One analogy between combat and business that is very applicable is setting the stage for negotiations. One skill that most entrepreneurs will need to have to some degree is the ability to negotiate. Whether negotiating with potential employees, investors, business partners or customers, negotiation is an inescapable part of running one’s own business. A negotiation, much like a battle, when played well will begin to be executed long before the battle or negotiation actually begins. To use boardgames as a metaphor, the setup of the game board is key. Unlike a game specifically designed to start with a sense of balance, such as chess, where the game board is forced to effectively be the same for both parties at the beginning, negotiation or battle generally consists of so many variables that the game board can be set up to favor one side by manipulation of those variables. Effective combatants and negotiators know this instinctively.
Sun Tzu discussed the idea of setting up the battlefield throughout many of his writings. At Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL school (BUDS), there is a saying engraved over the doors, “The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war”, from Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (1900-1990), an Indian diplomat. I read this as the more we prepare for battle, not just by training but by setting up the game board, the less we will bleed in combat.
There is another great anecdote of Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro, rival samurai swordsmen in feudal Japan. Musashi challenged Kojiro to a duel on the island of Ganryu. Musashi arrived three hours late,
and fought only with a wooden sword (or bokken) that he had carved from the oar of the boat upon which he had arrived. Kojiro was enraged that Musashi would be late, and that he would challenge him with only a wooden sword. Mushashi won the duel, killing Kojiro. One take of this story is that Musashi was so good that he was completely unconcerned about the duel and arrived at his own leisure, with a wooden sword that he fashioned as an afterthought since his opponent was so far beneath him. Another possibility is that Musashi deliberately arrived late to disconcert his opponent, used only a wooden sword to further unbalance him, and used the psychological advantage he created, along with his formidable swordsmanship, to win the duel. Musashi set up the game board so that it was stacked in his favor before his opponent’s sword had even been drawn.
To take the metaphor of negotiation or combat as a game even further, if possible one should not only change the game board, but change the game. If someone is facing a chess master, change the game board to Go, or checkers. In martial arts, if facing a stand up fighter, take them to the ground, and vice versa. In negotiations, if your opponent uses physical intimidation tactics to their advantage, negotiate telephonically or even electronically so that their physical presence is not a factor, in other words, change the game from their game of physical intimidation to one of virtual communication. If they have incredible endurance and try to outlast their opponents, set a negotiating time period that is forced to be very short because of external circumstances or plane flights. One must be careful, however, not to change the game or rules so far as to lose the buy-in of the other party so that they just walk from negotiations. The negotiating term BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement) is relevant here. You must predict accurately what the opponent’s BATNA is and ensure that it does not exceed the benefits perceived achievable by the opponent from the negotiation gameboard.
There is a very good book on this style of negotiation called “3D Negotiation”, used by the Harvard Business School for their executive classes on negotiation. I would highly recommend it for anyone who would like to learn to be a good negotiator. 90% of the work of the negotiation should go into the preparation prior, so that the actual work once the negotiation begins is simply continuing to guide the game to its predetermined end.
As with combat, the unexperienced negotiator is often subverted by adrenaline produced by fear, anger, or other emotions. The key to success is to have prepared sufficiently so that the normal biological reactions one experiences are offset through the preparation and setup of a myriad of factors that direct the negotiation to the desired end. Every entrepreneur and business leader should develop and practice their negotiating skills and style until they are second nature. The results will be noticeable in the success of the business.