Lessons out of a Hostage Crisis

Martial principles and tactics have been repeatedly applied in business and entrepreneurship, in law practice or in other aspects of life, as we can see from the countless business books revolving on Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Allow me to pick some “lessons” on the unfortunate hostage-taking by Rolando Mendoza on 23 August 2010, in front of the Quirino Grandstand (feel free to jot them down in the comment section).

Know thyself and know the enemy. In the words of Sun Tzu, “if you don’t know yourself and your enemy, you will always be in peril.” Going into business without knowing one’s self (including strengths and weaknesses, predispositions, network, financial position) is as dangerous as engaging in a business venture without knowing the “enemy” (including competitors and the market itself).

Preparation is the key. This is too basic that we tend to forget or treat it as a cliche. Some say there’s an element of luck in business, but it’s not luck (and even if it’s luck, it is said that luck favors the prepared). It’s simply being ready when the opportunity comes. A good opportunity that comes along, without the person being adequately prepared, would just pass by. True, what we’ve been preparing for may not happen, but that’s better than needing to act and not being adequately prepared.

Who dares wins. This is, of course, the motto of the S.A.S., or the Special Air Service Regiment which is the British Army elite force (incidentally, President Aquino mentioned a plan to create a security force similar to S.A.S.). You can’t win if you don’t play. Successful entrepreneurs take big risks. Yet deciding to play — without adequate preparation, careful planning and decisive execution — will get us nowhere. Prepare and plan. Commit and execute. Hesitation kills.

Adapt and be flexible. “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy,” U.S. General George S. Patton once said. Planning, especially on a short time, cannot take into consideration all variables in the field, which is why there’s usually a Plan B or a contingency plan.

Re-group and Get Better. Even great generals lose battles. The best scenario in that hostage drama was for everyone to get out alive, but we must accept the sad reality that lives were lost. Those responsible must be held to account. We determine what went wrong and address the mistakes. In business, even the most successful entrepreneurs had failures. Henry Ford, Donald Trump, and Walt Disney previously went bankrupt. As Dr. Thomas Wayne told his son, Bruce, in Batman Returns: “And why do we fall, Bruce? . . . So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” Corny, yes, but it drives home the point.

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