This book was insightful and although over two thousand years old has an immense application to this day, particularly in the business world. Although the focus and intention of the book were meant to assist those in warfare, yet we can take that metaphorically and extends the same concepts almost directly over a business strategy.
The Art of War is an ancient Chinese military treatise dating from the Late Spring and Autumn Period. The work, which is attributed to the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, is composed of 13 chapters. Each one is devoted to an aspect of warfare and how it applies to military strategy and tactics [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Art_of_War].
The Art Of War has been considered the definitive text on military strategy and warfare ever since being written in ancient China around 500 BC, inspiring businesses, athletes, and of course generals to beat their opponents and competition the right way until today.
I blend the summaries with application to real-life situations (mainly business application)
Sun Tzu initializes the book by discussing the importance of proper ?pre-conflict? planning. The emphasis of this chapter is to be prepared for ongoing changes in the war conditions. He lists five fundamental factors that should be considered during this planning stage: moral influence, weather, terrain, command, and doctrine.
When elaborating on moral influence I was rather confused. The higher significance is that the commander should assess the people?s relationship with regards to their governance. Unsure if he meant that the people were the subordinates of his command, the enemies command or of the enemies nation. Nonetheless, the importance of moral assessment is still relevant.
Next, he discusses the importance of planning based on weather conditions. The goal is to move ground troops during an optimal time so that their arrival will not decrease moral. The purpose of this planning is so that the troops can be at an optimal condition when engaging with the enemy. This is to be extended in our life as your ability to plan for likely contingencies so that you can be prepared when engaging with the enemy of your life (emotional, financial, relationship distress, etc.).
Finally, the last two factors involve command and doctrine. The command is the assessment of the commander?s reputation with the subordinates and competency. Are they leading or commanding? That too is another determining factor for willingness to listen to orders given by individuals on the hierarchy. Then there is ?doctrine? which is comprised of ?organization, control, assignment of appropriate ranks of officers, regulation of supply routes, and the provision of principal items used by the army.? This element of planning is so quintessential that he asserts, ?Those who master them win; those who do not are defeated.?
In any case, you (like the commander) should continually change your tactics by accurately assessing the ever-evolving conditions that may be presented in front of you.
This chapter is seemingly more directly related to the act of war, however, the instruction can leak into your life as well. Sun Tzu argues that the support of the army sent into battle via the equipment and provisioning are both imperative if you are to execute based on speed and decisiveness. This relates back to the ?Principles? of Ray Dalio. Create principles ahead of time so that in the heat of the moment you are executing decisiveness with immense speed and rational. He later declares that ?those adept in waging war do not require a second levy of conscripts nor more than one provisioning.? Appending to his statement, it is suggested that the proper use of enemy resources (if captured) can ensure such victory. Continually assess your subordinate?s mental and physical health to plan properly in accordance with their current state.
This can be used with employees, spouses, students, and children and remember that the commanding line must be direct, clear, and concise.
This chapter was interesting in that they focused on preventative tactics which are, in my opinion, the most effective method for executing an attack. Sun Tzu states, ?To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.? With careful planning, the commander can successfully subdue the enemy more effectively (with far fewer casualties) juxtaposed to a head-on mindless attack. The Grand Duke was quoted saying, ?He who excels at resolving difficulties does so before they arise.? He said that the Hail Mary of attacks is to lay siege on the city. A more sophisticated method would be to ?separate the enemies from their allies [and resources] and then attack when vulnerable.?
Patience is a virtue and more so when engaging in warfare. Learning to control the ?passions? as Marcus Aurelius calls it is the best solution to prevent your troops from being needlessly killed.
Towards the end of the chapter, Sun Tzu reflects on the ?five circumstances in which victory may be predicted.? Here the circumstances are contingent on the commanding general?s knowledge of several things:
- knowing as much about himself [and his own troops] as about those of the opposition (the competition in business or athletics), so that he will know when to advance and when to retreat;
- knowing the correct use of both small (highly specialized teams) and large forces (high quantities of resources like money or manpower);
- knowing how to forge ranks unified in purpose (disseminate the WHY);
- knowing how to exercise patience when the opposition does not (this is imperative with anything in life especially relationships and heated arguments); and
- knowing that his sovereign does not interfere with his decisions (less relevant to us but if you are a high-level exec, parent, or teacher consider you the sovereign).
The last point is a direct reflection of Jocko?s book ?Dichotomies of Leadership?. The sovereign (CEO, Parent, Manager, Teacher, etc) appoints a general (any subordinate aka a jr leader) with the trust to act with immediate and decisive action. So the sovereign must trust the subordinate while the subordinate (General) must simultaneously fulfill the trust placed in him.
This chapter can be concisely summarized with the common idiom ? don?t count your chickens before they hatch? with a bit of a twist. Sun Tzu talks about the story of two opposing generals who were confronted in conflict. One of the Chao armies was arrogantly thinking that their victory was secured. To Tzu this ?obvious with? was merely misapprehension.
