The Annotated Art of War (Parts 11.38-40: No Way Back)
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Annotated Art of War > Parts 11.38-40: No Way Back
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XI. The Nine Situations
|Sun Tzu said:
38. At the critical moment, the leader of an army acts like one who has
climbed up a height and then kicks away the ladder behind him. He carries his
men deep into hostile territory before he shows his hand.
||Climbing heights and
kicking away the ladder means removing the means of retreat.
Likewise, when you are deep in enemy territory, desertion is not a
There is the right time to show there is no way back,
for it may be useful to let troops think this if it keeps them
comfortable. But when a battle is to begin, all thought of retreat
or desertion must be removed from their minds.
In business, full personal commitment of everyone in the company
makes a huge difference as compared with risk-averse cultures and
where people have one eye on the door.
|39. He burns his boats and breaks his cooking-pots; like a shepherd driving a
flock of sheep, he drives his men this way and that, and nothing knows whither
he is going.
||Burning boats and
bridges also removes the option to return. The notion of breaking
cooking pots is that the only way to get food is to defeat the enemy
and take theirs.
There is much about drive, keeping the energy up
and ready for battle. As in other moves, sustaining
confusion in this will
keep the enemy uncertain and allow you to strike best at weakness.
|40. To muster his host and bring it into danger:--this may be termed the
business of the general.
||In summary, this is
what a leader does, choosing direction and motivating others to
In war, mustering is a combination of organizing and motivating,
of giving purpose and creating readiness, even anxiety for fighting.
When soldiers are sufficiently motivated they will face danger with
In business, whilst the danger is not mortal, it can still kill the
company, leading its people to lose their livelihoods. As such it is
still a very serious affair.