"Clausewitz summed up what it had all been about in his classic On War. Men could not reduce strategy to a formula. Detailed planning necessarily failed, due to the inevitable frictions encountered: chance events, imperfections in execution, and the independent will of the opposition. Instead, the human elements were paramount: leadership, morale, and the almost instinctive savvy of the best generals.... The Prussian general staff, under the elder von Moltke, perfected these concepts in practice. They did not expect a plan of operations to survive beyond the first contact with the enemy. They set only the broadest of objectives and emphasized seizing unforeseen opportunities as they arose. Strategy was not a lengthy action plan. It was the evolution of a central idea through continually changing circumstances."
Jack Welch, CEO
CLAUSEWITZ FOR CEOS
Inspiration and Insight from a Master Strategist
by Carl von Clausewitz
edited by Tiha von Ghyczy, Bolko von Oetinger, and Christopher Bassford
From the Boston Consulting Group's Strategy Institute
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, 2001
Carl von Clausewitz is widely acknowledged as one of the most important of the major strategic theorists; he's been read by Eisenhower, Patton, Kissinger, Chairman Mao, and many other leaders. In Clausewitz on Strategy, the Boston Consulting Group's Strategy Institute has excerpted the passages most relevant to business strategy from Clausewitz's classic work On War. That famous book is the most general, applicable, and enduring work of strategy in the modern West: a source of insight into the nature of conflict, whether on the battlefield or in the boardroom. Clausewitz speaks the mind of the executive, revealing logic that those interested in strategic thinking and practice will find invaluable. He presents unique ideas, such as the idea that friction—the difference between what happens in plans and what happens in reality—is an intrinsic part of strategy. Clausewitz on Strategy offers Clausewitz's framework for self-education, a way to train the reader's strategic judgment.
TIHA VON GHYCZY was a faculty member at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business and a
BOLKO VON OETINGER is a Senior Vice President of The Boston Consulting Group and Director of the firm's Strategy Institute. He is a member of BCG's Technology and Communications practice and has published many articles and several books on strategy and innovation. See Books by Bolko von Oetinger.
CHRISTOPHER BASSFORD is a former US Army artillery officer. He received his doctorate in History at Purdue University. Long a Professor of Strategy at the National War College in Washington, DC, he now teaches at NDU's JSOMA program, a collaboration with the Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg. He is editor and webmaster of The Clausewitz Homepage and ClausewitzStudies.org; the author of several books, including Clausewitz in English: The Reception of Clausewitz in Britain and America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994) and On Waterloo: Clausewitz, Wellington, and the Campaign of 1815 (Clausewitz.com, 2010).
REVIEW: "Writers who use war as a metaphor for business have always been less than appealing to me. Maybe it's because, as some folks say, "It's a 'guy' thing," and I'm not a guy. On the other hand, I had trouble putting down Clausewitz on Strategy (Wiley, 2001), a publication of the Boston Consulting Group's Strategy Institute and edited by Tiha von Ghyczy, Bolko von Oetinger, and Christopher Bassford. In their carefully chosen selections from Clausewitz's On War and in their lengthy commentary in the introduction, these present-day strategists present much food for thought."
Marilyn Norris, Strategy & Leadership
REVIEW: "Like many who are interested in strategy, I have attempted to read his classic book, On War. I found it to be hard going, and of limited benefit to my interest in business strategy. Clausewitz on Strategy is an extremely well-done book that takes the key points of On War, polishes them until they shine brightly, sets them amid many commentaries that elaborate on the same points, and uses a thoughtful introduction to connect the ideas to business strategy. The book's structure reminded me of a fine necklace, with the major gem stones set amidst complementary smaller gems. For me, this was the perfect approach, and I liked the book very much."
Amazon Reader Review
IS BUSINESS "WAR"?
Clausewitz is frequently referred to within the context of business strategy. For example, Mintzberg, Ahlstrand, and Lampel, Strategy Safari: A Guided Tour through the Wilds of Strategic Management (New York: The Free Press, 1998) makes intelligent references to Clausewitz in six separate discussions. There are many other examples of business theorists drawing on Clausewitz, some interesting and insightful, others nonsensical. Some other relevant links are listed below. We don't normally comment on the validity of any particular reference, unless we are particularly impressed or provoked.
