One of the growing methodologies of business books is to take the writings of some long-ago sage, and to apply the wisdom shown to modern conditions. This is one of the more useful examples of such a book.
Sun Tzu, a Chinese general of 2500 years ago, was able to unify China by skillful use of limited power. The author takes the writings themselves, and then applied the ideas of modern business thinkers (Tom Peters, Peter Drucker, Warren Bennis, and others) and military strategists (Helmuth von Moltke, George S. Patton, J.F.C. Fuller) to them. The result is an interesting mixture of a translated Sun Tzu with provocative aphorisms and analysis.
Aimed at business readers, this book is also valuable in wider contexts such as volunteer organizations, non-profits, sports, government, competitive activities of all kinds--and of course modern day military ventures. No one has unlimited resources to pursue all desirable objectives, and the advice of this book, while unlikely to be startingly new to most readers, is fresh and well stated. The basic analogy here is between war as practiced by Sun Tzu and every day competive activities for rewards large and small, individual, organizational, and societal.
"Sun Tzu's central idea is that battles or competition are won by the organization or person who, first, has the greatest competitive advantage and who, second, makes the fewest mistakes. Competitive advantage can be provided by many factors including superior manpower, superior position, superior execution, and innovation....But competitive advantage is not the determining factor in success. It is people who fight and win battles. And the most important person in the battle is the general.
"According to Sun Tzu, the ideal general wins the war before the fighting begins. He does this in two ways: first, he develops his character over time; second, he creates a critical strategic advantage....A general gains a critical strategic advantage by placing his organization in a position where it cannot be defeated and waiting for the enemy to give him an opportunity to win....
"Sun Tzu's army is modeled on what can be termed a "natural organization" model. Natural organizations have three characteristics. First, they exist to serve a defined purpose....Second, they are information centered....They avoid unwarranted opinion and conjecture, choosing to deal with uncertainty by estimating reasonable probabilities. Third, natural organizations are completely flexible and totally adaptable. They respond quickly and effectively to changes in their environment that affect their ability to serve their defined purpose."
The author defines Sun Tzu's principles in modern jargon as (1) Learn to fight; (2) show the way; (3) do it right; (4) know the facts; (5) expect the worst; (6) sieze the day; (7) burn the bridges; (8) do it better;
(9) pull together; (10) keep them guessing.
"Competition should occur when we have something important to gain or when we are in danger. In competitive situations, we should not allow our emotions to govern our actions....Sun Tzu also mentions five character flaws that can lead to failure. These are recklessness, timidity, emotionalism, egoism, and overconcern for popularity....
"Sun Tzu states that competitive advantage arises from creating favorable opportunities and then acting on these opportunities at the appropriate time. In other words, winners do the right thing at the right moment.
"But Sun Tzu also reminds us to govern the desire to act with the need for patience. He teaches us that we can be held responsible for putting ourselves in a position where we cannot be defeated, but others must create the opportunity to win. Hence, we must be willing to wait. Just because we know how to win does not mean that we can win. Move when it is profitable and stop when it is not...
"Sun Tzu says that in war there are only two types of tactics: expected and unexpected. Effective commanders combine expected and unexpected tactics according to the requirements of the situation. But it is unexpected tactics that create the opportunity for victory. Unexpected, or innovative, tactics cannot be defended against in advance. Innovation is the one weapon that makes you invincible. The power of innovation makes victory certain."
The author has created a very wise and very thought-provoking book. Those who read it and ponder its deeper meaning will greatly benefit from it.