Ten Principles of Sun Tzu
“Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete.”
This is probably the most used and misunderstood quotes of Sun Tzu. However in this quote is the sum total of the Art of War. Understanding this quote can take a lifetime; deceptively simple it somehow encapsulates all the wisdom of the book.
So let’s break it down to make it a little simpler to the Ten Principles of Sun Tzu
3 Using Advantages
6 The Use of Spies
7 Strength & Weaknesses
10 Winning Whole
The first chapter of the art of war is about planning, decisions and what affects good decision makers. If we are to have successful plans then we must know how we make good decisions and what effects good decision making.
Anytime we succeed we have devised and implemented a plan. Whether deliberate or accidental, an appropriate plan is always a sound place to start. To make an appropriate plan one must make appropriate decisions and the better the decisions the better the plan. A plan is simply a series of decisions put into action. If the decisions are good then the plan is a good one.
Every time we set out to solve a problem, in essence we declare a mini or major war on that problem depending on the size or importance of the problem. So when Sun Tzu says "The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin.
Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected" he is telling us why it is so important that we pay attention to how we make our decisions. Our lives are the combined outcome of all the decisions we have made, both important and seemingly unimportant, both good and bad, conscious and unconscious. Too often we focus our attention on the outcomes and forget to review how these outcomes came to be.
In the first chapter, Sun Tzu lays out the seven key points to consider when making decisions.
1.12. Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to determine the military conditions, let them be made the basis of a comparison, in this wise:
(1) Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law?
(2) Which of the two generals has most ability?
(3) With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth?
(4) On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?
(5) Which army is stronger?
(6) On which side are officers and men more highly trained?
(7) In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment?
Character, ability, advantages, discipline training and reward and punishment are all intangibles. Decisions are intangible. The Art of War seems difficult because it deals with intangibles however we already deal with intangibles all day everyday. A plan is intangible. Yet the effects of these intangibles have a powerful and tangible effect on us everyday.
So the first step to deal with these intangibles is to write them down or type them into a digital form. Convert the intangible to a tangible. Transform thoughts into actionable steps that you can outline, quantify and then measure. A plan that is not acted upon is merely a thought. Use the seven criteria given to us as a starting point.
1.9. The COMMANDER stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness.
A man’s character will be displayed in every decision he makes and a series of decisions will lay him bare to the world. The ignorant will not protect themselves from this truth while the wise and learned will make it part of their character not to be an open book to opponents.
3.11. Now the general is the bulwark of the State; if the bulwark is complete at all points; the State will be strong; if the bulwark is defective, the State will be weak.
You are the general that is the bulwark of your state, this is why you need to be complete, your character strong and decent. You must know how to use yourself as well those around you.
3.12. There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his army:
3.13. (1) By commanding the army to advance or to retreat, being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey. This is called hobbling the army.
Do you not tire of others hobbling you, then do not do it to yourself.
3.14. (2) By attempting to govern an army in the same way as he administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which obtain in an army. This causes restlessness in the soldier's minds.
As the seasons change so must you. The coat you wear in winter spends the summer in a closet. As situations change so must your behaviour. There is a difference between your character and your behaviour. Do not confuse the two. You can change your behaviour without changing your character.
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.
There is an adage “birds of a feather stick together”. Take a close look at those you have surrounded yourself with and you will then know if you have attracted and employed those around you wisely.
1.22. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.
This applies to you as well as your enemy, and now you know why character is important. Your greatest strength can be turned into your greatest weakness.
1.6. While heeding the profit of my counsel, avail yourself also of any helpful circumstances over and beyond the ordinary rules.
Not all readers become leaders, but all leaders must be readers.” Harry S. Truman pretty much gets it spot on.
1.17. According as circumstances are favourable, one should modify one's plans.
Flexibility, is appreciated in gymnasts but flexibility is not just for them. Flexibility of the mind and of plans are desirable but not of values and character.
4.15. 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.
This is the ultimate victory for you to achieve. Then you have mastered all the knowledge of Sun Tzu. It is a habit that must be learned and relearned and relearned......
3. Using Advantages
1.7. It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.
Experience: you can't buy it. You can only live it. You can read a thousand books and you can find mentors and advisors yet it may profit you naught. These experiences are simply knowledge until you put it into action and then and only then does it become experience. To become “thoroughly acquainted” with anything takes time, especially to get thoroughly acquainted with yourself. You cannot safely judge what is an advantage or otherwise without knowledge and experience.
4.4 Hence the saying: One may KNOW how to conquer without being able to DO it.
No one has ever achieved anything of note without having alliances. Knowing how to conquer is the first step, building the alliances to get it done is the second. There is a difference between being patient and persist. Sometimes you simply have to wait for a change in circumstance and what was impossible then becomes probable. There was a time that the notion of travelling around the world was dangerous, then to do it in eighty days was novel, now we have an orbiting space station.