While many writers say quite bluntly that "business is war," The Clausewitz Homepage takes the position that business is NOT war—not even metaphorically speaking. It's true that politics, business, and war belong to the same broad class of nonlinear phenomena and that there are events within business that correspond in significant ways to war. Indeed, wars have actually been waged at times by commercial entities (think of the Hanseatic League or the East India Company) for essentially commercial objectives. For that matter, there have always been mercenary armies, which are essentially businesses that sell their military capabilities. But these are very specific instances of business and war occupying the same space at the same time. In general, just as war is a particular manifestation or subset of politics, business analogs to war are subsets of a larger phenomenon—thus, business as a whole is properly compared to politics or ecology, not war. Just as most political entities cooperate far more than they conflict, most business entities coexist with each other in a state more similar to symbiosis than to predation.
On the other hand, we've known some business thinkers who reject the business/war analogy altogether, claiming that business is about the creation of value, whereas war is pure destruction. This idea, too, is, in our view, in error. War—at least, when it is pursued with sense and skill—is about the creation of political value. Thus politics may involve "creative destruction" in much the same manner as business obviously does.
Rodrick Wallace, Carl von Clausewitz, the Fog-of-War, and the AI Revolution: The Real World Is Not A Game of Go (Springer, 2018). ISBN: 3319746324. The language of business is the language of dreams, but the language of war is the language of nightmare made real. Yet business dreams of driverless cars on intelligent roads, and of other real-time critical systems under the control of algorithmic entities, have much of war about them. Such systems, including military institutions at the tactical, operational and strategic scales, act on rapidly-shifting roadway topologies whose ‘traffic rules’ can rapidly change. War is never without both casualties and collateral damage, and real-time critical systems of any nature will inevitably partake of fog-of-war and frictional challenges almost exactly similar to those that have made warfare intractable for modern states. Into the world of Carl von Clausewitz, John Boyd, Mao Tse-Tung, Vo Nguyen Giap, and Genghis Khan, come the brash, bright-eyed techies of Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, and Uber, who forthrightly step in where a phalanx of angels has not feared to tread—but has tread very badly indeed. This book applies use cutting-edge tools from information and control theories to examine canonical and idiosyncratic failure modes of real-time cognitive systems facing fog-of-war and frictional constraints. In sum, nobody can ever navigate unscathed the landscapes described by Clausewitz.
Rodrick Wallace, Cognitive Dynamics on Clausewitz Landscapes: The Control and Directed Evolution of Organized Conflict (Springer, 2020). ISBN: 3030264262. This book applies cutting-edge methods from cognitive and evolutionary theories to develop models of conflict between hierarchically-structured cognitive entities under circumstances of imprecision, uncertainty and stress. These were characterized as friction and the fog of war by the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz. Such conditions impair institutional cognition in real-time conflict and pose a real and continuing threat to organizations such as the US military. In a linked collection of formal essays and a mathematical appendix, the book explores different aspects of cognitive and evolutionary process as conducted under the direction of doctrine, which acts as a kind of genome for retention of what is learned through Lamarckian evolutionary selection pressures: that is, armies and corporate entities learn from conflict and incorporate that learning into their ongoing procedures. A central feature of the book is a formal description of the famous OODA loop of the US military theorist John Boyd in terms of the Data Rate Theorem that links control and information theories. A scientifically sophisticated exercise in applied mathematics, history, evolutionary theory, and ecosystem theory, this book is appropriate for researchers and students interested in defense, security, and international relations, as well for as non-academic career professionals in government and industry.
"War, Chaos and Business"
This was a business-oriented site devoted to promoting the ideas of air-combat theorist John Boyd, inventor of the famous (and very useful) OODA Loop, among other things. Boyd is pretty intriguing in a limited sort of way. Unfortunately, too many of his acolytes feel that his disciples are obligated to attack Clausewitz—and virtually everyone else, except Sun Tzu—for no clear reason beyond branding. Interestingly, sites dedicated to Boyd alone don't seem to last very long.
COLUMBIA BUSINESS SCHOOL (NY, NY)
Many posting refer to Clausewitz. SEARCH.
See, for example, William Duggan, "Coup d'Oeil: Strategic Intuition in Army Planning," November 01, 2005, which connects Clausewitz to the idea of Gary Klein.
William Pietersen, [Professor of the Practice of Management at Columbia Business School].
CLAUSEWITZ: The Struggle for Power Continues
(This particular assignment is gone, but Professor Magala soldiers on.)
