15 May 2015

The Treasures of Sun Zi's Art of War that You Will Never Find in Books

The treasures of the Sun Zi's Art of War are buried deep in the spirit of the Art of War. So you will not find them in the many books that cover Sun Zi's Art of War. The common wisdom covered in the books are generally about the strategies to win war against enemies. They cover know yourself and know your enemy (which is not quite correct. See ). The better ones cover more on knowing the Sky of Wealther and Seasons and of the rigth timing and the Terrain characteristics to gain advantages. Then they cover about deceptions and surprises to out-smart the enemy. Some even mistakenly include the 36-Stratagems as part of the book of Art of War. Such are but supervicial knowledge on Sun Zi's Art of War. To gain better wisdom, we need to dig deep into the Art of War and discover the treasures. The spirit of Art of War can be captured in a few key words. The words are very applicable to doing business, besides fighting and winning a war. Here are the few jewels:

Art of War is all about Gains 得

If we need to summarized Sun Zi's Art of War in one word, it will be Accomplishment, or Achievement or Gains. The Chinese word for this is 得.

The Art of War is firstly about how to build up a nation rather than just winning wars. Sun Zi's in Chapter 3 谋攻 (How to Attack) says,  是故百战百胜,非善之善者也;不战而屈人之兵,善之善者也。Therefore, winning every battle is not the best. The best is to subdue them without a battle. It is about building oneself up to such a powerful stage that others are fearful to fight us and acknowledge our leadership or even surrender to us. 

Chapter 3 begins with keeping the enemy's country intact rather than destroying it. To win by strength is best, If not, by negotiations, else by battle in the open space and the worst to attack castle. It says the best to take over all the resources of the enemy rather than destroying them. Hence, the spirit of the Art of War is about how to Gain without risks of loss. (必以全争于天下,故兵不顿而利可全,此谋攻之法也). So, we can see that:

The book of Art of War is all about how can we gain all. 

Is not this the very purpose of business? 

The purpose of Business is to create profits (=revenues - costs) without the risks. If you want to know how to have profits without risks, then you need to study Sun Zi's Art of War. There is only one key mission in Art of War. It is CUSTOMERS. Peter Drucker said the purpose of business is to create customers. So, we must add Customers into the factors considered by Sun Zi. Customers are people, so are soldiers and generals of war, for Chinese, people is 人 ren. So we add 人 into Sun Zi's formula which is presented later.

The Meaning of 得 Gain = Know + Do

得 in the oldest bone form is represented by walking to the beach to pick up shells(which are like the coins, money of today). It coveys the concept of knowing where to go, how to search and the need for walking and picking to finally gain the precious shell/coins. It is the combination of know and do. To gain anything, you need to know and also to do to get it!

We know that just knowing without doing is not really knowing right? Consider swimming. You can know how to swim theoretically but you only know when you jump into the water and swim. So, truly knowing must have both, know and do. Know to do and do to know more. Know and Do together will result in good work which we call accomplishment or achievement or simply success. The Chinese know this well and has a 4 word proverb for it as 知行合一 Know and Do united as one.

The 3B of Gain:
The Art of War gives details on how to gain, in fact, to gain all at minimized risks. To help us to memorize, I will use three B's to describe it. You must know+do the following:
  1. Know and Do the Basics of Strategies & People
  2. Know and Do Before the others.
  3. Know and Do Better than the others.
B1 The Basics of Strategies & People
To be successful, we must know the strategies. the how-to, to achieve our goals and getting the rigth people to execute the strategies. Sun Zi teaches us how to design the winning strategies. He also teaches us about leadership and how to create organization power and how to maintain organization health avoiding the errors. These shall be covered in greater details in subsequent post. However, if you like to know the d etails immediately, my earlier posts are Sun Zi Art of War (Sun Tzu) in One MinuteSun Zi Art of War-2: How to Manage the Five Factors and the links there in.

B2 Before the Others
There is the temptation to use the word "First".  But the key for comparison is relative to your competitor. If you and your friend are being chased by a bear, you don't need to out run the bear. You just need to be one step faster than your friend. First mover have advantages and also great risks and costs. You don't want to be too early in the eagerness to be first and ends up in the bleeding edge. You rather need to in the leading edge. It is about seizing the initiative, regaining the initiative rather than be outright first. Waiting for the right time and place is a key teaching of Sun Zi. Just staying one step ahead is good enough. While Apple tends to lead the market, he also keep its best for later releases. Apple took its time to release the larger screens for its iphones but when it does, it gains great successes.

B3 Better than Others:
Before is about timeing. Better is about features, effectiveness, efficiency, proficiency and excellence. It is about doing the right things and doing them rightly. Again, it is Better than others and not be the very best. Best is a dangerous word. It gives us the wrong idea that no improvement is needed because that is best. We also tend to look at it from our own point of view. It ignore that over time, others will catch up with us. Better is a better word than best. It open our mind to improvement and to others.

Summary of Sun Zi's Art of War:
Art of War teaches us the following formula:

    Gains All = Know+Do (Basics, Before, Better) 
    over our competiors in the eyes of our customers.
This is roughly the first part of a new book, "The Complete Leadership and Strategic Insights of Sun Zi's Art of War for Business" that I am writing. More details on the Basics, Before and Better will be covered in the book. Hope you like it.

Your Turn:

For the time being, ask yourself the following 3 questions (at least for this year annual restreat or planning exercises):

1. Have you covered the basics?
2. What can be done before others?
3. What can be better than others?

Lim Liat (c) 15 May 2015

For more on Sun Zi see V Sun Zi and Other Strategists(Gui Gu Zi)
For more on Ancient Chinese Wisdom see Mind Value: Ancient Chinese Wisdom


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