As a round up of our first installment of The University of Life’s Free Book Club, we take a look at the lessons we can learn from The Art Of War by Sun Tzu.
In many places here we refer to the opponent or enemy. We are not necessarily referring to a personal enemy that you may have a vendetta against. This could mean a corporation, landlord, destructive political group, opponent in sport, or any source of negativity or competition that you consider yourself to be at war with.
Laying Plans: Point 26:
“Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations lead to defeat: how much more no calculations at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.”
Lessons: In short, fail to prepare, and prepare to fail. Often the person who gives themselves the best chance at succeeding is the person who works out the best way of doing things before hand. The planning phase is one of the most important phases. Work out a way in which you can use your natural abilities to your best advantage. The person who spends the most time planning is always the person who gives themselves the best chance of succeeding in the long run, and minimises the likelihood of them having wasted their time.
Waging War: Point 6:
“There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare”
Lessons: If you must engage in conflict, debate and arguments, then don’t drag it out. You will not benefit from prolonged fights and arguments. If you must engage in it, then keep it short, so that you do not mindlessly waste your energy resources. Learn to accept a defeat and move on if the conflict does not get resolved quickly, as it will not be beneficial to either side.
Waging War: Point 9:
“Bring war material with you from home, but forage on the enemy. Thus the army will have food enough for it’s needs.”
Lessons: If possible, use resources available to you by other means so as to conserve your own. Make the most of help available to ensure you don’t wear yourself out and continue moving towards your goal.
Waging War: Point 19:
“In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns”
Lessons: Don’t loose sight of your goals by getting too caught up in conflict or the journey to get there. Many of us finish school or university and start in the world of work, with the goal of saving to go travelling, supporting a music career, or starting a secondary business from their income, but then become used to working, and completely forget about their goals. Keep your mind focused on your end goal by frequent simple reminders.
Attack by Stratagem: Point 2:
“Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”
Lessons: Always avoid fighting. Conflict depletes energy resources, causes resentment and long standing grudges, and causes injury. Resolving conflict cleanly and peacefully is always the best resolution.
Tactical Dispositions: Point 2:
“To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.”
Lessons: Protect yourself by building your own strengths, do not spend your time worrying about others strengths. Defeat your enemies by exploiting their weaknesses, not trying to overcome their strengths.
Tactical Dispositions: Point 15:
“Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.”
Lessons: Look for and plan a way to achieve your goals. You should always know how to do something before you do it. The place where you determine whether you win or loose the most is in your preparation. You may hit unexpected bumps along the way but try to prepare for these things too. Prepare and plan how to overcome all that may cause failure. If you do this then you have already won before the battle.
Energy: Point 7:
“There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.”
Lessons: Build skills in different areas, using a combination of these different skills means you can achieve more.
Weak Points and Strong: Point 7:
“You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended. You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked.”
Lessons: Play to your strengths and your enemies weaknesses. The great investor Charlie Munger said something along the lines of, you are far more likely to succeed being a smart person in an industry full of idiots, than a smart person in an industry full of geniuses. Find your strengths and put yourself in a position where you can defend them.
Maneuvering: Point 12:
“We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted with the designs of our neighbours.”
Lessons: Do not enter into relationships, business, or partnerships until you know who you are dealing with. Trust is a very important thing. Make sure you know people before entrusting them with something!
Maneuvering: Point 24:
“Gongs and drums, banners and flags, are means whereby the ears and eyes of the host may be focused on one particular point.”
Lessons: Very interesting point this one. Making noise in a certain area can be used as a way of misdirecting someone’s focus of attention, leaving them exposed in another area, or you able to move something somewhere else without them noticing.
Maneuvering: Point 36:
“When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.”
Lessons: In conflict, do not press someone until they are totally desperate so they fight like a demon possessed to win. It will not be an efficient use of resources. In debate and argument, do not bother somebody to the point where they despise you.
