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The Art of War- Developing good Strategy

A strategy is the process by which we study exactly what will work in order to overcome challenges. It is a powerful tool which helps you to understand the thinking process of other people, which in turn assists you in predicting how they will behave in a given situation. By training yourself in strategy, you develop the mind of a strategist, which is able to think several steps ahead of the other people you deal with. This is what provides the winning edge.

Sun Tzu was a Chinese military strategist and General who authored The Art of War about 2,500 years back. The central premise of the book can be applied to our lives even today. Regardless of the kind of challenges that one faces in life, by applying the strategic principles of Sun Tzu one can achieve the following and much more:

# Being successful in relationships
# Becoming a master in your line of work, thus creating wealth
# Success in achieving whatever goals you have
# Dealing successfully with unforeseen challenges

The beauty of the kind of strategy, or bing-fa, as it is known in Chinese, taught by Sun Tzu is that you win by circumventing conflicts which usually end up being too costly. In other words, Sun Tzu’s philosophy of strategy helps you to make wiser decisions in everyday life. It will train you to get your killer instincts under your control, reshaping it into a winning or profit-making skill.

Even though Sun Tzu used a Chinese term which means “planning” to name the first chapter of his book, his connotation is actually nearer to what can be called “competitive analysis” in English. In the first part of the chapter, Sun Tzu explains the main factors that form the basis of competitive structures. However, all through the book, the interrelations between the factors are given as much importance as the factors themselves.

5 Basic Factors of Sun Tzu’s Strategy

Prior to waging war, there are a total of 5 elements which need to be examined in order to make a proper evaluation, or planning, to achieve success. Each of these is discussed below.

1. Moral Ethics (Tao)
Tao, which stands for “philosophy” or “way”, is the core of factor of Sun Tzu’s principles. In our day-to-day lives tao can be our central mission. It can form the uniting force in a competitive organization. If applied in business, for instance, tao helps to serve the real requirements of people, since the mission of the business becomes centered on them. It helps to attract customers, employees, supporters, and other associating allies. Basically, tao inculcates introspection which points towards the outcome of whatever action you may be contemplating on making before you actually commit to it. When thinking strategically, this is the key factor.

2. Climate or Timing (Tien)
The climate, or timing, in Sun Tzu’s philosophy implied changes in the weather, seasons, temperature, etc. Although in warfare conditions the climate can be one of the most uncontrollable factors, a good leader, or general, will know how to utilize them most advantageously. He will pick the most opportune moment to fight, using the bad weather in such a way that it causes the most harm to the enemy. Likewise, this can be applied in our personal lives too. In order to succeed, we must capitalize on whatever the situation may be. Seize opportunities despite the conditions being in a state of fluctuation, beyond our control, and turn them into advantages. The CEO of a business organization, for instance, must be able to modify his strategies according to the fluctuations in the business or economic environment or climate.

3. Terrain or Ground (Di)
The terrain or ground is the area in which military operations take place. Although the battlefield can also be an uncontrollable factor, a good leader will know how to use it in such a way that it is most advantageous to his own men, while being the least advantageous for the enemy. Thus, just like the climate, one can make choices which can bring uncontrollable factors under our control. The same principle can be applied to our daily lives. The ground, or the situation we are in, is what we usually have to cope with. It is often where we conduct our daily battles, and what we battle over. In order to deal with situations that are not under our control we must be flexible and adaptable, and be able to turn them into advantages.

4. Leadership or Command (Jiang)
By ‘leadership’ or ‘command’, Sun Tzu meant the abilities and qualities a general possessed. The commander is a representative of virtues like courage, wisdom, benevolence, sincerity, and strictness. A courageous leader wins by grabbing the opportunities that come his way without hesitating. A wise leader has the ability of recognizing changing situations and act accordingly. If benevolent, he empathizes with his men, and appreciates their toil and diligence. When he displays sincerity, his troops are assured of their just rewards as well as punishments. With strictness, he inculcates discipline in his men. The leader in any situation defines and creates his organizational unit by his skills of making correct decisions and his character.

5. Methods (Fa)
All the organizations we belong to, our systems, procedures and processes, are all elements of the methods we adopt, to survive and win. The methods we use must be effective and efficient, along with being consistent with the central purpose of our lives or tao.