"If you are looking for power, this is the place to be. You have just entered the world of corporate power. On this site you will find the visions of two dozen students of the Erasmus University Rotterdam on how the theories of Carl von Clausewitz find their ways in modern society. The context in which these visions were written down is a project of the Rotterdam School of Management on power given by Dr. S. Magala. These visions are the result of the assignment to describe modern transformations of power and new power agencies on a global scale. The larger goal of the assignment was to answer the question about political, cultural and commercial mobilization: Napster, Seattle/Washington anti-IMF/WB/WTO demonstrations and European integration." (Papers are in Dutch.)
• Oetinger, Bolko von. "Leadership in a Time of Uncertainty." BCG Perspectives, January 2002. Section: Strategy/Classics.
• Hauptkorn, Berndt; Mei-Pochtler, Antonella; and Merkel, Oliver. "Against the Tide." BCG Perspectives, July 2002. Section: Marketing, Sales, & Pricing.
• Video and transcript. "Sir Lawrence Freedman on the Evolution of Strategy." BCG Perspectives, November 2014. Section: Strategy/Video. Sir Lawrence Freedman, professor of war studies at King’s College London, is regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on war and international politics. He has written extensively on these topics. His most recent book, Strategy: A History, provides a wide-ranging account of the development of strategy, not only in the military sphere but also in business, politics, and beyond.
Carl von Clausewitz's On War: A modern-day interpretation of a strategy classic
by Andrew Holmes (Oxford UK: Infinite Ideas, 2010). ISBNs: 1906821356, 978-1906821357
From the publisher: "On War was one of the first books on modern military strategy. Writing mostly after the Napoleonic wars, between 1816 and 1830, von Clausewitz never lived to see it published. He had a theory that it was the integration of political, societal and economic issues that was the most important factor in deciding the outcome of a war. This new theory made On War one of the most important texts on strategy ever written. Andrew Holmes' interpretation of On War illustrates how von Clausewitz's insights can be applied away from the battlefield. By bringing the book to life through 52 modern case studies of business and society, this brilliant interpretation of On War is an entertaining and thought-provoking accompaniment to one of the most famous strategy books ever written."
In 1831, General Carl von Clausewitz wrote that business is war. Like war, business is a competition between organizations. The Way of Strategy is the art and science of managing organizations in competitive situations. People, organizations, and management systems win wars and capture market share. In business today, the marketplace is the battlefield. To win, people and systems must deliver quality products and services to stay competitive. The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, ISO 9000 series of quality standards, and total quality management emphasize the same elements of success: people, organizations, and systems. This book unites the legacies of teachers such as Sun Tzu (The Art of War),Miyamoto Musashi (The Book of Five Rings), Niccolò Machiavelli (The Prince and The Art of War), Carl von Clausewitz (On War), and others. It describes how their strategies and leadership principles produced military victories. Modern business examples show how these timeless principles apply to personal and organizational success. After reading the book, you'll have a clearer understanding of how military strategy can help you become a successful business leader, manager, and tactician.
Currency's edition of the USMC's highly Clausewitzian manual Warfighting features interviews with famous former Marines including F. Lee Bailey, Ed McMahon, and Donald Regan. They tell how they have used the Marine Corps' battle strategies of strength and straightforwardness as their secret weapons in every confrontation, whether at a corporate, departmental, or personal level.
(CRC Press [an imprint of Taylor & Francis], 2015).
Publisher: "Distills the wisdom of Carl von Clausewitz's monumental 1832 classic On War―considered by many eminent scholars as the most distinguished Western work on war ever written. This book transposes Clausewitz's most enduring concepts on leadership and strategy to help today's executives and managers think like strategists." [We have not seen this book and have no ideas as to its origins, arguments, or value.]
The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps Between Plans, Actions and Results (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2011), ISBN 1857885597
We hear increasingly that "strategy" is irrelevant and that all we really need is better execution. We're pretty sympathetic to the frustrations underlying that view, but the author of The Art of Action understands that strategy and execution are not separate domains. Stephen Bungay, who enjoys real credibility as a businessman (including 17 years with The Boston Consulting Group) and as a military historian (graduate work at Oxford and Tübingen) demonstrates a sophisticated grasp both of Clausewitz and Moltke's thinking and of how that thinking was reflected in practice by the German General Staff. Crucially, and unusually for writers who attempt to map the military domain to business, he genuinely understands that "business is not war."