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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 6.28-34: Varying Tactics)

 

Disciplines > Warfare > The Annotated Art of War > Parts 6.28-34: Varying Tactics

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VI. Weak Points and Strong

 

Sun Tzu said: Commentary

28. Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.

When you are successful in using one method it is very tempting to repeat this. Yet military success often comes from the surprise created. Lightning is very unlikely strike the same thing twice. It is similarly very unlikely that the same tactic will create the same surprise twice (at least against the same enemy).

Innovation is a critical part of business, and not just in product design. Strategic innovation includes surprising market moves and changes in direction that keeps competitors guessing.

29. Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards. Water is moved by the natural potential energy of gravity. It goes where it will go and does not return.

There are many variables in war and what worked in one situation is not guaranteed to work elsewhere. Design the tactics for the situation rather than just 'using what worked last time'.

30. So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak. Fighting a strong force is a good way of losing troops, yet many combatants have thought the only way to win is through direct conflict.

There are many alternatives and only a fool dashes himself against a rock.

31. Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing. Water flows around things rather than trying to move them. In doing so it sustains its momentum and reaches its destination.

In the end, success lies in the hands of the individual soldier, who must respond to the situation in front of him, right now. At the same time, commanders must direct the flow of troops to best advantage.

32. Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions. Water is fluid. It does not have the fixed shape of rock. It cannot move a fixed rock, but it can wear it down. It can roll stones out of the way and carry sand along with it.

Success is gained not just by grand strategy but also by adapting to the situation on the field of play.

33. He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain. In Tai Chi, you seek great sensitivity to feel the slightest movement of the other person and respond simultaneously.

In war, the principle is the same: sense and respond, while also seeking the higher goal.

Chess is a war game in which players spend much time thinking 'if she does that, I will do this, then if she does this, I will respond like that..' and so on. The players that win are those who can see more moves ahead and cope with all possibilities.

Businesses sometimes focus so much on executing the defined strategy they forget to see how it is working out in practice. Having a closed loop of rapid learning and change can be very powerful.

34. The five elements (water, fire, wood, metal, earth) are not always equally predominant; the four seasons make way for each other in turn. There are short days and long; the moon has its periods of waning and waxing. When you break things down to the fundamental elements, you may find that those basic patterns do not appear equally and have different impacts.

Nothing is constant and stable, not even atoms. All is in flux. A pictures is a snapshot in time, yet life is a three-dimensional dynamic.

Yet there are also predictable patterns amongst interactional dynamics. The four seasons, for example, always follow each other in a predictable sequence.

If you can understand the basic elements, how they work and interact, and how they form predictable patterns, then you will be able to create and predict many things.

 

 

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