Sun Tzu’s Advice to Strategy Makers

More than 2300 years ago, Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War, an amazing book on the principles of military strategy. Herebelow are some idea extracts:

  1. Adopt SOSTAC. He believed that it is essential first to carry out a complete analysis of the situation. The strengths and weaknesses of one’s position, the relationship between one’s goals and the goals of society at large, the intensity of one’s courage and determination, and the worthiness and integrity of one’s objective must all be carefully evaluated. Even then, it seems, SOSTAC (Situation Analysis, Objectives, Strategy, Tactics, Action, and Control) was emerging—situation analysis, objectives and strategy.
  2. Do your Homework. Those who triumph, compute at their headquarters, a great number of factors, prior to a challenge. Those who are defeated, compute at their headquarters, a small number of factors, prior to a challenge. Much computation brings triumph, little computation brings defeat. How much more so with no computation at all. By observing only this, I can see triumph or defeat.
  3. Develop some options. Therefore those who are not entirely aware of strategies that are disadvantageous, cannot be entirely aware of strategies that are advantageous.
  4. Know your Resources. You must be certain that your resources have been carefully evaluated before engaging in this challenge.
  5. Why senior management Support: before engaging in a challenge, a leader must be certain that the organization is prepared to support the expense of a confrontation.
  6. Do you hurt your market or environment? Brilliant leaders are always aware of the entire system, both inside and outside of their organizations. They know that to harm or destroy what is outside will hurt their own growth, while employing their rivals and incorporating their resources will enhance their strategy.
  7. Put everything in place before making a move. Sun Tzu believed that a true victory can be won only with a strategy of tactical positioning, so that the moment of triumph is effortless and destructive conflict is avoided even before considering a confrontation – for whatever purpose.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit, and my Lectures.

Managerial Efficiency

Managerial efficiency is essential. A business may produce a good or service that satisfies customers and earns some profit. But unless it is as efficient as its major competitors, these aggressive rivals will serve customers better, make more profit, and eventually drive it out of business.

A good location, large size, quality people, and other factors like luck help a business remain efficient. But the most important component of efficiency is good management. So an effective management must:

o     Set realistic goals for the firm.

o     Identify the key markets and types of customers for its main production and marketing efforts.

o     Use the resources of a business (its men, and women, materials, machinery, and money) efficiently.

o     Adapt to outside factors, such as government regulations, ethical standards, and economic and technological trends.

In short, management must direct the resources of the business toward realizable objectives. In the process, management must consider both (1) the firm’s own strengths and weaknesses and (2) the opportunities and threats posed by outside factors in determining what the business actually can achieve.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit, and my Lectures.


Competitive Success

An industry’s key success factors (KSFs) are those things that most affect the ability of industry members to prosper in the marketplace—the particular strategy elements, product attributes, resources, competencies, competitive capabilities, and business outcomes that spell the difference between profit and loss. Key success factors concern what every industry member must be competent at doing or concentrate on achieving in order to be competitively and financially successful. KSFs are so important that all firms in the industry must pay them close attention—they are the prerequisite for industry success. The aswers to three questions help indentify an industry’s key success factors:

  • On what basis do customers choose between the competing brands of sellers?
  • What must a seller do to be competitively successful—what resources and competitive capabilities does it need?
  • What does it take for sellers to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage?

Determining the industry’s key success factors is a top priority. At the very least, managers need to understand the industry situation well enough to know what is more important to competitive success and what is less important. They need to know what kinds of resources are valuable. Misdiagnosing the industry factors critical to long-term competitive success greatly raises the risk of a misdirected strategy—one that over-emphasizes less important competitive targets and under-emphasizes more important competitive capabilities. On the other hand, a company with perceptive understanding industry KSFs can gain substantial competitive advantage by training its strategy on industry KSFs and devoting its energies to being better than rivals on one or more of these factors. Indeed, KSFs represent golden opportunities for competitive advantage—companies that stand out on a particular KSF enjoy a stronger market position for their efforts. Hence using one or more of the industry’s KSFs as cornerstones for the company’s strategy and trying to gain sustainable competitive advantage by excelling at one particular KSF is a fruitful approach.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit, Lectures, Line of Sight

Differentiation Strategy

With the differentiation strategy, the unique attributes and characteristics of a firm’s product (other than the cost) provide value to customers. Because a differentiated product satisfies customers’ unique needs, firms following the differentiation strategy usually charge premium prices. To do this successfully, a firm must truly be unique at something or be perceived as unique. The ability to sell a good or service at a price that exceeds what was spent to create the product’s differentiated features allows the firm to outperform its rivals and earn above average returns.

