5 Strategies from Ancient Chinese Warfare to Help Us Thrive in Changing Times - Entrepreneur

5 Strategies from Ancient Chinese Warfare to Help Us Thrive in Changing Times - Entrepreneur

5 Strategies from Ancient Chinese Warfare to Help Us Thrive in Changing Times - Entrepreneur

Posted: 26 Oct 2020 04:00 AM PDT

7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Although there have been record-highs in the "frothy" stock market, entrepreneurs and around the country are seriously struggling. In the , as of September 13, 2020, total revenue decreased by 20.6 percent compared to January 2020

In addition, the number of small businesses still open decreased by 23.6 percent compared to January 2020, and restaurant diners are down 40 percent from last year. It appears that those stimulus checks went into stock on your Robinhood account and not your favorite sushi restaurant or local retailer.

Regardless, these percentage drops have made it abundantly clear that now is the time for everyone to take a step back and re-evaluate their business strategies. Because I've been in the space for more than 10 years, this seemed like the right time to pull out one of my favorite tools from the innovation toolbox — the 36 stratagems.

Kaihan Krippendorf, a best-selling author in the strategy and innovation space, put together a framework for coming up with new and strategies using tricks from ancient Chinese warfare.

Related: 10 Positive Leadership Books to Motivate and Inspire You During Difficult Times 

As I revisited them, I realized they couldn't be more relevant today, so I picked five that are particularly applicable to business in the current era. Hopefully they'll spark some innovation or help you reinvent your business — perhaps in a way you hadn't considered before. 

1. Relax while the enemy exhausts himself (以逸待劳)

Reduce your overhead or move to a variable cost model to wait out the storm. Shut the doors for a while, take a vacation, rest up, conserve cash and plan your new strategy upon return. Reinventing your cost structures in your business could allow you to hang on to your cash reserves, help you refresh your mindset and plan while your competitors are burning cash by the day.

Here's a good practical example of this stratagem: 

A restaurant closes down for three months and uses the time to complete renovations, redo the menu and prepare for an optimized takeout experience. All the while its biggest competitor across the street remains open and drains its cash reserves running business as usual. 

This strategy does have risks and implications, as you may have to lay off or furlough employees in the meantime, which is difficult but might help sustain your business in the long run. Further, you have to make sure that the hibernation time is used effectively. If the boards are on the windows but nothing is happening inside, you're just wasting time with no end benefit. 

Related: New Survey Finds Nearly Half of Small-Business Owners Don't See a Need for Physical Stores (Infographic)

2. Sacrifice the plum tree to gain the peach tree (李代桃僵)

This is what we call a "loss-leader strategy." Typically, this involves a company selling a product or service for a reduced price knowing that it will bring greater dividends in the future. 

A recent example is Headspace, a mindfulness app, has been offering free subscriptions for a year to people who are currently unemployed (no verification required, just honor system rules). The idea here is that this will lead to many more subscribers for Headspace afterward, and it also does good for those who are struggling — it's an investment worth making on multiple levels. 

3. Take the opportunity to pilfer a goat (顺手牵羊)

Use this as an opportunity to take a pole-position. There is a small window where you can reinvent your business to solve a problem created by a crisis before your competitors see it coming. Being a small business, you are more nimble and quick than the big guys. Spot an opportunity to solve a problem with your assets and unfair advantages.

There have been many instances of this stratagem being utilized (whether the business owners are aware of its origin or not) due to the pandemic. For example, a distillery and grill in Portland turned producer of hand sanitizer when restaurants began to close their doors, and an engineering and design company based in London pivoted to create modular outdoor spaces for socially distant seating and dining areas to help restaurants reopen. 

Both companies saw a hole in the market that they could fill and readjusted their business model to fill it. 

4. Borrow a corpse to resurrect the soul (借尸还魂)

Take a concept from the past that is newly relevant again. My favorite example of this is the full-service gas station. People don't want to touch gas pumps or leave their cars, so there is new value placed on amenities that were once viewed as outdated. 

And on a similar note, there's already been a resurrection of drive-in movies and other live events like concerts and stand up comedy shows. Audience members can view their chosen from the comfort of their own vehicles just like the good old days of drive-ins. Instead of applause, audiences are flashing their lights and honking their horns. 

