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Clausewitz on Strategy

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Clausewitz on Strategy

Inspiration and Insight From a Master Strategist


15 min read
10 take-aways
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What's inside?

You can’t get Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz to lead your troops, but you can learn how he made war.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Applicable


This compilation, which condenses sections of Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz’s major work, On War, is well worth reading, though dense and sometimes difficult to follow. Clausewitz, a fascinating thinker, approaches his subject with wit and clarity. By his own description, his real contribution isn’t his analysis, but the analytical method he applies to problems. That method is essentially dialectical, where the leader considers opposite and extreme courses of action before determining what action to take. The text is interspersed with sidebars. Some elaborate on historical details cited by Clausewitz, some offer views of other Clausewitz experts, and some provide complementary viewpoints from people in different fields. The sidebars provide a welcome respite from Clausewitz’s frequently complex ideas. Though the editors freely admit that business and war are different, and that mapping one to the other is a mistake, it takes great discipline to read this book without performing just that kind of mental mapping. After September 11, 2001, business-as-war metaphors seem overblown. Many in business have stopped looking at competition as a death struggle. Instead, they treat it as a mutual effort to foster growth in their sectors so everyone then benefits from the resulting synergies. finds Clausewitz’s approach clearly relevant to anyone struggling against an intelligent and resourceful opponent, in business, politics or government, as well as to those pondering ways to go to war.


The Editors Explain

Few writers are as frequently cited, or as infrequently read, as Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), author of the dictum, "War is merely the continuation of policy by other means." His writing is so impenetrable that few read his books, yet his great work, On War, deserves fresh attention. It provides new ways to order your thinking in these disorderly times. In the adolescent field of business strategy, there is no better source than Clausewitz.

Let’s be clear, though: business simply is not war. War has no "customer," and trying to map business to war patterns can lead to gross distortions. Yet business and war share the notion of strategy, Clausewitz’ strength. He lived in times similar to ours in that business today is in an economic revolution, just as he experienced a military one. War, formerly a struggle between aristocratic rulers, is now a struggle among entire peoples. Then, as now, the old rules were rendered useless and the world was filled with uncertainty. Yet the true strategist welcomes such times. Uncertainty is an engine of transformation and the generator of new business opportunities. Clausewitz said little about technology, per...

About the Authors

A faculty member at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, Tiha von Ghyczy is a fellow of The Strategy Institute of The Boston Consulting Group where Bolko von Oetinger is a Senior Vice President. Oetinger has been author and editor of numerous books and articles on strategy and innovation. Christopher Bassford, professor of strategy at the Naval War College in Washington, D.C., wrote Clausewitz in English: The Reception of Clausewitz in Britain and America and The Spit-Shine Syndrome: Organizational Irrationality in the American Field Army.

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