 Rather than costs, the differentiation strategy’s focus is on continuously investing in and developing features that differentiate a good or service in ways that customers value. Overall, a firm using the differentiation strategy seeks to be different from its compititors along as many dimensions as possible. The less similarity between a firm’s goods or services and those of competitors, the more buffered the firm is from rival’s actions.

 A product can be differentiated in an almost endless number of ways. Unusual features, responsive customer service, rapid product innovations and technological leadership, perceived prestige and status, different tastes, and engineering design and performance are examples of approaches to differentiation. In fact, virtually anything a firm can do to create real or perceived value for customers is a basis for differentiation. The challenge is to identify features that create value for the customer.

 My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit, Line of Sight

Training and Development

Mr. President, and Director Training:

Spring has arrived with flowers. The buds have reappeared on bare branches again. Indeed! The March winds are the morning yawn of the year.

All and every little thing tell us
That once again ’tis Spring

Please accept my best wishes for a bright and beautiful season.


This time spring has brought along the advent of cricket season. And the current cricket series with India has caused a sort of fever to cricket lovers. Today is a crucial day for all of us. An important and decisive match between traditional rival teams is about to start and we are here participating in a learning exercise. You are not alone missing the glimpses of the match. My heart also joins the curious thumping of your heartbeat.


I have the opportunity to talk to you, the learned managers under the new system of local government, and I will avail it with honor talking relevant or maybe some irrelevant things.


Overtly or covertly, the district government system is new and complex. Its managers face requirements that are different from their federal, provincial, or private sector counterparts. Because of the complexity and range of those requirements, it is important for DDOs to understand the requirements specific to the district.


Friends! We use management and professional development to refer to those processes directed towards equipping professional managers with the skills, knowledge and attitudes necessary to achieve administrative objectives both now and in the future.


Any human development must be aligned with the entity’s mission and strategic goals in order that, through enhancing the skills, knowledge, learning ability and enthusiasm of people at every level, there will be continuous organizational and individual growth.


The perspectives of management and professional development are interpreted here as including the terms education, learning, training, and development which are seen as an integral part of the wider professional development framework.


I have the reason to believe, my dear officers, that if the training and development of managers of any department is not accorded high priority, if training is not seen as a vital component in the realization of government policies, then it is hard to accept that we have committed ourselves to management and professional development.


Those departments where there is a chronic under-investment in management and professional development that is the prime reason for the poor performance of the financial management or economy at large. The critique that can be constructed is disturbingly pervasive. At the macro level the education and training infrastructure, particularly when subjected to international comparisons is the major basis for consistently failing to address the needs of economic development. Training initiatives failing to provide consistent direction; concentrating on the certainties of vocational relevance rather than longer-term knowledge demands relevant to an imperfect future, and, simply, a lack of overall investment.


At the micro level, despite the relevance placed on bureaucratic system by successive governments, the practice of individual departments is similarly disturbing. Under-investment in management and professional development, whether measured in terms of budgets or training days, is regularly reported. All too frequently management and professional development fails to be regarded as a managerial priority or something that should be fully integrated through a learning culture into everyday practice. The traditional practice of public service, dominance of accountancy traditions and short-term-ism that characterize our bureaucratic inheritance arguably provide infertile conditions for what is essentially a long-term commitment.


While acknowledging the pessimistic construction that I have made, I would argue that investment in management and professional development could play a key role in initiating and facilitating change. You can thus adapt to whatever comes along and to take advantage of it, turning threats into challenges, and rising to these challenges in ways that produce increased benefit to the government and employees.