11.52. We cannot enter into alliances with neighbouring princes until we are acquainted with their designs.
If you surround yourself with those of similar character and designs and you won't go far wrong. If you do not know the designs of those around you, how can you deem them to be friend or foe? Not all those who cause us harm are our enemies, so we need to know the ambitions of our friends as well as our perceived enemies. If we know the designs of our enemies, then we may have a chance to turn them into allies, even if for just a short time.
Do not confuse that a friend is an ally or an ally is a friend, best is when they are one and the same. However this is usually a rarity.
1.18. All warfare is based on deception.
We know this and have always known this. Not all deceptions are bad, surprise parties are usually a pretty good thing and for the surprise to work we usually have to deceive the guest of honour. The bitterest deception is when we deceive ourselves. There is no defence against self-deception.
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.
Without character we cannot begin to know what is real and what a deception is.
6. The Use of Spies
Spies are not normally seen as good people yet we use spies everyday. We may call it something else, like asking a friend if they recommend a movie or eatery. Our lives are dependent on how well we use our spycraft. Spycraft includes the nightly news, documentaries, newspapers, books, manuals, friends and any other means that information we want comes to our attention.
3.2. Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.
3.3. Thus the highest form of generalship is to baulk the enemy's plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy's forces; the next in order is to attack the enemy's army in the field; and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.
The best way to solve a problem is to deal with it when it is a small problem or better yet to prevent the problem becoming a problem to begin with. The worst policy is to be overpowered by numerous overwhelming problems. This is how you baulk the enemys' plans and prevent the junction of the enemies’ forces. To deal effectively with small, simple problems is knowledge and we get this using our spy craft. Not so long ago the problem was a lack of knowledge, now it is dealing with the flood of information we are faced with everyday.
7. Strength& Weaknesses
Spy craft then is how we get our information. The question is then what information are we looking for. The strong over comes the weak, so we need to know of our own strengths and weaknesses. This is not a law of Sun Tzu, it is a law of nature.
4.1. Sun Tzu said: The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy.
4.2 To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.
4.14. Hence the skillful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy.
If know the strength and weaknesses of both ourselves and our opponents/enemies then we can set about making a plan to protect our weaknesses and bring our strengths to bear on the weaknesses of our opponents/enemies. Not knowing the weaknesses of the problems we face means we have no way of defeating them. The greatest of weaknesses is that of character. History is littered with the outcomes of flawed geniuses, most of these outcomes are not outcomes we would wish for ourselves.
With the intelligent use of our spy craft we will know how to hide our weaknesses and where to target our strengths. This then means we will be able to maximize our energy. We can harbour our energy by not fighting unwinnable battles.
2.2. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men's weapons will grow dull and their ardour will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.
If you don't know what to defend or what to attack you will squander your energy. If you waste your energy than you will be vulnerable to a lesser enemy who does. Strength is not only to be judged by numbers or size, the strength of an enemy can also be the intangible of intelligence and strategy.
2.3 Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.
2.4. Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardour damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.
A tired army is a defeated army. You are in essence an army. If you are tired you will not make correct decisions or assess information correctly. You will be less disciplined and so make the mistake that will lead you to defeat.
2.6 There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.
Do not procrastinate. Do not showboat. Know your problems, enemies and challenges and face them. Improve your weaknesses by utilizing your strengths.
3.17. 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.
Knowing the above five points is essential to harbouring your energy wisely.
2.19. In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.
So now we know that while this may be stating the obvious, to achieve this is outcome is not so obvious.
7. 23. The Book of Army Management says: On the field of battle, the spoken word does not carry far enough: hence the institution of gongs and drums. Nor can ordinary objects be seen clearly enough: hence the institution of banners and flags.
7.26. In night-fighting, then, make much use of signal-fires and drums, and in fighting by day, of flags and banners, as a means of influencing the ears and eyes of your army.
“Saying what you mean and meaning what you say” sounds good but it has nothing to do with being understood or understanding what people are trying to get you to understand. Communication is good, appropriate communication is the golden key.
The relatively new science of body language is an excellent example. Some individuals do not need to read any books on the subject as they are naturally adept at reading the body language of others while others could study it for years and not get even close to being able to competently use it for their own advantage. Being able to conduct a compelling and clear PowerPoint presentation is not a genetic advantage enjoyed by all. Communicating should never be one of your weaknesses.
10. Winning Whole
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.
Making lots of decisions will not guarantee you victory, it may not even improve your chances of not being defeated. Making lots of correct decisions means you stand a much better chance of coming out on top. For sport lovers, every weekend they see lots of decisions being made. Grand plans created by exceptional minds and executed by exceptional athletes however in over ninety nine percent of the time, one team wins and another team loses. Rarely will a team go through a whole season undefeated. At times fans will suffer the pain that the only game their team loses all season is the one they want to win the most – the grand final. This shows that while a team may win a majority of the time, what the team is yet to understand is how to win whole, to win by crushing the fighting spirit of the opponents to fight.
In short, you use all your advantages to exploit your enemys' weaknesses, having used your spycraft to detect such, and attack in a manner that breaks the enemys' will by baulking their plans, preventing the junction of their forces and by avoiding sieges and open battle in the field.
3. 2. Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.
Hence this is the final word and our supreme goal.