The Art of War
The Art of War
The Art of War
Sun Tzu a military general, tactician and philosopher lived during the 6th century bc and became very well known for a 13-chapter long book on the fundamental basics of war strategy. The Art of War was influenced by his analysis of the Chinese military at the time and his observations where so well calculated and applicable that the book has been referenced and consulted by every major military force in the world.
Its application extends far from warfare and has been a source of incite for many including film business, sport and anything that involves competence in being competitive. Although there are a lot of references to physical warfare the insights can easily be interpreted in abstract ways and more often than not, they tend to be applicable and insightful even in a world separated by 2500 years. There are apparently even some Japanese companies that — to this day — require employees in executive positions to read the book.
Fundamentally people have not changed much, history tends to repeat itself in many ways and our strengths and weaknesses have not changed a great deal, only the environments that they expose themselves in.
I thought this book would be an incredibly interesting thought experiment. Having read this book in the past a few times it has always been thought provoking and exposed things that I had not before considered. I remember reading it after having worked in a busy restaurant environment for a few years and it was almost as though I was reading the book for the first time. Now after having been in Proakatemia and having not read the book in a couple years this was an obvious choice to the read list.
So there are 14 chapters to this and I have always read the original translation by Lionel Giles because I have had a free pdf copy on my computer for the longest time. I won’t talk about the whole book because it would take too long, but I will quickly mention the parts that I felt where most relevant and thought provoking with Proakatemia in mind.
In the first chapter (laying plans) Sun Tzu opens with the 5 constant factors of the art of war. These are;
Moral law so essentially the loyalty and trust that a unit has to its leaders and their ability to not be coward into fear and push have the drive to push through.
Heaven, night, day, cold, heat, time and seasons. (In short, the conditions and states of our environment)
Earth, distances great & small, danger, security, open ground, narrow passes, chances of life and death. (In short, the theatre of war, the market, the environment etc…)
The Commander, the virtues of; wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness. (So, traits of an effective leader)
The method and discipline, The ranks, the organization, maintenance of roads for supplies and control of expenditure. (Maybe project management in our case?)
Sun Tzu started with this because he claimed that those who know and understand these five constants will and those who don’t will fail. He also lists 7 contingencies based on the factors by which he can forecast victory or defeat. For the sake of brevity, I will invite you to read them in your own time.
I see the five factors as the original PESTLE and SWOT, a simplified and effective means of understanding your chances for victory before going in. Sun Tzu mentions on several occasions that the wars are won before they are fought.
We decided early on to have a flat structure and we never really spent much time discussing leadership and ranks. I suppose Tzu would have seen this as a weakness but without the alternative to compare it to it is hard to say whether or not we would have been better off with proper leadership. I can think of instances where properly defined leadership and responsibility would have helped, specifically in the area of accountability. Now it seems that a lot of things tend to be abandoned and since there was no leader no one is directly accountable.
The second chapter: Waging War, describes the things to look for and the things to avoid at all cost during war. Verses explaining the importance of understand the endurance levels of your efforts and what causes degradation in your systems. His examples where about dull swords and tired soldiers but we can consider our equal to be administrative frustrations. Verses five and six really hit home: ‘’5. Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.
6. There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.’’
I think our team has had many frustrations with delays and trying to find ways to improve has proven difficult. ‘’ 19. In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.’’
Chapter 3 Attack by stratagem, as the name implies is about strategy. A lot of mentions of siege warfare which are not applicable to us but there was one verse that stood out: ‘’ 16. But when the army is restless and distrustful, trouble is sure to come from the other feudal princes. This is simply bringing anarchy into the army, and flinging victory away.’’ It was amazing to me how even after 2500 years humans have been able to land on the moon, but we still struggle with internal social feuds which don’t benefit anyone. This verse to me stood out as a reminder that it is easy to fall into bad habits, disputes, arguments and feuds that don’t serve the cause and that they are often just a symptom of restlessness and insecurity.
‘’18. Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.’’
The fifth chapter is all about Energy and wow I loved this chapter enough though it is quite self evident it helped reinforce the importance of high energy, motivation and how to stimulate, manage, combine and control it to the benefit of the cause.
‘’ 23. Thus the energy developed by good fighting men is as the momentum of a round stone rolled down a mountain thousands of feet in height. So much on the subject of energy.’’
6 Weak points and strong is all about the importance of understanding and how to evaluate heaven and earth, the environment of operation and where you are strong and where you are weak. This is essentially the PESTLE and SWOT and being prepared to modify your strategy in accordance to your environment. Proakatemia as a whole seems to embody this at least in comparison to traditional education, I get the feeling that it prepares us for the future with this philosophy in mind.
‘’ 28. Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances. 32. Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions. ‘’
The rest of the book talks a lot about specifics of combat relating to the use of terrain, positioning, timing, manoeuvring, the well-being of the soldiers and the ability to make good judgements as a leader. The circumstances that will lead to failure and the things circumstances to take advantage of to gain victory. There are a lot of useful insights in these chapters too but are more specific to warfare. To keep the essay short I will leave most of the rest out but the last chapter The use of spies stood out to me. Not in the sense that we should be doing anything illegal by spying on other companies but in the importance of actually getting good intelligence and information.
‘’ 4. Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge’’.
Very little is possible in the way of success if one doesn’t put the time into learning. That is something that I feel we have accomplished well and will continue to pursue in Proakatemia. Sure we could think of this chapter as just an archaic way of saying ‘’do good market research’’ but it is also about setting out to learn the soft skills, the nuances of business life and culture that only the spies who are behind enemy lines will have the opportunity to learn. The vast maj0ority of students I feel are still at bootcamp, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but I feel that being involved is far more interesting.