Are you ready for a strategic war? Then make it an art!
“Show up strong when you are weak and weak when you are strong”
Once upon a time - but still during the 21st century - my mentor advised me about one brilliant strategy book. It has less than 100 pages and it was written by a Chinese general, military strategist and philosopher who lived in the 6th century BC.
Sun Tzu by his best known name is an honorific recogniton which means “Master Sun” and is the author of the book “The Art of War”.
The book was first translated into French in 1772 and a partial English translation was attempted in 1905.
While the book purpose was strictly military, it can be easily applied on any strategic war that you are up to in your professional life. Or personal, though I might say that if you need to pass the same test as the King of Wu, you might end up with your two most preferred concubines beheaded by Sun Tzu’s order. Because, once a general is appointed, it is his duty to carry out his mission and not obliged to accept further instructions from the king.
Am I responsible with the sales or the market share or the profit, have I been appointed for that particular strategic objective? In this case I have the mission, so do not tell me in small steps how I should do it or how I should not do it.
The book has 13 chapters translated in different ways by different adapters. I will take as a reference the Romanian version appeared at Antet publishing house.
With every chapter, I’ll make my learning!
Chapter 1, Initial Estimations
If you decide to start a war, start by evaluating 5 fundamental factors:
- the moral influence - whatever defines the harmony between the people and its rulers/managers that makes them follow their leaders into life and death without fear
- the weather conditions - lead your operations in accordance with the seasons
- the terrain- the distances, the easiness of crossing by and reaching, the life chances or death risks implied by a particular area
- the general/chief commander - having skills of wisdom, justice, humanity, courage and firmness
- the doctrine - the organization, authority and promotion of the officers in the due rank, the safety supply of food and weapons and the care for the basic needs of the army
If officers do not take part in hard training, they will hesitate on the battlefield; if generals are not experienced, they will give in to the enemy.
Recognitions and punishments should be fair, no excess on either side.
While initial estimations lead you to a higher winning chance, it is impossible to forecast everything in advance.
Chapter 2, Waging War
Maybe the ROI assumption of 3 to 1 is not arbitrary:) Sun Tzu says that the military forces should be 3 times bigger than the logistic ones. If your supporting deparments are in a higher proportion versus the ones who are leading the war (sales & marketing), then you are due to fail. Cause the victory is the number one objective of war!
- make it fast, with the speed of a thunderstorm, otherwise the weapons are getting old and the morale is getting down
- when the weapons are not as new and good as they used to and the spirit is not as strong as it used to, the general resources will decrease and the cost of replacement will increase
- while the fixed costs are high (60% as per Sun Tzu’s estimations), it is advisable to get your food from the enemy, cause a food stack from him equals twenty from your expenses (bringing Customers from your competitors is much cheaper than looking for new ones)
Treat your prisoners well and take care of them!
Chapter 3, Strategic Attack
- conquer without destroy, attack the cities only when there is no other option; the experts in war win the cities without besieging and they make it fast
- thwart the enemy plans, destroy its alliances, attack its army
- if you have 10:1 superiority, make your enemy surrender
- if you have 5:1, attack him
- if you have 2:1, divide him
- if the forces are equal, you can engage the fight
- if you your forces are smaller, be ready to retreat
Can you forecast a victory? Yes, there are 5 cases when you can.
- The general knows when it is or when it is not the time to engage the fight
- The general knows how to use the power of a big army or a small army
- The general whose troops are united around one common objective
- The cautious general who waits for a non-cautios enemy
- The general who is strong on his position and doesn’t respond to the king/higher authority interference
Chapter 4, Disposition of the Army
- while our invincibility depends on us, our enemy’s vulnerability depends on him, therefore you defend yourself when you have enough resources and you attack when you have more than enough resources. In any other case, your enemy will take the opportunity that you created by miscalculations or infatuation
- you are not a strategic expert just because you can distinguish the Sun from the Moon
- a general needs to have vision, the skill to facilitate the harmony among his people, a well prepared strategy, doubled by long term plans, the sense of seasons and the ability to understand the human behaviour.
