Friday, April 14, 2017

Lessons from 'The Art of War' By Sun Tzu

This week I finished re-reading The Art of War by Sun Tzu. This really short book is such a goldmine of lessons which can be applied in day-to-day life especially in leadership, politics and business. Let’s take a closer look at some of the lessons Uncle Tzu had for us.  

  1. ‘If a battle cannot be won, do not fight it.’ Pick your battles wisely. Not every conflict is worth turning into a major battle. Some battles cannot be won no matter how hard you work. It is important to not let your pride or anger cloud your thinking. As they say, the ultimate objective is to win the war, not each and every battle. Sometimes, it is important to simply move on, keeping the ultimate objective in mind.

  1. Know the cost of the project or task that you take on. Ts’ao Kung has the note, ‘He who wishes to fight must first count the cost’.
    Sun Tzu says in the book:
‘In the operations of war, where there are in the field a thousand swift chariots, as many heavy chariots, and a hundred thousand mail-clad soldiers, with provisions enough to carry them a thousand li, the expenditure at home and at the front, including entertainment of guests, small items such as glue and paint, and sums spent on chariots and armor, will reach the total of a thousand ounces of silver per day. Such is the cost of raising an army of 100,000 men.’
It is important to consider the cost of the battle. What Uncle Tzu was trying to say was that don’t jump onto every opportunity that presents itself to you. Whatever endeavor you choose to undertake will take in your time, effort, and sometimes even money. It’s important to consider all of these costs and convince yourself that it will be worth it before you blindly take on something.

Even in college today, there are several ways to learn new things and grow as a person- you can do it from joining greek life, from sports teams and clubs, from academic clubs, from taking on extra courses… the list is endless. It’s fantastic to be involved in as many things as possible,  the important thing to keep in mind is that for each activity or endeavor that you choose to partake in, you will have less time and energy to do something else. It is crucial to ‘pick your battles’.

  1. Win first, fight later
    Sun Tzu said:
    Every battle is won before it’s ever fought.’
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.’
First, you must come up with plans that will ensure victory and only then fight. If you don’t have a strategy to begin with, you won’t be able to win. In the game of Go, or even Chess, for example, the adept players typically think at least three steps ahead. They visualize in their head which move will lead to what outcome in three steps (or more), and play the movie which they believe will lead to the best possible outcome. Likewise, in the world of business, especially in technology, companies often spend a good amount of time validating the concept of the product before they actually try to build it. It is important to first know whether the product is worth building before investing the time and the resources to build it. Companies usually collect data, conduct analysis to come up with the monetary value of a business idea based on factors such as potential market size, market share, potential revenue per user etc. All successful companies follow this mantra. First they plan, research, and do their homework diligently. Once they know they have a successful product idea do they execute.

  1. Create a situation where failure isn’t even a possibility.
    Sounds like something from Suits, doesn’t it? Well, it is!
    Turns out Harvey’s original source was Sun Tzu afterall:
The skilful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy.

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