Variation in Tactics: Point 12:
“There are five dangerous faults which may affect a general:
- Recklessness, which leads to destruction
- Cowardice, which leads to capture
- A hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults
- A delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame
- Over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble”
Lessons: These are dangerous traits in any sort of leader. Whether a football manager, parent, teacher, or manager. Reckless leaders are foolish with teams resources. Cowards are not assertive enough with competitors and team members that may step out of line. Leaders with hasty tempers waste their own and their teams time getting involved in drawn out arguments. Leaders with a delicate honor hold grudges and struggle to move past conflict. Over worriers have great trouble thinking clearly and seeing the bigger picture, and struggle under pressure. Avoid adopting these traits, and leaders that have them.
The Army on the March: Point 12:
“If you are careful of your men, and camp on hard ground, the army will be free from disease of every kind, and this will spell victory.”
Lessons: Look after your health, and the health of those around you. Don’t cheap out on things that affect your health such as a good mattress, fresh food, and a comfortable writing chair. Sometimes we become so fixated on getting more that we forget our health! Good health means a strong body, clear mind, and a patient character.
The Army on the March: Point 43:
“Therefore soldiers must be treated in the first instance with humanity, but kept under control by means of iron discipline. This is a certain road to victory.”
Lessons: Treat people as humans, but set boundaries and make sure they are upheld.
Terrain: Point 25:
“Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved and they will stand by you even unto death.”
Lessons: Show genuinely deep love and affection to all your comrades, and in return, you will have their loyalty.
Terrain: Point 31:
“Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete.”
Lessons: Know yourself, your enemy, and the terrain or medium that you must overcome them on. These are the 3 ways to victory.
The Nine Situations: Point 23 and 24:
“Throw your soldiers into positions whence there is no escape, and they will prefer death to flight. If they will face death, there is nothing they may not achieve. Officers and men alike will put forward their utmost strength.
Soldiers when in desperate straits lose the sense of fear. If there is no place of refuge, they will stand firm. If they are in hostile country, they will show a stubborn front. If there if no help for it, they will fight hard.”
Lessons: If you have no option to turn back, you will inevitably move forward. The way to get in the zone is to give yourself no option but to get it done. People work far harder on something if they have no other option but to do so. Employers such as Timpsons employ ex convicts and find they work far harder for them because if they were to leave, they would find it far harder to find work elsewhere. Similarly if you give people who are in need a chance, you will find they work far harder for you.
The Nine Situations: Point 35:
“It is the business of the general to be quiet and thus ensure secrecy; upright and just, and thus maintain order.”
Lessons: A leader should be trustworthy and honorable.
The Nine Situations: Point 42:
“When invading hostile territory, the general principle is, that penetrating deeply brings cohesion; penetrating but a short way means dispersion.”
Lessons: If you going to attack, or get into something, delve deeply into it, don’t pussy foot around!
The Nine Situations: Point 68:
“At first, then, exhibit the coyness of a maiden, until the enemy gives you an opening; afterwards emulate the rapidity of a running hare, and it will be too late for the enemy to oppose you.”
Lessons: Do not play your hand right away. Be patient, and wait for the right time to do so.
The Attack by Fire: Point 18:
“No ruler should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen; no general should fight a battle simply out of pique.
If it is to your advantage, make a forward move; if not stay where you are.”
Lessons: Do not act selfishly and do things purely to satisfy your own ego. Be patient and wait for the right time to do things. Do not move forward purely for the sake of it, not only the moving forward is important, but the timing with which you do it.
The Use of Spies: Point 2:
“Hostile armies may face each other for years, striving for the victory which is decided in a single day. This being so, to remain in ignorance of the enemy’s condition simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honors and emoluments, is the height of inhumanity.”
Lessons: Invest in planning and knowledge that is useful to you, to save money, health, lives and time in the long run.
The Use of Spies: Point 14:
“Hence it is that which none in the whole army are more intimate relations to be maintained than with spies. None should be more liberally rewarded. In no other business should greater secrecy be preserved.”
Lessons: Invest in research and business consultants who will tell you what other business or workers in your sector or industry are doing. Makes connections with people working in similar companies and share ideas.
Which of the above do you feel you can apply most in your own life and why?