Philosophy of The Art of War

The Art of War is a combination of deep philosophy as well as detailed prescriptions for winning by using correct tactics. The treatise begins with the direction that: “War is a matter of vital importance to the state; the province of life and death; the road to survival or ruin. It is mandatory that it be thoroughly studied.” Further on, Sun Tzu goes on to explain that deception forms the basis of all warfare. Hence, in order to triumph, one must pretend to be incapable, although capable, pretend to be inactive, although active. If you are near your enemy, make him believe you are nowhere close, if you are far from him, give him to understand that you are close by. Sun Tzu was the pioneer of the “indirect approach” to winning in wars. Anyone who can master both the indirect and direct approach will be able to triumph over all odds.

Although the topic of the treatise is war, but it can be applied broadly to any kind of competitive system in life. According to Sun Tzu, triumphing over any competition was a matter of surviving odds, and that survival was dependent on having particular skills, which can be acquired. Success in life, like in war, is largely based on the kind of relationship we have with the environment we find ourselves in, which are often beyond our control. Sun Tzu instructed that in order to be successful, one must be able to master all the elements that are not under our control, turning them into advantages. As Sun Tzu said: “For just as flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army avoids strength and strikes weakness.”

There are in all 13 chapters of The Art of War; each of them provides us with powerful tools that can be applied to deal with business or personal obstacles, confrontation, and also human relationships. The book can be a useful aid for achieving success in business, career, and in life.

Understand and Apply Lessons from “The Art of War”


Realize that the victorious strategist is he who only seeks battle after the victory has been won.
He who is destined to lose, fights first and then looks for victory. It is the acme of excellence to not only win, but to master winning at ease. The clever fighter makes no mistakes and establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated. He secures his position so that he may seem invincible and judiciously hides his weaknesses.

Understand that the control of a large force is no different than controlling of a few men, being merely the question of dividing the force. The true leader knows both how to utilize his resources and when to make a decision. He plans by making a combination of direct and indirect tactics. He combines his forces so that the enemy may bear similarity to an egg in the path of a grinding stone. Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

Know that to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence. Supreme excellence consists of breaking you’re enemy’s resistance without fighting. It is better to recapture an entire army, establishment or company than to destroy it. Hence, the highest form of generalship is to foil you’re enemy’s plans. Second best is to prevent the junction of his forces. Next in order is to attack his forces in the field(direct encounter) and the worst is to conquer his forces. The rule is to avoid destruction if possible. The skillful leader subdues his enemies troops without any fighting. He captures their kingdom without laying siege to them. He overthrows their nation without lengthy operations. He triumphs without losing a man.

Know that it is an essential in war is to know when to attack. If we outnumber the enemy, we attack them. When evenly matched, we may offer battle. When slightly inferior, we may overcome by superior strategy. If unequal on all accounts, we must flee. For a greater force will, in the end, overcome the inferior force. There are thus 5 essentials to victory… He will win:

> who knows when to fight and when not to
> who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.
> who’s army is animated by the same spirit throughout all the ranks.
> who prepares and takes the enemy unprepared.
> who has full control over his decisions.

Know your enemy as you know yourself. In war, let your objective be victory and not lengthy campaign. Avoid prolonged warfare. Invade your enemy’s resources, for 1 quota of his provisions is equivalent to 20 of our own. Use your enemy’s strength to augment your own.

Understand that the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy and does not allow his will to be imposed on him. You can be successful only if you attack those points that are undefended and only defend those which cannot be attacked. Throw in you’re enemy’s way that which he cannot comprehend. This will force him to come out even of the darkest of shadows and reveal himself. Divide his forces and keep your forces concentrated. Scheme so as to discover an enemy’s plan. Find his vulnerabilities. Compare your strength to his. Supreme strategy always aids the inferior side. Do not repeat those tactics that have previously gained you victory. Let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.

Accept that soldiers must be treated with humanitarianism but controlled by the means of iron discipline. Treat them as your own children and they will stand by you unto death.

Believe that the general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service is a true jewel. The question of using a strong or weak force is a question of studying the terrain. We must never enter an alliance with someone without studying their designs. It is only when an army is put in harm’s way that it is capable of striking a death blow for victory. At first, exhibit the coyness of a maiden, until he gives you an opening. Then emulate the rapidity of a running hare and it will be too late for the enemy to oppose you. Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his battles without cultivating the spirit of enterprise. The enlightened ruler lays his plans way beforehand. The triumphant commander is he who has the foreknowledge and wisdom to manage his resources effectively and execute his plans without errors.
Read more at Buzzle: http://www.buzzle.com/articles/an-analysis-of-sun-tzus-art-of-war.html

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