Chapter 5, Use of Energy
When you have subordinates, use all of them, be they the stingy, the stupid, the wise or the brave. Assign a responsibility to each, accordingly. Do not give people responsibilities they can not handle. But do not avoid giving responsibilities to all.
Do not expect achievements from non-talented people.
A qualified general expects the victory from the circumstances, not from his subordinates, because he trusts the opportunity and the fast execution. He does not leave the burden of the tasks execution exclusively on his subordinates .
Chapter 6, Strong and weak points
- always attack a point that the enemy is not defending, therefore it is not his strong point and defend a point that the enemy is not interested in
- make your enemy believe that your strong points are the weak ones and viceversa, while you transform his strong points into weak ones
- come like the wind, leave like the thunder
- the enemy should not know where my attack is going to happen, therefore he will defend and prepare in each and every area
- if somebody is well prepared in all areas, he will be weak overall
- once a victory is achieved, do not use the same tactic on the next ocassion, but change it in accordance with the enemy situation
Chapter 7, Maneuvering the Army
- it is recommended to avoid direct confrontions and rather try the devious routes, the distraction of the enemy’s attention and tempting the enemy
- if, by any means, you could not avoid it, send upfront your best people (1 in 10 should be the reference)
- do not ignore the geographical conditions and make use of local guides.
- a one million soldiers army relies on one man, who is the enabler of a good atmosphere. The general leads by trust. The best timing for attack is when your enemy is weaker and his soldiers miss their homes
- when somebody has no other option than death, you will loose, therefore, show him a salvation path, a way of rescue other than death. Afterwards attack. When people have no other option than their life, they will be fighting million times better.
Chapter 8, Nine variables
A general must be sure he can dominate the situation into his advantage, according to circumstances. He is not by any means tighten up by fix procedures!
How to weaken your enemy’s power?
Send away from his entourage his wise and virtuous people, so he will not have good counselors anymore. Send the traitors to weaken his administration and by cheating try to separate the ministers from their leader. Send skillful agitators to incite its population and steal its wealth. Offer them imoral musicians and entertainers to change their habits. And give them beautiful women to make them loose their heads. Sounds familiar in politics?
Chapter 9, Moving the Army
- when people gather constantly in small groups and speak quitely, the general lost the army’s trust
- if troops are punished before their loyalty has been proven, they will not be subordinated. If they are not subordinated, you can hardly use them.
- in a war, just because you have bigger forces will not automatically bring the victory. You need to have brave troops which are impecable organized
Chapter 10, The Terrain
There 6 different types of terrain and you need to know all in detail, so you can adapt your strategy. When a general is moving his army he is not doing it for his glory and when a general is retreating, he is not doing it to avoid a sanction. In both cases he has only one objective: to protect the population and to serve at best his king.
Know your enemy, know yourself and the victory will never be threatened. Know the terrain, know the weather conditions and the victory will be total.
Chapter 11, Nine Battlegrounds
When at war, take care of the troops food and do not impose them unnecessary tasks. If you have a strategic plan, then give up any so called “administrative” processes which do not bring any significant advantage to the strategy. The people will get exhausted because of these tasks and will not be able to carry the real battles.
Chapter 12, Fire attack
Be careful not to get burned by the fire you set up yourself!
Chapter 13, Use of the spies (the Competitive Intelligence Analysts)
The information needs to be picked up like you are fishing, you pull one thread and tight all eyes of the fishnet.
If you managed to get here, you’ll get a prize:)
You simply have to send me a private message. I am not joking:)
If there is any conclusion of this short, but so intense book that I recommend to every business person who has a strategic job position or aspires to one, this one sums it up the best:
“A king can not organize an army in an exasperation state of mind, nor a general can fight with a hatred spirit. Because, if an irritated man can regain his calmness and a hurt man can feel happy again, a state that was destroyed can not be rebuild, nor the dead be brought to life.”