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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 3.16-18: Five Essentials for Victory)


Disciplines > Warfare > The Annotated Art of War > Parts 3.16-18: Five Essentials for Victory

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III. Attack by Stratagem


Sun Tzu said: Commentary
16. But when the army is restless and distrustful, trouble is sure to come from the other feudal princes. This is simply bringing anarchy into the army, and flinging victory away.

Soldiers are weapons with intent. If their intent is not clearly honed, it can drift or be turned by others.

Trust is a complex and easily lost. If soldiers lose trust in their superiors, then cohesion is loosened and the army will not act as one.

The same goes for business. If the CEO is not strong, then the barons on the board will start running their own fiefdoms for their own purposes. And if the employees do not trust managers, they may leave to work for the competition (a major reason for leaving is problems with the manager).

17. Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory: (1) He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. (2) He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces. (3) He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks. (4) He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared. (5) He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign. Do not just charge in. Pick your fights.

(1) Pick the right time. For example in the early morning when they are still asleep. Or in the Summer, when you will not be bogged down in the snow.

(2) You will not always have the greatest force. Yet you can win. Knowing the right fighting strategy is important here.

(3) Constancy of purpose and knowing the commander's intent keeps an army together and with a clear, cohesive focus.

(4) An army actually spends very little time fighting. When it is not fighting, it should be preparing. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. So if the enemy is not prepared and you are, then you have huge advantage.

(5) Rulers know how to rule civilians. Generals know how to fight. Whilst the ruler's intent is important, strategy and tactics should be left to those who understand it best.

These rules are easy to translate into the business context.

18. Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. Self-belief without self-knowledge is a dangerous thing. Knowing yourself without knowing the other side is also dangerous. 

With full knowledge, you can always win. With weak knowledge you can always fail. Be honest with yourself and know the enemy better than he knows himself.

Chang Yu said: "Knowing the enemy enables you to take the offensive, knowing yourself enables you to stand on the defensive."



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