If I were to prescribe one process in the training of men, which is fundamental to success in any direction, it would be thoroughgoing training in the habit of accurate observation. It is a habit which every one of us should be seeking ever more to perfect.


All organizations, entities, and departments require some form of organizational structure to implement their strategies. Principally, structures are changed when they no longer provide the coordination, control, and direction managers, and entities require implementing strategies successfully. The ineffectiveness of structure typically results from increases in department’s revenues and levels of diversification. In particular, the formulation of strategies involving greater levels of diversification demands structural change to match each strategy. Some strategies require elaborate structures and strategic control, while others focus on financial control.


Allow me to briefly converse about strategic leadership. If you are a strategic leader, you have the ability to anticipate, maintain flexibility, and empower others to create strategic change as necessary. Multifunctional in nature, strategic leadership involves managing through others, managing an organization rather than a functional subunit, and coping with change that seems to be increasing exponentially in the current administrative landscape. Because of the complexity and global nature of this landscape, as a strategic leader, you must learn how to influence human behavior effectively in an uncertain environment. By word or by personal example, and through your ability to envision the future, as effective strategic leader you can meaningfully influence the behaviors, thoughts, and feelings of those with whom you work. The ability to manage human capital may be the most critical of your leadership skills.


From now on, in the 21st century, many managers working in government across country will be challenged to alter their mind-sets to cope with the rapid and complex changes occurring in the global economy.


A managerial mind-set is the set of assumptions, premises, and accepted wisdom that bounds—or frames—a manager’s understanding of the department and the core competencies it uses in the pursuit of strategic role. Your continuous success depends on your willingness to challenge continually your managerial frames.


Today competition means not product versus product, company versus company, or department versus department. It is a case of mindset versus mindset, managerial frame versus managerial frame. Competing on the basis of mindsets demands that strategic leaders learn how to deal with diverse and cognitively complex situations. One of the most challenging changes is overcoming your own successful mindset.


As effective leaders you should always be willing to make candid and courageous, yet pragmatic decisions—decisions that may be difficult, but necessary in light of internal and external conditions. You should solicit corrective feedback from peers, superiors, and employees about the value of your difficult decisions. Unwillingness to accept feedback may be key reason talented executives fail. This highlights the need for you to solicit feedback consistently from those affected by your decisions.


Because strategic leadership is a requirement of strategic success, and because departments may be poorly led and over-managed, working in the 21st century competitive landscape you are challenged to develop effective strategic leaders.


At district level you are the top administrative managers. And top-level mangers are an important resource for departments seeking to formulate and implement strategies effectively. A key reason for this is that the strategic decisions made by top managers influence how the department is designed and whether goals will be achieved. Thus, a critical element of your organizational success is having a team with superior managerial skills.


You often use your discretion (or latitude for action) when making strategic decisions, including those concerned with the effective implementation of strategies. You must therefore be action oriented: thus, the decisions that you make should spur the department to action.


Since you are top executives, you have a major effect on your department’s culture. Your values are critical in shaping your department’s cultural values. Accordingly, you have an important effect on organizational activities and performance. The significance of this effect should not be underestimated. Permit me to remind you that acquiring of culture is the development of an avid hunger for knowledge and beauty.



Add innovation and creativity in all your endeavors. It will certainly pay off. Effective leaders focus their work on the key issues that ultimately shape department’s ability to perform effectively.


And in the words of Charles de Gaulle, “Every man of action has a strong dose of egotism, pride, hardness, and cunning. But all those things will be forgiving him, indeed, they will be regarded as high qualities, if he can make them the means to achieve great ends.” To get others to come into your ways of thinking, you must go over to theirs; and it is necessary to follow, in order to lead.


While concluding, let me ask: do you know how do geniuses come up with ideas? What is common to the thinking style that produced “Mona Lisa,” as well as the one that spawned the theory of relativity? What characterizes the thinking strategies of the Einsteins, Edisons, da Vincis, Darwins, Picassos, Michelangelos, Galileos, Freuds, and Mozarts of history? What can we learn from them?


