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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 3.11-15: Bringing Misfortune)


Disciplines > Warfare > The Annotated Art of War > Parts 3.11-15: Bringing Misfortune

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III. Attack by Stratagem


Sun Tzu said: Commentary
11. Now the general is the bulwark of the State; if the bulwark is complete at all points; the State will be strong; if the bulwark is defective, the State will be weak. Generals control armies. If they are weak then their decisions and orders will be weak. Therefore it is contingent upon the state to appoint consistently strong generals.

Likewise in business, the success and failure of any organization hinges upon the competence of the CEO.

12. There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his army:

Leaders are not guaranteed success just because they are leaders.
13. (1) By commanding the army to advance or to retreat, being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey. This is called hobbling the army. Commanders who issue orders that cannot be obeyed, for example where the army is pinned down by the enemy or where transportation is not available, only creates angst and conflict in the lower-level leaders on the ground. It also does little for the credibility of those commanders.

In business, when the fine strategy hits the realities of the front line, it is often translated into quite different tactics, simply because front-line managers know that it will not work as is. This is sometimes known as 'strategic disobedience'.

A common problem is where strategy assumes plentiful resources, whilst the reality is that budgets are thin and people are busy.

14. (2) By attempting to govern an army in the same way as he administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which obtain in an army. This causes restlessness in the soldier's minds. Citizens in the country have rights and freedoms and so must be persuaded and cajoled. Armies are regimented and commanded organizations for a good reason. If you ask a soldier if he would like to advance, the result is confusion. Orders to advance should be obeyed without question or delay.

As Chang Yu noted, humanity and justice are the principles on which to govern a state. For an army, opportunism and flexibility are key virtues.

In business, sales people are often quite a different breed to those back in headquarters. Tasked with selling or being sacked, they easily see corporate politeness and politics as laughable.

15. (3) By employing the officers of his army without discrimination, through ignorance of the military principle of adaptation to circumstances. This shakes the confidence of the soldiers. When people at the top order people way down the tree of command, it both undermines more senior officers and creates conflicts of loyalty in the ordered person.

Such decisions may also be made with insufficient understanding of local conditions.

Rigid and blind commands from senior officers have been the downfall of many troops. The rules of war change and fighting by the rules of the previous war brings doom. In the First World War, the orders for steady advance with bayonets fixed met the new machine guns, with ensuing carnage and waste. 



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