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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 4.8-15: Excellence)


Disciplines > Warfare > The Annotated Art of War > Parts 4.8-15: Excellence

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IV. Tactical Dispositions


Sun Tzu said: Commentary
8. To see victory only when it is within the ken of the common herd is not the acme of excellence.

When there is a royal road, paved with gold to your goal, with no distractions or threats, then it takes no skill to follow it.

Likewise, when many can see the obvious, then doing the obvious can hardly be called 'excellent'. Seeing the unseen is a skill that can help you in many ways.

In business, it is easy to succeed in a rising market when there is plenty of demand. Real skill is shown in tougher times.

9. Neither is it the acme of excellence if you fight and conquer and the whole Empire says, "Well done!" This is more confusing. See below for why congratulations does not necessarily indicate excellence.
10. To lift an autumn hair is no sign of great strength; to see the sun and moon is no sign of sharp sight; to hear the noise of thunder is no sign of a quick ear. A hair is light, as is an autumn leaf. Of course it does not need strength. Similarly, perceiving what is visually or aurally obvious does not indicate acumen.

To perceive what is not obvious and understand its significance takes a finer skill.

Few have natural talent in fine perception. Few also take time to hone their perceptual abilities. This is what makes those who do appear excellent.

11. What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease.  A good fighter does not get into difficult fights nor gets into difficult situations.

The application of great skill often appears to be done without much effort. This is because it is done with skill, not effort.

12. Hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor credit for courage. This answers point 9. Many equate effort and hardship with skill and courage. When it seems you have won with ease, those who do not appreciate your skill will not recognize or credit your ability.

When you see what others do not see and think what they do not think, it is not surprising that they neither understand nor appreciate you.

13. He wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated. As in the principle of defense and attack, we lose by making defensive mistakes that allow an attack through.

Mistakes are also made when any waste occurs. What is squandered now may be sorely missed later.

The principle is the same in chess and many other situations, including business competitive strategy.

14. Hence the skillful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy. Again, as in defense and attack, if you are impregnable, then it takes just a moment of weakness by the enemy where you can slip in and win. And so you must be constantly vigilant and ready.
15. Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory. A good strategists sees further ahead than others, plotting the moves and counter-moves until certain victory is known.

The first move may hence be seen as oddly innocuous, but moves confidently towards inevitable victory.

The higher in business you go, the further into the future you need to see. The ability to see possibilities and take your organisation there is a powerful leadership skill.



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