“Much learning does not teach man to have intelligence.”

This is the quotation from the philosopher Heraclitus, who spanned the fifth and fourth centuries BC. Twenty-five hundred years later, he’s still right. You might spend most of your life going to school, reading, looking up facts, acquiring information, and memorizing it. But, although you’ll become more informed, in the end it won’t make you any smarter. Is a reference library smart? Is a computer with a vast storehouse of voluminous data smart? Is the simple act of digesting and then disgorging information either smart or impressive? My answer is simple: “No.”


Anyway, I hereby formally inaugurate this training course.

Thank you for your time and patience.

Thank you for listening.

God bless you!


My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit, Line of Sight

Impact of Time-based Competition on Employees

The level of financial performance improvements achieved by companies as they become time-based competitors is difficult to match with conventional cost-cutting techniques. For example, the improvements are completely out of the range of what is achievable by the following methods:

  • Cutting direct labor wages through renegotiation or going offshore.
  • Reducing overheads by de-layering management structures and/or narrowing the line of products and services offered
  • Automation short of the
  • ‘people-less’ factory
  • Obtaining superior economies of scale.

The only way to achieve this degree of performance improvement is by transforming the company into a time-based competitor. Furthermore, the transformation must be made before a competitor makes it.


Probably as important, and maybe even more important than the profit improvements, though, are the intangible rewards to the organization of being a time-based competitor. People like to believe they are winners. Growth and improvements in financial indicators clearly tell an organization and the world that that they are winners.


Competitors of time-based competitors are often frustrated by their inability to match the growth and returns of their rivals. But they may misjudge the competitive factors contributing to their difficulties. Many complain that their industry is one where no one can make money because of cut-throat competition by companies that do not know how to make money. On two points they are correct: the competition is cut-throat and it is their throats that are being cut. This is the classic case of the retreating competition not understanding the strategy and capability of the advancing competitor.


Management should look to time-based competition not only as a source of above-average returns but also as opportunity to make their people feel like winners.


My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit, Line of Sight

Increasing Knowledge Intensity

Knowledge (information, intelligence, and expertise) is the basis of technology and application. In the 21st Century competitive landscape, knowledge is a critical organizational resource  and is increasingly a valuable source of competitive advantage. Because of this, many companies now strive to transmute the accumulated knowledge of individual employees into a corporate asset. Some argue that the value of intangible assets, including knowledge, is growing as a proportion of total shareholder value. The probability of achieving strategic competitiveness in the 21st Century competitive landscape is enhanced for the firm that realizes that its survival depends on the ability to capture intelligence, transform it into usable knowledge, and diffuse it rapidly throughout the company. Firms that accept this challenge shift their focus from merely obtaining the information to exploiting the information to gain a competitive advantage over rival firms.


Conditions in the 21st Century competitive landscape shows that firms must be able to adapt quickly to achieve strategic competitiveness and earn above average returns. The term strategic flexibility describes a firm’s ability to do this. Strategic flexibility is a set of capabilities firms use to respond to various demands and opportunities that are a part of dynamic and uncertain competitive environments. Firms should develop strategic flexibility in all areas of their operations. Such capabilities in terms of manufacturing allow firms to “switch gears—form, for example, rapid product development to low cost—relatively quickly and with minimum resources.


To achieve strategic flexibility, many firms have to develop organizational slack. Slack resources allow the firm some flexibility to respond to environmental changes. When the changes required are large, firms may have to undergo strategic reorientations. Such reorientations can drastically change a firm’s competitive strategy. Strategic reorientations are often the result of a firm’s poor performance. For example, when a firm earns negative returns, its stakeholders are likely to place pressure on the top executives to make major changes. To be strategically flexible on a continuing basis, a firm has to develop the capability to learn. The learning continuously provides the firm with new and current sets of skills. This allows the firm to adapt to its environment as it encounters changes.


My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please contact, Line of Sight