Reiterating the importance of the obvious never being the case. So to investigate the problem thoroughly and do not overlook the details. This is something stressed by Jocko as well in his planning section. ?The wise commander prepares well ahead of time by any means possible, ready to take advantage of any opportunity.?
Lastly, Sun Tzu presents ?Elements of War? which mirrors an almost Taoist mentality:
- Measurement of space,
- Estimation of quantities,
- Comparisons, and
- Chances of victory.
Once again accentuating the importance of proper planning and not overlooking the obvious as such, he states, ?A victorious army wins its victories before seeking battle; an army destined to defeat fights in the hope of winning.?
The primary premise of this chapter is to highlight the significance of creating order amidst chaos by building well-structured ranking hierarchies. Chang Yu describes how a pyramid of command is built from the base at the bottom (individual soldiers) up through each level: pair, trio, squad, section, platoon, company, battalion, regiment, group, brigade, and finally, army. This ranking structure is to be inforced as a collective just as it should be respected on an individual level.
The emphasis of the chapter is to create order within the ranks and insure inferiors follow the command of the superiors. And ensure that the superiors are planing properly to ensure the safety of the subordinates (to maintain trust and respect, SEE CHAPTER 3) in addition to successfully completing the objective and mission ? victory.
Deception is the name of this chapter (not really, just the main topic). Here the victories general is successful when capable of misleading the opposing commanders into believing a swift victory lies ahead. Consider this tactic like a carrot and a stick method. You are to lead the animal easily with bait to move it into position or todo as you desire. Same concept here with deception with the enemy, You must continually change your tactics according the ever-evolving conditions of the battlefield. He concludes by stating that the best way to lead an unsuspecting enemy into a trap is to make them believe there is a route of escape. This misguiding deception will leaves the opposing troops vulnerable to the well-planned attack.
This is most notably applicable in the business place. You must keep your secrets hidden from the opposition. Leak false information so that your competition can act accordingly leaving you with the advantage to execute based on what you actually intended.
To be honest I read this chapter on the plane and lost my notes? So I don?t have comments or summary on this one haha. Sorry.
Chapter eight begins with Sun Tzu listing various ?grounds? that are to be fought on based on the battle conditions. These grounds are:
- low-lying (in which an army should not camp),
- communicating (in which allies may be joined),
- desolate (to be moved through as quickly as possible),
- enclosed (requiring resourceful solutions to get out of), and
- death (in which the only option is to fight).
Once again the autonomy of Jr leaders (commanders appointed by the sovereign) is imperative on the battlefield as their ability to make quick decisive decisions that ensure victory is crucial for success.
Inaction is action within itself. Commentator Chia Lin suggests that ?Ground ? is not to be fought for if one knows ? it will be difficult to defend, or that he gains no advantage by obtaining it.?
The chapter ends with Sun Tzu proposing to take exploit the ?passions? of the opposing general such as channeling inner ?demons? like sloth, perversion, greed, etc. Warfare is more than men and blood, it?s also a game of the mind. Use that to your advantage when confronted by your enemy. Study them and their weaknesses and exploit it.
In the business world, this may be rather unethical, such as leading an unsuspecting competitor into performing immoral acts that may negatively tarnish their respected reputation. So, this is a great tactic but I do suggest you do so in ethical boundaries.
Sun Tzu addresses the prominence of taking advantage of surrounding terrain when prepping encampment. He prescribes taking ?the sunny side and rest your right and rear on them.?
He then discussed interpreting the acute signs found in nature such as the correlation of low hanging dust columns which would indicate chariots and calvary. The value in observing such signs can be extended into the business world as well. You may notice acute changes from your competitor. Maybe a new marketing focus, new material used, more shipments of a certain component, etc. Using these observations with careful analysis can give you foresight that could easily be used for your inevitable victory.
Once again he accentuates the importance of maintaining control within your rank.
Appending from the previous chapter Sun Tzu begins the chapter with the discussion of the mental component of the ?ground?. The physical ?ground? is important but it carries equal weight as that of the psychological ground. He later explains and extrapolates on the one or combination of 6 distinctive types of psychological ?grounds?: ?accessible, entrapping, indecisive, constricted, precipitous, and distant.?
Sun Tzu emphasizes the healthy psychology of the Leading commander. You are as strong as your weakest link and if the weakest link happens to be the head of the hierarchy than failure is imminent. He supplements his statement with another ?because even a ?valiant? officer cannot make up for a poorly trained unit, and a well-trained unit cannot overcome poor leadership.?
