Turning Swords Into Plowshares: Business Lessons From Boelcke’s Dictum



A large part of my book collection is comprised of subjects in the field of military history, warfare, and weaponry. My daughter once asked me why I have such a strong interest in these topics. I explained to her that since the dawn of mankind’s existence, people have been involved in armed aggression against others. Humans have constantly organized themselves to wage armed conflict against one another. Sadly, war has led to the formulation of many ideas, concepts, and principles with the goal of creating maximum damage and the destruction of one’s foes. There is much to be learned from our collective history of conflict.

This article is borne out of turning these negatives into something positive. It is an effort to make sense out of destruction and mayhem and apply these to something constructive. Hence the title for this series of articles where I plan to discuss concepts, strategies, ideas in warfare and see how these could be applied into peaceful applications.

Oswald Boelcke (19 May 1891 28 October 1916) was a German pilot and ace. He is considered as one of the most influential tacticians of aerial warfare and is considered as the “Father of Aerial Combat.” During World War 1, dogfighting was still in its infancy. There was virtually no organized guidelines or tactics for air to air combat. Boelcke made an effort to codify the life and death lessons he learned in the aerial battlefield while personally racking up 40 kills. He completed his “Dicta Boelcke” in 1916 and this subsequently became the basis for air combat tactics which to this day, continues to be the groundwork for air combat training in modern air forces. Let’s take a look at his eight dicta and see the applicable business lessons we could derive from these.

Dicta Boelcke    




1. Use surprise to get the upper hand. Strike from above while keeping the sun at your back.

The history of warfare has time and again shown the value of surprise as a force multiplier. Achieving surprise over the enemy increases the chances of success due to the momentum being dictated by the attacker. Harvard Business Review released a paper that explored the psychology of why “surprise” can be so effective in business.






unknowingly dropped it; or finding out that our bill at a restaurant has already been paid for by a

dear friend that we were surprised to find

out was in the same venue. In the same manner that positive

surprises have always been a good way to maintain interests among friends,

the same principle can be

applied in business.



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