By John Kuraoka
Of all the management experts in the world, few can claim to have conquered and
ruled a significant part of it. Napoleon Bonaparte did – with audacity, speed, and
skillful planning. That’s why Napoleon’s military maxims are relevant to
today’s entrepreneur and intrapreneur. For if, as poet John Dryden said, “war is
the trade of kings,” then trade is the “warfare” of us business people as we
maneuver for increased revenues on the battlefield of commerce.
Napoleon said: “The first principle of a general-in-chief is to calculate
what he must do, to see if he has the means to surmount the obstacles with which the enemy
can oppose him and, when he has made his decision, to do everything to overcome
This is a concise breakdown of what it takes to launch an enterprise, be it a business or
a project. First, plan: set goals and calculate what you must do to achieve them. Then,
research: find out all you can about the obstacles to achieving your goals and figure out
ways around or through them. Finally, execute: put your plan into action and follow
through with 100% commitment to making it work.
Plan, research, execute. So many new ventures fail for the lack of one or more of these
three basic principles. Let’s see what Napoleon has to say about them.
Napoleon said: “A plan of campaign should anticipate everything which an
enemy can do, and contain within itself the means of thwarting him. Plans of campaign may
be infinitely modified according to the circumstances, the genius of the commander, the
quality of the troops, and the topography of the theater of war.”
Your business plan should be as comprehensive as possible, taking into account all
foreseeable obstacles and circumstances. This helps you avoid obvious (yet oh-so-common)
problems like undercapitalization or poor cash flow. Once in motion, however, you must be
flexible enough to seize opportunities that will help you achieve your goals. Likewise,
your plan will help you discern genuine golden opportunities from mere distractions.
Thorough planning is the foundation of business success.
Napoleon said: “Read over and over again the campaigns of Alexander,
Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus, Turenne, Eugene, and Frederic. Make them your models. This is
the only way to become a great general and to master the secrets of the art of war. With
your own genius enlightened by this study, you will reject all maxims opposed to those of
these great commanders.”
As an entrepreneur, you must be boss, marketing director, controller, operations manager,
production chief, and employee. It pays to learn as much as you can about all those roles.
Business biographies, how-to books, websites such as this one, and pamphlets from the
Chamber of Commerce can provide general insight. But, it’s equally important to do
your own, targeted, research. Talk to others, and learn from their experiences. Obtain and
study reference materials from the trade publications serving your field. Finally, get
specific. Find out about similar enterprises, license requirements, zoning restrictions,
and laws concerning your particular venture.
From rigorous research comes knowledge of the obstacles – and opportunities – you face.
Napoleon said: “When you have it in contemplation to give battle, it is a
general rule to collect all your strength and to leave none unemployed. One battalion
sometimes decides the issue of the day.”
All your planning and all your research must eventually boil down to action. And not
cautious, half-hearted action. Rip-roaring, all-out action. You must have tremendous
confidence in your plans. After all, the execution of your business plan is the final,
irrevocable test of the quality of that plan, and of the research behind it. Without 100%
commitment to the success of your venture, all your plans and research may be for naught.
Everyone has a plan for success. Those who will be truly successful, however, are those
who put well-formulated plans into action.
There is much more to be learned from Napoleon, and I’ll explore some of his other
“military” maxims in Part II (about the entrepreneurial character) and Part III (about growing the
enterprise). For now, I’d like to leave you with this thought.
Napoleon was a veteran warrior, an enlightened sovereign, and one of the world’s
greatest generals. And he’d have made one heck of an entrepreneur.
The Military Maxims of Napoleon are quoted from Roots of Strategy, edited by Brig. Gen. T.R. Phillips (1940, reprinted Harrisburg, PA, Stackpole Books, 1985), pp 401-441, from an original compilation by Gen. Burnod.