People are adapting to the moment we are in rather than fighting against the chaos. Think retro rather than archaic. 

Related: 4 Tips for Tapping Into the Niches Created by Covid-19

5. Defeat the enemy by capturing their chief (擒贼擒王)

As of July 2020, there were around 30 million unemployed persons in the U.S., and that number was on the rise. The first wave of layoffs was localized to the travel, service and retail, entertainment, and hospitality industries (among some others), but it is projected that six million more layoffs might be coming — and this time it will affect white-collar employees and potentially those in upper positions.  

This gives you an opportunity to snag the talent and leadership departing from companies at a colossal rate. It's an opportunity we haven't seen in over a decade of tight labor markets, and these leaders are looking for a place to land. Fresh faces in leadership bring about , and some other company's loss could be your gain. 

Don't let uncertainty paralyze you — move forward

Despite the hit to the broader SMB landscape, as you've read there are some great stories of strategy shifts that have helped some creative entrepreneurs not only survive, but thrive. 

On top of that, there are those riding the waves of unexpected changes, such as the influx of Zoom and other virtual meeting options, with humor and enthusiasm — including one company that is offering virtual tours of its farm and guest appearances by goats and other livestock during conference calls and online learning sessions (for a small fee of course). It might not be pilfering a goat per se, but it definitely embodies the concept of getting creative.

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, or lemon hand sanitizer if the situation calls for it. Volatility and change drive innovation; it's been this way as long as great minds have been at work in the name of progress and technology. In fact, Isaac Newton formulated his theory of gravity when he was working from home due to the plague, which means the rest of us have no excuse.


Entrepreneurs Need to Train Like Elite Athletes, According to a Former Pro Badminton Player - Entrepreneur

Posted: 26 Oct 2020 12:00 PM PDT

8 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

, stress, , or fear can and often do impact entrepreneurs when they are trying to actualize their ideas and their ambitions. And, it is not uncommon for that wide-eyed ambition to be stalked by a silent sibyl questioning and prophesying some impending demise or imminent failure. Often, an entrepreneur will ask themselves questions like - will my startup experiment fail? What will happen to my employees if it does? Did I make a mistake doing this?  

This is not an unknown phenomenon, with many budding entrepreneurs falling by the wayside, swept up, or put out by worries and uncertainties. As a , I have often heard these persistent concerns, calling an end to my career, my startups, and my ambitions. But over time, and after a variety of attempts to mediate these worries, I have rediscovered an aspect from my past that has kept both my mind and body sharp and primed to withstand the stresses that come with the territory. 

I am an entrepreneur with an elite athlete mindset and now train myself accordingly. And, if you are an entrepreneur or small business owner then you should be training like one, too. 

How entrepreneurs are like elite athletes

The parallels between elite athletes and entrepreneurs are manifold. In elite sports, athletes are wired and conditioned to compete at the highest levels - week in and week out - all while knowing that if they make too many mistakes there are always others who are willing and able to take their place. Entrepreneurs intuitively understand that type of grind, as they are also experiencing high stakes competition, be it with their business competitors, or just as the elite figure skaters, having to impress their own judges — their consumers. 

Not only do elite athletes and entrepreneurs have to endure similar crucibles in which they must prove their worth, but they also share similar mentalities and characteristics. Some of these characteristics that they have in common are things like tenacity, passion, and drive — all of which are necessary ingredients for that unique alchemy that determines their success. For that reason, they can learn from one another to help them improve within their respective fields. 

How do I know this? 

Well for one, I am a serial entrepreneur, but I am also a former professional player. 

Related: 7 Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Elite Athletes 

Years in elite sport taught me how to be a better entrepreneur

It is fair to say my childhood could be measured out in "birdies" - the high drag projectile used to play the sport of badminton - and the time I spent committing myself to endless hours of practice hitting them. That is how I developed my skills and endurance well enough to become a professional player. From this early dedication to the sport, I refined my ability to attribute passion to an abstract thing, which in this case was badminton.

