Warfighting and Business – War Defined

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Note: for this entire series we are directly borrowing from and copying the flow of Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1 “Warfighting”.

The perception of what war is and isn’t covers a broad spectrum. Some view war as a mechanical affair stripped entirely of humanity with people acting as robots trying to kill each other. Some view war as a hyper-emotional affair. Some can only think of war in the setting of maximum force and violence, others can’t see this as a possibility in human interaction. The reality tends to be between the extremes. This unrealistic context creates narratives and perceptions that distract from the reality. A similar problem exists in the business world, but the extremes of war make the cognitive dissonance much greater.

“War is a violent clash of interests between or among organized groups characterized by the use of military force.” (MCDP 1 as earlier stated by Clausewitz). War is the imposing of your will on the enemy by violent force. The control of the enemy is your goal. The enemy always gets a vote though, as they are imposing their will on you. This leads to the most important basic fact of warfighting: everything in warfighting happens in the context of two or more forces interacting. This interaction takes something that may just be complicated and turns it into a “complex system”.  This complex system characteristic has been a part of war since the beginning of human society. Foreword thinkers such as Clausewitz, Gray, and Krulak have been explaining this for years. Only recently has the understanding of the implications really caught on in academia (when some guy realized storm predictions were all over the place, read “Team of Teams” by McChrystal for more detail). Long before academia picked up on this it has been a part of everyday life for warriors for centuries.

To further complicate the context of fighting wars, the violence spectrum of war is very wide. On one end you have all out wars where entire societies are attempting to destroy another. On the other end you have posturing (think the cold parts of the Cold War) which uses the threat of violence to psychologically impose your will on another group, not always even an enemy. Included in this are all the instruments of state and institutional power – be they diplomatic, economic, ideological or military – they all serve the same base goal of imposing will on another group, another group trying to impose their will on you. Military power is usually used after the other instruments have failed to have the desired effects.

Here we can converge back to the business world. My proposition here is a definition of business as: imposing your will on the customer (sale) by providing a good or service that provides value to the customer. Business is a similar conflict between two wills but instead of a violent imposition of will the business is working in the inverse to provide something of value to the independent will of the customer. This may seem like a simple common sense definition, because it is, but the implications are huge (this is why veterans of forward thinking units have proven to be great at business – a discussion for another time). If business falls under an inverse but similar dynamic to war, then the nature of war also applies to business. If this assertion is true, then business leaders need to get familiar with the characteristics and implications of war or their organizations will become a thing of the past – just as warfighters whom neglect a study of war become a thing of the past.

MCDP 1 “Warfighting” defines the nature of war very well, having applied experience to the theory of great thinkers to refine the theory. Below are some of the characteristics noted:

  • Friction
  • Uncertainty
  • Fluidity
  • Disorder
  • Complexity
  • The Human Dimension
  • Violence and Danger
  • Physical, Mental and Moral forces
  • The evolution of war
  • The art and science dynamic

By coming to an understanding of these characteristics of war (and business) we can build a theory of warfighting and business that accepts the reality presented and works with the reality instead of rejecting it. Applying this knowledge is as revolutionary as shifting your effort from swimming against the current to using the current to bring you to your destination. The next few articles will dig into each of these.

Valhalla Awaits,


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