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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 11.38-40: No Way Back)


Disciplines > Warfare > The Annotated Art of War > Parts 11.38-40: No Way Back

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XI. The Nine Situations


Sun Tzu said: Commentary
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 wise option.

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 follow.

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 a will.

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.



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