Sun Tzu in his book, The Art of War details the importance of knowing how to make informed and timely decisions. There seems to be two critical factors in making a decision if you read the book. The first is the person and this is dealt with in chapter one. The second is information, that it is timely, accurate, reliable and actionable. The question posed here is “did he believe in luck or not, and if he did how does it affect the first two factors? 5.13 The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim. In many ways the whole book is dedicated to this sole act of making the right decision at the right time for the right reasons. It lists how to accumulate information or intel in modern speak. The message is you can not make a good decision based on bad or faulty information. However has he made any allowance for the factor we call luck? In Robert Burns's poem To a Mouse, there is the line about the best-laid plans of mice and men. He writes about how the best plans can still go awry. So does Sun Tzu make allowance for such a situation? Of course if you implement everything he lays then you don't have to worry about such a force like luck, no? Well let us investigate. 1.16 While heeding the profit of my counsel, avail yourself also of any helpful circumstances over and beyond the ordinary rules. “Those who have succeeded at anything and don't mention luck are kidding themselves”. Larry King leaves no room for doubt here. 1.17 According as circumstances are favourable, one should modify one's plans. “Things happen to you out of luck, and if you get to stick around it's because you're talented”. Whoopi Goldberg in this statement, gives hope to those who are waiting for their lucky break and succour for those who in old age lament that they didn't get theirs. Helpful or favourable circumstances. Is this what Sun Tzu refers to as luck? The belief in having able and trustworthy spies means that information would always be arriving and so circumstances would be forever changing. What would the Master say to an utterance of a man “if it wasn't for bad luck, I would have no luck at all”. Maybe he would not utter a sound, simply hand him a copy of his book? “The man who has planned badly, if fortune is on his side, may have had a stroke of luck; but his plan was a bad one nonetheless”. Herodotus. Safe to say this dynamic has hindered the learning of curve of more than one of us. So by reading chapter one, we could be forgiven for believing that he did believe in luck. Surely it is impossible to plan and account for every single detail? What one would not know if chapter one is all that was read is that the whole book has to be read and understood to fully understand The Art of War. The Swedes have a proverb “Luck never gives; it only lends”. The Persians also have this saying “Go and wake up your luck”. So there seems to be some support for this believe from other cultures. This next paragraph seems to be at odds with the two paragraphs listed above. 11.26 Prohibit the taking of omens, and do away with superstitious doubts. Then, until death itself comes, no calamity need be feared. One can deduce from this paragraph that Sun Tzu would not have been organising prayer meetings before battle. What can one make from the situation of two soldiers on opposing sides about to do battle praying to the same deity for safety and victory. Indeed can one acquaint prayer with the superstitious? Maybe he would say that if you planned properly and made the right decisions, then the benevolence of the deities is simply not needed. Later in the book we have this paragraph: 8.11 The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy's not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable. Please pay careful attention to the words, “the chance of his not attacking”. Is this chance the same as being lucky? When Benjamin Franklin says “diligence is the mother of good luck”, agreeing with Sun Tzu that preparation is better than taking chances? If this is the case then one must ask, how much can one prepare for? 1.26 Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose. 3.15 (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. 4.16 The consummate leader cultivates the moral law, and strictly adheres to method and discipline; thus it is in his power to control success. “Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” Ralph Waldo Emerson sums up the ethos of the previous paragraphs quiet nicely. The Bible says, you reap what you sow. While it Sun Tzu's thoughts on luck may not be clear, what is clear is that he definitely believed in “cause and effect”. As does the best selling book in history, the Bible. 4.17 In respect of military method, we have, firstly, Measurement; secondly, Estimation of quantity; thirdly, Calculation; fourthly, Balancing of chances; fifthly, Victory. 4.18 Measurement owes its existence to Earth; Estimation of quantity to Measurement; Calculation to Estimation of quantity; Balancing of chances to Calculation; and Victory to Balancing of chances. To get from the first to the fifth, mentioned in these paragraphs, many decisions need to be made. Yet here we deal with the word “chance”. Significantly the word is not one that can be related to luck. Chances may deals with unknown quantities however luck completely relies on these unknown quantities. These two paragraphs could be held up to demonstrate the thinking of Sun Tzu on luck. If you stick with the methodology laid out in these two paragraphs you should minimise any bad luck and maximise any good luck that may come your way. The saying of Tony Robbins, the meeting of preparation with opportunity generates the offspring we call luck falls easy on the ears. Who wants to believe that they are not prepared for any opportunity that may arise. In your preparation, if you analyse what may on the surface seem to be lucky may turn out to be related to some previous preparation. It simply may not have been obvious at the time however time may provide you with information to change your view and add to your experience. “I'm a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it”. Thomas Jefferson adds some depth to what Tony Robbins offers. If we strive to be of an upright character and tend to improving our ability to make sound decisions, then we will put ourselves in more situations where luck can find us. 1.17 According as circumstances are favourable, one should modify one's plans. This sentence may mean to make the most of any luck that comes your way, however if you understand when circumstances are favourable and through proper planning make the most of it then you will find yourself somewhat luckier that others who don't. You will also be better placed when circumstances are not favourable and so you will not have to utter “if it wasn't for bad luck I wouldn't have any luck at all”. So if you were to take away one thought from this, what would it be. I offer you this:
Maybe the way to be really lucky is to rely on luck as little as possible by reading, learning and applying the knowledge of the Art of War as best you can?
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