Absolutely nothin' in capitalism. On the first anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine, it seems fitting to think about how we might step away from militaristic thinking to have a different experience of capitalism. Have you ever noticed how abundant military references are in capitalism? 

  • Have you been urged to know your "position" in the marketplace? 
  • Have you done a SWOT analysis to identify your "threats"? 
  • Have you been told you need a "brand strategy" to know your "competitive advantage"? 
  • Have you been influenced by "command and control" style management? 
  • Have you analyzed your "competition" in the market?
  • Do you operate from a "reactive position" when the economy shifts? 
All of these are influenced by militaristic thinking. But just how deep the crossover goes, most entrepreneurs aren't aware because most haven't spent enough time understanding the history of modern management theory and its roots in the military. This isn't to say that militaristic thinking is bad, but it's to help you question if the market is a battlefield and if you are actually at war. So much of what we project onto capitalism—scarcity mindsets, competition, domination—happens because we unconsciously embraced the thinking needed to execute those ideals. 


Peter Drucker was born in Vienna in 1909 and grew up in a vibrant household of intellectuals and artists. Originally trained as a lawyer, he found his way into GM in the mid-1940s and began his management consultant career. Drucker would eventually become known as the father of modern management, working his way through the most prominent corporations of the day, such as Sears and IBM. He was a prolific writer and teacher, and most of what we know about how corporations function within a capitalistic system comes from Drucker. In 1954, he published his book The Practice of Management around the time that much of his writing on Business Strategy evolved. Drucker frequently looked to the military as a model for leadership development and brought valuable lessons on accountability and culture to the forefront. 

And as corporations thrived, this thinking became unquestionable as a way to effectively manage. 


So what can we take from Drucker's influence, and what can we let go of? First, nothing is all good or all bad. There's value in thinking strategically about your business: looking at the past, gathering data, analyzing patterns you see, and using that information to make more informed decisions. There's also a lot to learn from the military and strategic thinkers of the past. One of the best books I can recommend on this topic is On Grand Strategy by John Lewis Gaddis. A professor at Yale, Gaddis brings together a variety of stories from the ancient world through World War II. Knowing the origins of strategic thinking and the context of those origins is valuable to decipher what is and isn't relevant in our present-day experience of capitalism. Without that reflection, we are left mindlessly propagating outdated thinking that is destructive.

If you find yourself basing a strategy on competition, you're using an outdated model of thinking. As I said in a previous newsletter:

Competition, outside of the appropriate arena, is born of scarcity—fear masked as dominance.  It assumes that the market is limited, instead of understanding that we create the market for both our products and our teams. Scarcity shows up in business when we believe that we need a position to win or when we need to have employees with predictable behavior to grow.

As you move forward, check where your own militaristic thinking is influencing the way you approach your business growth. How much fear do you project onto the market, and what are you at war with? And when all of this gets old, consider what growth might look like if you finally surrender control. 


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