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10 Business And Organizational Lessons From ‘The Art Of War’ Book By Sun Tzu

10 Business And Organizational Lessons From ‘The Art Of War’ Book By Sun Tzu

Art of War

"The Art of War" Book by Sun Tzu, official publisher page, Simon & Schuster

Sun Tzu, an ancient Chinese general and military strategist who lived 2,500 years ago, is credited with writing one of the best books ever on how to get an edge over your competition. “The Art Of War,” has been used by military strategists for centuries, but remains relevant millennia later because it applies to the modern business environment.

Not just a collection of battle tactics, “The Art Of War” is about leadership, strategy, ethics, and psychology, wrote Jovan Cicmil, author of “The Unstoppable Freelancer.”

“The Art Of War” might as well be called “The Art of Life” since it advises readers to avoid war, wrote Mark Hope, the CEO of Asymmetric Applications Group, Inc., a provider of marketing research for businesses looking to become more competitive.

Sun Tzu advised readers that war is too expensive, its outcome too uncertain, and it cannot be substituted for diplomacy and long-term strategies, Hope wrote.

Judi Rhee Alloway, a business consultant and leadership coach, teaches clients Sun Tzu-inspired methods for overcoming dysfunctional and self-sabotaging instincts when managing people and time.

Many others have built businesses and earned income inspired by the principles offered in “The Art of War,” and multiple educational courses are offered on its lessons.

Here are 10 business and organizational lessons from “The Art Of War” book By Sun Tzu.

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To see victory only when it is within the ken of the common herd is not the acme of excellence. Neither is it the acme of excellence if you fight and conquer and the whole Empire says, ‘Well done!’

Sun Tzu, “The Art Of War”

Interpretation: In this era of validation by social network, it is easier than ever to mistake public appreciation for personal excellence. It is more tempting than ever to rest on the laurels of likes, retweets, comments and subscribers. It takes discipline to remember one’s goals and limitations in the face of instant social gratification. It takes wisdom to forge one’s standards of excellence and abide by them in an atmosphere of herd morality.

Winning without fighting is supreme excellence

The best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it.

Sun Tzu, “The Art Of War”

Interpretation: Winning every battle is excellent but winning every battle without having to fight is supreme excellence. You don’t always have to fight in business to win. One can sell their company, agree to merge with a competitor or acquire a competitor.The rise in self-publishing and eBooks led to increased competition in the publishing industry. Instead of fighting, Penguin Books merged with Random House to create Penguin Random House, the largest English-language general trade book publishing company in the world.

All warfare is based on deception

When able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.

Sun Tzu, “The Art Of War”

Interpretation: Business, for the most part, is a zero-sum game. It is war. Companies battle for market share, customers, and sales. You must keep your competition unaware of your actions. When Binance CEO Changpeng “CZ” Zhao announced in November that he was thinking of acquiring Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX, skeptics wondered why. “After all, CZ had already essentially driven his rival to the point of insolvency, ruined his reputation, and virtually shut down his business,” John Rice wrote for Blockworks. “Despite his denial that Binance had any kind of ‘master plan’ going into this public feud, we might reasonably imagine that the exact opposite is true. And that perhaps CZ intended to decimate his rival, to utterly defeat him in such a way that there could never be any comeback for the one-time wunderkind of crypto.”

On integrity

There are roads which must not be followed, armies which must not be attacked, towns which must not be besieged, positions which must not be contested, commands of the sovereign which must not be obeyed.

Sun Tzu, “The Art Of War”

Interpretation: “Don’t let a string of victories fool you — there is always that one challenge that’s too dangerous, that one project that will eat too many resources, and that one client who will expect perfection where perfection is not attainable … there is occasionally a time when you must say ‘no’ to your boss firmly because their idea is objectively horrible. If they are good at their job, they will hear you out and understand your position. If they are not, then you should reconsider working for them.”

Don’t rush or micromanage

So among military forces there are those who rush, those who tarry, those who fall, those who crumble, those who riot, and those who get beaten. These are not natural disasters, but faults of the generals.

Sun Tzu, “The Art Of War”

Interpretation: “A former client embodied these traits, as he lacked delegation skills. His team watched videos all day, but were then given last-minute deadlines. This meant team members often had to stay late and sometimes work overnight. Needless to say, turnover was high.”

On planning

All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.

Sun Tzu, “The Art Of War”

Interpretation: “Everybody can see that your services are worth the money you charge. Everybody can see your company is well organized. Nobody can see the discipline, the determination, the veritable stoicism that went into building your skills over the years. Nobody can appreciate the effort invested in putting together a team and leading it.”

Staying focused on the goal

The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand.

Sun Tzu, “The Art Of War”

Interpretation: “As a business owner, you need to keep your eyes on the prize and don’t get distracted by side issues. Stay focused on what is important and don’t get bogged down in details.”

Never announce your attack

The spot where we intend to fight must not be made known; for then the enemy will have to prepare against a possible attack at several different points; and his forces being thus distributed in many directions.

Sun Tzu, “The Art Of War”

Interpretation: “This is often referred to as the element of surprise. If a company doesn’t know what you’ll do next, they can’t plan to defend themselves. They are forced to prepare by distributing resources among various areas. A prime example for this is Apple. Apple is notoriously secretive; employees aren’t allowed to talk with other people in the organization about certain products unless they are involved in the project. Let’s use the Apple Watch as an example … Apple kept the project quiet for several years. Even when major publications wrote articles associated with the Apple watch, the company didn’t say a word. The CEO said a new product was in development but didn’t say what it was. Never announce your attack to your competition.”

Signs of weakness

When envoys are sent with compliments in their mouths, it is a sign that the enemy wishes for a truce.

Sun Tzu, “The Art Of War”

Interpretation: “This segment focuses on observing the right signs in your ‘enemy’. I interpret this as the ability to read your environment correctly and forecast effectively based on the current behavior of your competitors, economy, potential customers and even stakeholders. (Tzu) goes on to detail clever practical tips for reading your enemy’s behavior on the battlefield. A great leader has the ability to read the signs around him, track history and therefore be alert to deception or sudden changes by correctly extrapolating future behavior.”

Rewarding good service

Rewards for good service should not be deferred a single day.

Sun Tzu, “The Art Of War”

Interpretation: “Too often, we are too quick to condemn and too slow to praise. My personal experience as an entrepreneur has taught me that the vast majority of people are willing to work hard given the right motivation. And interestingly, a lot of the times the motivation isn’t financial. According to a recent study, Millenials are happy to choose a happier workplace over a fatter paycheque. To be a good leader, make sure no good deed goes unrewarded. The next time somebody performs well, reward them! Praise them from your heart and make sure they receive their accolades in public. This way, your actions make a very clear statement to all, one that shouts, ‘Good performance is rewarded here.’ This is positive reinforcement at scale. Be slow to criticise and quick to praise. Be open-handed in your dealings with your superiors and subordinates alike, and dole out rewards in a just and timely manner … This is how you win (hearts).”