Just as we have read in Jocko?s book ?The Dichotomy of leadership? Sun Tzu expresses the need for a leader to not become too compassionate for the troop. ?He treats them as his own beloved sons and they will die with him.? It is the General?s obligation to detect and address problems within the ranks, being certain to immediately extinguish them. The army (team, family, class) is a single unit a ?body? and to operate fluidly the leadership must ensure that the subcomponents are operating flawlessly through continual monitoring and assessment/repair
This chapter was dense. He elaborated on the multiple ?grounds? discus in previous chapters in greater detail. There are grounds that should avoid conflict such as ?dispersive? (within one?s own territory), ?frontier? (making a shallow penetration into enemy land), and ?key? (neutral, or mutually advantageous). Then there is the ?communicating? ground (which is expanded and level to accommodate fortifications), which is contingent on the General?s ability to maintain order and ?formation?.
Then he discusses ?Focal? ground which constitutes an opportunity to gain allies. This approach is rather difficult as you must take careful preparation and precautions to ensure that the newly gained ally will not turn on a moments notice or worse, drive you into believing they are against your opponent, to begin with. Then when fully immersed in enemy territory you are trekking towards ?serious? ground. This brings many possibilities for victory and plunder of good and provisions, yet he notes that this ?ground [is] difficult to return from.? he navigates towards the more desperate ground where you are pinned against hard terrain and opposing enemy forces. This usually requires ?devise stratagems? this ground is ?encircled?. Lastly, The ninth classification of ground is and arguably the one with the most severe consequence is ?death,? you gotta fight for your life.
If you find yourself in a position of offense as your only means for defense then you should rely heavily on leadership and training leading up to the point. This is proposed by Sun Tzu to be the reason why a prepared leader with quick decisiveness is important to ensure the objective is won and the men are safe. Once again preemptive precautions of deception could prevent such a problem from propagating. Then he reiterates the importance of needing your men to respect and obey commands by forging a fatherly love relationship that is both compassionate and stern (once again balancing a dichotomy found in leadership as per Jocko).
He wraps the chapter by discussing the ?Hegemonic King?. The King ?snatches the position of authority? which revisits the questionably dangerous ?focal? ground. There is no forging of allies instead you are tasked with keeping them at arms distance away from the enemy (and other would-be allies). This eliminates the risk of the enemy turning your newly gained ally into another opposing force once again allowing your deceptive tactics to flourish. This also presents immense authority as you are not ?Splitting the Difference?
The last chapter is focused primarily on warfare tactics with fire. I couldn?t think of clever analogies for this with business or life. Maybe fire could be used metaphorically for something else. But he is basically stating that you use careful preparation when using fire taking multiple factors into account before executing. Then once fired off (LOL PUNZ) you must wait for the enemy?s response. If they are catalyzed to a state of confusion then you must attack otherwise practice patience and inaction.
Lesson 1: Only Fight to Win
What differentiates winners from losers is their ability to detect when they have a high probability of winning versus the latter. If it looks obvious that you are going to ?win? reconceptualize your analysis as you may be overlooking minute details that could jeopardize your successful victory. Think carefully about likely contingencies and plan principles in a calm ration state so that you can execute such actions with preemptive decisiveness. Strategies. Strategies, Strategies.
Inaction is action in itself. Choosing to do nothing is something, and it is not always passive either. This goes back to Peter Theils ?Zero to One? ideology of creating monopolies. You want to focus on a niche that you can dominate. Go to wide and suffer the consequence of dilution in an overly saturated market going against massive institutions with far more resources.
Only enter battles you know you can win.
Lesson 2: Deception is Key
The grounds of battle were talked about heavily in the book but the psychological grounds were equally emphasized, and rightfully so. Clever tactics and proper use of deception can differentiate the winners from losers with immense distance. Mask your strengths as weaknesses, leak false information, launch a product only for it to fail to confuse your competition. The goal is to continually change your tactics so that the ever-evolving battlefield can not adapt to your strategies.
The less the enemy knows about you the more opportunity you have for success. Keep your secrets safe and exercise deception often (ethically I will add.)
Lesson 3: Learn to Lead
Building a well functioning hierarchy with a 3-to-1 subordinate-to-leader ratio will allow for optimal common across the chain and flawless autonomy. If you are the head in command (House, relationship, Business, Sport) then you are tasked with the obligation to plan properly, assess your subordinates physical and mental health, ensure their safety while maintaining on the ?path? towards completing the overarching objective and mission. You are to compassionately and sternly lead your team.
Clearly disseminate commands, the reason for commands (Jocko?s ?Why?) and leave no room for misinterpretation. Concise meetings are effective methods for ensuring tasks are completed with optimal timing.
Dalio talks about personalizing with employees to create a loyal cult-like culture in your company. The more you care the better chances you have of having your team follow you and your commands. This also can be extended by the fact that you must display authority (as an expert and confidence) and willingness to lead by example to obtain respect. Similarly, you must be willing to learn from subordinates. You are a team leader, not a tyrant.
That?s pretty much it! I enjoyed this book as the instructions have immense application outside of the battlefield, even to this day thousands of years later.
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Written by: Angel Mondragon.