01 April 2015

The Real Master of Sun Zi's Art of War

Sun Zi's Art of War can be summarized in 5 keys. They are calculation, completenss, multipliers, deception and transformation. But the foundation is about calculation, evaluating the various possibilities after considering all the factors and going for a complete win of maximizing the benefits at minimized costs and risks. From George Yeo's comments on Mr Lee, we can know that Mr Lee was indeed the real master of Art of War.
After writing this blog post Art of War reveals the Greatness of Lee Kuan Yew and the Success of Singapore, I was pleased to the following news Lee Kuan Yew stood 'very high' in the eyes of other leaders ... that mentioned Mr Lee's knowledge of Sun Zi by George Yeo.  I quote Mr Yeo's answer for the 5th Question "Mr Lee ... the bigger picture. Can you elaborate on that?" below to show that Mr Lee was a real master and practitioner of Sun Zi's Art of War. (Mr Lee was of course much much more knowledgeable and wise on many subjects than just Sun Zi. This is just to show that when he learned a subject, he would master it well.)

Mr Yeo's answer:
Well, I am not quite sure how carefully he read Sun Tzu. But he quoted Sun Tzu quite often - about knowing yourself and knowing your opponent. Then when you have a 100 battles, you have a 100 victories. 
In fact the key principle is – you must choose your battles and do not fight the battles that you cannot win.  
He calculated very carefully, looking at the issue from all sides. Yes, he was prepared to take risks, but they were calculated risks. And I think for that reason whether it was a matter of foreign policy, matter of domestic politics he was able and prepared to push limits much more than most of us would have  thought realistic or wise, because he had the shroud understanding of the forces at play.
The Keys or Essence of Sun Zi's Art of War

The common understanding about Art of War is cited in blue in the above quote "about knowing yourself and knowing your opponent. 

This is actually a misquote from the original text. It should be knowing the enemy before knowing yourself. It is typical in many SWOT analysis to begin with our strengths and weaknesses, an inside-out approach. But Sun Zi tells us to take an "Outside-In" approach. Doing an inside-out approach will cause us to see what we like to see rather than the actual situation, relative to the enemy, competitors and customers and markets (if we are apply Sun Zi in business). For more see SunZi Art of War - The Misquotes and Keys that are missed even by the Experts. Nevertheless, we must always look at things from both sides and better from all sides (the red quotes above) to appreciate the reality and forces at work.

Now the more important thing is WHAT to know? HOW MUCH to know is enough? Sun Zi gives us 5 factors and 7 measures. See Sun Zi Art of War (Sun Tzu) in One Minute or Sun Zi’s Art of War Formula – Simple yet Comprehensive

1st Calculate 计
So, the basic element of Art of War is actually about "Calculation".  The very first chapter of the 13 Chapter of Art of War is "计" Calculate or  “始计” Start with Calculation. The confusion lies in the Chinese word 计 which could stand for calculate as in 计算 or tricks as in 36计 (The 36 Strategem, 36 tactics or 36 tricks. ) We begins with calculation and if our result is higher than our enemy, then we have a good chance of winning against the enemy. Sun Zi tells us that the wise commander plan first to win before starting the war. The foolish commander goes into a war and then try to win.  Art of War Chapter contains the following text 校之以计而索其情,... 吾以此知胜负矣。translated as, compare the calculation and know the happenings .... from these I can know win or loss.

2nd Complete 全 (Win completely)
This then leads us to the 2nd gist of Art of War. It is about 全 Complete, or in our local dialect, Bao Jia 包吃, guarantee good to eat. See Durians, Singaporeans, Li Ka Shing and Sun Zi's Art of War. We calculate to achieve the highest benefits at the lowest costs and minimised risks.  Sun Zi tells us that the best strategy is not winning every time but win without a war because war is destructive. He also gives us many other principles for such complete winning that we can cover in some future posts. 

3rd Use the Force Multipliers 势 ( Power = Energy/time)
The third gist is to use multipliers or amplifiers to get maximum impact with minimum effort. What are the multipliers? The Heaven, Terrain and People (the factors mentioned earlier by Sun Zi). The Chinese saying is 天时地利人和. That is to ride on the seasonal forces or trends, the terrain characteristics and the desires of people.  Apple iPhone creates the new wave of smart phone and dethrone Nokia. Androids ride on the smart phone wave created by Apple to gain the largest market share.  Creating a wave is very difficult. Riding on a rising wave is easier. MM Lee with his teams of talents started many programs that ride on the situation then and become the model for many other countries to follow. The situation now is different and the new team faces new challenges. Understanding Sun Zi's Art of War will definitely help them chart the future of Singapore to build on the legacies of MM Lee. Heaven (the seasons) is beyond our control. We have to adapt and follow it to gain the advantage without costs. Terrain, however, is under our control. We can choose where we want to fight, or in business terms, the market, position and positioning of our offering. This reflected in Mr Yeo' purple quotes ... you choose your battle that you can win

4th Deception 诡 (Or in business terms, Innovations, changing the rules of the game)
Sun Zi tells us that we can prevent defeat but we have no direct control over the enemy to win. Winning depends on enemy making mistakes. We just build ourselves strongly against any attack and then wait for the opportunity where the enemy makes mistakes. Of course, Sun Zi tells us that we can influence the enemy to make mistakes. He gave us 12 in chapter 1 and another 10 in chapter 6 with additional principles mentioned in the rest of the book. 

5th Transform/Change 变 Endlessly
We don't only change, making the threats to become opportunities and the strengths of the enemy weak, we change our techniques endlessly so that we are not predictable. We continue to watch, read, understand and exploit the every changing situations for our benefits. Borrowing from Steve Jobs, "Stay foolish and stay hungry" --- to be humble, to learn always and to apply and adapt and grow without end.

Back to Basic - Calculate in Consideration of All Forces at Work.
So, what is the foundation of the wisdom of Sun Zi's Art of War?
The 2nd to 5th keys are actually the additional factors to be considered in the calculation. 
The foundation of Art of War is about examining all the forces at play in our situation, our theatre of operations, to work out the possible plans of actions, to be able to calculate the benefits, costs and risks of the various plans, and choose one that gives the best benefits at minimum costs and risks. And continue to monitor and adapt the changing situations that arises.

i.e. He calculated very carefully, looking at the issue from all sidesYes, he was prepared to take risks, but they were calculated risks

I hope I have given you the keys of Sun Zi's Art of War and you find them refreshingly useful compared to what you may have know about Art of War. I hope you are persuaded that our nation founding father MM Lee was indeed a master of the Art of War. Let's follow his example of knowing a subject in depth rather than superficially.

Jesus is another Master:
If you know the Bible well, then another person also master the Art of War without saying so. We can find it in Luke 14:31“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?     This is calculation to know whether one can win or loose. Then next verse reveals the 2nd Key Complete, in the case, preserve, of Art of War.
14:32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. Seeking peace is the next best solution as told by Sun Zi in the following text:

[3谋攻] 故上兵伐谋, 其次伐交, 其次伐兵, 其下攻城。  
[Chapter 3 Attack Strategy] The best soldiers win by politics(a strong nation and partnership for eg), if unable, by external affairs (negotiation), then by sending forces, and the worse is to attack the fortified castle.

Lim Liat (c) 1 Apr 2015
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