15 March 2016

The Most Valuable Lesson from Sun Zi's Art of War - "Lose Not" Kiasuism

If the result of your business and investment decisions have been poor, or at least, not satisfactory, then the answer could most likely be found in Sun Zi's Art of War. But the Art of War is not just about knowing others and self, nor even deception, but rather in a mental attitude of "Lose-Not", or Kiasuism, as we Singaporeans will say. For a starter, it is about don't do SWOT but do TOWS. Read on to find out more ... 
The Art of War is not just about warfare, but it is much more. It is about how to achieve success in life, be winners, by knowing how to analyze a situation and then to figure out the right thing to do at the right time, place and with the people. It also about leadership, on how to develop character, how to lead, how to organize, how to put people at the right job and how to motivate them.

Yet, the most valuable lesson is not "Know Others and Know Self" nor "Warfare is about Deception", but rather it is about the making sure you "Lose Not" or as we Singaporeans will say is as "Kaisuism". The first two are the general approaches, but "Lose Not" is a mental attitude that makes sure we do the strategizing and execution to the very best of our ability and cautiousness that will ensure we have the strong foundation of lose-not and from there to winning.

Sun Zi begins his book by saying warfare is a matter of life and death and has to be taken seriously. Warfare cannot be dependent on luck or chance. It is a matter of collecting intelligence, careful and complete calculations of all factors involved, including the external factors of seasonal trends and terrain advantages, and of outsmarting the enemy, and then arriving at a conclusion of whether one can win or lose. Winners only start a war when he can win whereas losers start a war and then hope to win.

By reading the book carefully and repeatedly, we can slowly draw the conclusion that the valueable lesson from Sun Zi is the mental attitude towards preparation for warfare.
  • Chapter 4 军形篇 Disposition and Shape of Army
    孙子曰: 昔之善战者,先为不可胜,以待敌之可胜。
    不可胜在己,可胜在敌。
    故善战者,能为不可胜,不能使敌之必可胜。 
  1. Sun Zi said: The able warriors of old first make sure they lose not, and then wait for the opportunity to win against the enemy (when situations shift to his advantage or the enemy make mistakes). e.g. “I’ll wait for the next big thing.” Steve Jobs after saving Apple
  2. To lose not depends on us, but to win depends on the enemy (The enemy makes mistakes). 
  3. Thus the able warrior can only make sure he lose not (by following the teaching of Art of War), but cannot be sure he can win. (He can try to lure his enemy to make mistakes).
The  “Lose Not” Kiasuism TOWS Approach
  1. Collect Intelligence.
    Make sure you have all the real facts, intentions, trends and know the truth from the lies, rumors, hearsays etc. Read the real signal from the smokes. Get 1st hand information.
    [13] 先知者,不可取于鬼神,不可象于事,不可验于度,必取于人,知敌之情者也。 Foreknowledge comes not from gods/fortunes telling, nor forecast from events, nor from past experience but from the people, to know the insights of the enemy.
  2. Outside-In
    Outside are the external seasonal trends (天 PESTEL), terrains 地 (markets, supply chains, & your positioning) advantages, and customers 人 desires.
    “Business failed because their Theory of Business does not match reality.” Peter Drucker Inside out fails because you see only what you want to see and miss those signals that you should see.
  3. Threats before Opportunities
    If you cannot overcome the threats, there are no opportunities.
    Investment officers, being paid to invest, are biased towards favoring the opportunities and under-estimating the threats.
  4. Complete Calculations with Max Profits@Min Risks
  5. Ride on Seasonal Trends of the PESTEL factors and Customers’ desires.
  6. Choose where (Markets & Positioning) you have the Advantages & the People’s desires.
  7. Out-Innovate the Competitors in adding value to customers.
  8. Act only if sure of winning.
See also:
The Mind-Map of Sun Zi's Decision Tree


Hope you can use the Sun Zi's Lose-Not approach in making your investment decisions that will help bring you greater returns. It may take longer and you will reject many, but those you have opportunities to invest in may hopefully give you real and better returns.

Lim Liat (c)  15 March 2016


The key message of Sun Zi's Art of War for your life and career is this ...

It is not just about me nor my abilities, but rather it is more about the situation. But most importantly, it is about the match between you and your situation.

Choose the career, the market, when your characteristics, abilities, and traits, match the demand of the situations such that your abilities become strengths, and others strengths become weaknesses, and such that it is easy for you but difficult for others, then you can shine.

Strengths or weaknesses have no meaning outside the situations, where others are there beside you. Always do outside-in evaluation and overcome the threats first before exploiting the opportunities.

For more on Sun Zi, see V Sun Zi and Other Strategists(Gui Gu Zi)
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