crecy's field I lay.

    In the windless blinding stillness
    Of the glittering tropic sea
    I can see the bubbles rising
    Where we set the captives free.

    Midst the spume of half a tempest
    I have heard the bulwarks go
    When the crashing, point-blank round shot
    Sent destruction to our foe

    I have fought with gun and cutlass
    On the red and slippery deck
    With all Hell aflame within me
    And a rope around my neck.

    And still later as a general
    Have I galloped with Murat
    When we laughed at death and numbers
    Trusting in the Emperor's star

    Till at last our star had faded,
    And we shouted to our doom
    Where the sunken road of Ohein
    Closed us in its quivering gloom

    So but now with tanks a clatter
    Have I waddled on the foe
    Belching death at twenty paces
    By the starshell's ghastly glow.

    So as through a glass and darkly
    The age-long strife I see
    Where I fought in many guises,
    Many names— but always me.

    And I see not in my blindness
    What the objects were I wrought.
    But as God rules o'er our bickerings
    It was through His will I fought.

    So forever in the future,
    Shall I battle as of yore,
    Dying to be born a fighter
    But to die again once more.

    Through a Glass, Darkly, by George S. Patton, Jr. (22 May 1922, believed to be in the public domain)
    [1] Greco-Persian wars
    [2] Siege of Tyre by Alexander the Great
    [3] Carrhae, at which Roman infantry was caught in the open by Parthian mounted archers

    I don't know if I share Henry Ford's and George S. Patton's belief in reincarnation but I am absolutely sure that timeless and changeless principles of leadership and organizational behavior can live again through anyone who chooses to learn them. "Learn these principles and look in the mirror. You are the Eternal Champion." Then again, Henry Ford had to come back as somebody and Henry Ford's Lean Vision is indeed the first reconstruction of his entire business system... :-)
    The Way of Strategy: applying military principles to business
    The Way of Strategy applies the principles of von Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, Miyamoto Musashi, and others to business management.

    Order William A. Levinson's The Way of Strategy

    Carl von Clausewitz

    Business is War

    "Rather than comparing [war] to art we could more accurately compare it to commerce, which is also a conflict of human interests and activities; and it is still closer to politics, which in turn may be considered as a kind of commerce on a larger scale." On War, Book I, Ch. 3

    Clausewitz Links

    Clausewitz in business
    Chris Bassford's Clausewitz site (Clausewitz.com)
    Karen's home page

    visitors since 30 December 2002

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