That is what entrepreneurs do, too. Often, they are attributing passion to some hare-brained, barely conceivable idea, but because they are so devoted to it they are willing to put in the countless hours to try and make their ideas go "pro" or become a success. 

Elite sport taught me many things that I use today in my career as an entrepreneur, such as following a passion, learning to deal with failure, but also how to take care of my body when it's living with the stresses of the job. This has kept me agile, able, and motivated to be an entrepreneur many times over. 

So, if you are an entrepreneur, here is how you can train yourself as an elite athlete too.

How can entrepreneurs train like elite athletes?

What follows are, in my opinion, the three decisive training aspects of elite athletes that can be adopted by entrepreneurs. This list is by no means exhaustive, but these training tips will undoubtedly improve your , but also the health of the work you are committing yourself to.

1. Focus on your  

Elite athletes are finely tuned machines, and as such, they require optimal patterns of sleep. The research is quite extensive, showing that athletes who have better and more sleep than their competitors typically have better performances. In this vein, entrepreneurs and elite athletes are the same, as entrepreneurs need their cognitive skills to be just as finely tuned as an athlete does with their body.

In a recent study shared by The Harvard Business Review, researchers have found significant improvements in cognitive performance from those entrepreneurs who had more sleep. They found that adequate sleep significantly improved the ability of entrepreneurs to spot good ideas - which can be critical to your success. 

This is all easier said than done, of course, as the vagaries of entrepreneurship can often interrupt any form of routine. The point is, you should make sleep work for you. Determine whether you work better at night, or in the morning, or if you are a person who can run on intermittent naps. Enlist a sleep coach or download an app, the main crux is that you find a way to get enough sleep so that your performance does not suffer.

Related: Are You a Workaholic? How To Focus on Working Smart Instead of Hard In 2020.

2. Accomplish more by working intelligently 

Elite runners have to get adequate rest, and the same goes for bodybuilders - muscles grow when they are recovering. To have any lasting power in the game, you cannot beat your body to oblivion if you want to be able to compete and compete consistently. 

For many years, athletes lived by the ethos that training hard and intense, all the time, would help improve their performance, but that has been thoroughly debunked. The science shows that adequate rest is paramount for the success of any training regimen. The equation "stress + rest= growth" has been adopted by athletes, and it should certainly find a home in the world of entrepreneurship.

Working intelligently will pay dividends for the entrepreneur in the long run. Studies have revealed that there is an optimal amount of time for effective concentration, some say it is 52 minutes of work, and then a break, while others believe it is 20 minutes for full concentration. It has been shown that when entrepreneurs adopt this type of intelligent work cycle in which they are aware of when to take a step back and clear their thoughts, their productivity improves. 

Further, it has been shown that when you take a step away from work and give your mind a rest, your decision making improves, and you have more "aha" moments that lead to more creative and intelligent solutions.

As an entrepreneur, you should adopt this principle, even if it feels strange at first to leave your work sporadically throughout the day. Go set a timer and break up your hours accordingly, and you will find that you are working more efficiently, and critically, making even better decisions.

3. Get yourself a mentor or a coach

It is nearly impossible to think of an athlete competing without a coach. Usain Bolt has one, I had one while I was playing badminton, every team in every sport has one as well. 


Because coaches are integral to the success of elite athletes because they make sure that they are constantly aware of their training, their sport, and the many variables that surround them. They motivate, mentor, and push the athlete forward so that they can accomplish their goals.

Entrepreneurs, or startup founders, can unequivocally benefit from the help of a coach or mentor. If you are new to the game or just starting out, having a mentor to help guide you and help you network within the industry will provide an optimal platform for when you begin.

If you do not have the luxury of prior connections for a coach or mentor, they are not that difficult to find. There are countless startup accelerators out there for you to join, that help with investment, and provide office spaces. But, you should do your research before you join one, and look for those accelerators that also have strong market networks and actively provide coaching sessions for nascent entrepreneurs. Find a coach or mentor who can guide you through the initial uncertainties of the business and to help you open doors, but just as an elite athlete, the coach is not going to compete for you - that you will have to do it for yourself.  

Related: The Two Meetings with That Changed My Life






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