I hereby present to you my very first ‘business week’ in book reviews. If you are interested in business, how to manage your business, how to strategize properly, how to lead… anything and everything to do with business, then I recommend you keep reading, and keep coming back each day this week, because this week is all about that. (And, while I do write these with business in particular in mind, I think the books I’m talking about this time are mostly about self-development, and in that sense, useful to anyone and everyone)
This week I’m ‘reviewing’ two books (okay, my definition of a review is quite loose, let’s just admit that).
That’s correct, two books – and that’s the whole week. Trust me, by the end of this week, you’ll agree that the whole week was necessary in discussing these two very important books.
As it is the very first business week, and I plan to write more in the future, I’m trying to talk about the books that you should have as your foundation when you are thinking about starting a business of your own. I consider both of these books as must read, and as something you should not skip for any reason.
Let’s get down to business (pun intended).
The Art Of War, By Sun Tzu
I’m genuinely baffled by the fact that pretty much everyone knows about this book, and yet almost no one has actually read it. Considering how influential and relevant it is even today, I can only shake my head in disappointment and confusion.
I should also add, to anyone who still hasn’t read it, that this book is short, and doesn’t waste your time if you decide to read it.
In a recent talk with a Chinese friend of mine, this book came up. I learned that the book is still quoted today in Chinese daily life and media. There’s only a handful of books that thousands of years later hold such power and influence, one of them being the Bible (a pretty dry read, I don’t recommend reading it, unless you’re really interested in the subject).
Also, I’m not implying The Art of War is the bible of war, strategy and business, or something crazy like that… Or wait, maybe it is? *seriously thinking*
It’s All About The Strategy
Someone who just reads the title of the book might come to a wrong conclusion about it, heck, even someone who has read the book and not fully understood the message, or has difficulty understanding the abstract implication, it might come off as a book that’s only about war. That is not the case.
In fact, I’d say this whole book is all about strategy and planning ahead, and anyone who truly understands the book will have to agree with me.
The difference between it being a book about war or a book about strategy, changes the meaning of the book entirely. If we approach the book as a book about strategy, we can apply it to other areas in life that have nothing to do with war. From that perspective, this book is invaluable when it comes to building a career for yourself, or when trying to grow your business.
The Art of War is composed of 13 chapters, each of them dealing with different aspects of war. I’ll try to summarize the book for you (and myself), but I do recommend you read it for yourself.
I study management at a university, which has allowed me to read up academic texts about management on a large scale. I’ve also participated on a few projects where real-life business management was needed. One could say I have worthwhile experience and thoughts to share on this subject.
I’ll be honest, even though I have been studying management for a while now, and I even got to work on management positions, none of my experiences compare to the way management is presented in The Art of War.
If you read and analyze the book correctly, you will learn what makes a good leader, and what it takes to manage your troops on a macro scale. You will still have to learn about management on a micro scale to perfect the craft, but this book gives you excellent tools for managing your “troops”, and why not yourself as well.
The Five Dangerous Faults Of A General
On the chapters about management, Sun Tzu talks about five faults that any general might be guilty of, and which will ultimately lead to their downfall.
If you are reckless, and approach any situation without proper care or thought, you will find that this path is the sure way to your own demise and destruction. Avoid at all costs.
If you are afraid and unable to move, this will lead to your enemy capturing you. In business sense if you are afraid to make bold moves, other businesses will take your place, and succeed in your stead.
A Hasty Temper.
This is related to recklessness. It can be provoked by insults. Learn to not be bothered by mere insults.
A Delicacy Of Honor.
Which is sensitive to shame;
Over-Solicitude For His Men
This will lead you to worry and trouble. Learn to control your emotions, or you will not be a good leader.
“Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.
If, however, you are indulgent, but unable to make your authority felt; kind-hearted, but unable to enforce your commands; and incapable, moreover, of quelling disorder: then your soldiers must be likened to spoilt children; they are useless for any practical purpose.
When the general is weak and without authority; when his orders are not clear and distinct; when there are no fixed duties assigned to officers and men, and the ranks are formed in a slovenly haphazard manner, the result is utter disorganization.”
Hire Great People
A great leader is not necessarily the smartest man in the army. He or she might not even come close. A great leader recognizes talent, and finds people more suitable to the job(s) he or she is not so good at.
A great leader is, therefore, a person who knows who is smarter than they themselves are, and finds a way to entice the people with true talent to join his or her forces.
On weak people: Weak and frustrated subordinates will cripple you, and make sure success can’t be achieved.
“When the common soldiers are too strong and their officers too weak, the result is insubordination. When the officers are too strong and the common soldiers too weak, the result is collapse.
When the higher officers are angry and insubordinate, and on meeting the enemy give battle on their own account from a feeling of resentment, before the commander-in-chief can tell whether or not he is in a position to fight, the result is ruin.”
I like to think of myself as someone who is good at strategy. I’m fairly good at chess, I like to plan ahead. I also like to think up scenarios in my head “What would happen if I did this…” “If that were to happen, what would I do?”. In fact, I just like the process of planning in general.
That’s what strategy is about, planning. To come up with a good plan, you need to know the facts of the situation. That is what this chapter talks about.
Know Your Enemy
Conduct research. Don’t assume. Calculate. Be precise.
“If we know that our own men are in a condition to attack, but are unaware that the enemy is not open to attack, we have gone only halfway towards victory.
In your deliberations, when seeking to determine the military conditions, let them be made the basis of a comparison, in this way:
- which of the two generals has the most ability?
- on which side is Discipline most rigorously enforced?
- which army is stronger?
- on which side are the officers and men more highly trained?
- in which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment?
Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical.”
Also, remember that the enemy might be hiding among your midst.
This is a very important chapter, but you’ll have to read the book to get the full picture.
The way I understand it is, strategy is the macro-, and tactics are the micromanagement of your company’s overall strategy. If that makes any sense to anyone else but myself.
The chapter(s) on tactics are mostly about war tactics, but really, you should try to be creative and see how you can apply similar kind of thinking to your business strategies.
For example, the next one could easily be used in creative marketing.
All Warfare Is Based On Deception
“Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him. “
I’ll leave the brainstorming on that to you. I would not want to give out my future tactics to strangers for free.
Be Decisive And Quick
“Though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.
There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.
The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.
Therefore the good fighter will be terrible in his onset, and prompt in his decision.
Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted…
Rapidity is the essence of war: take advantage of the enemy’s unreadiness, make your way by unexpected routes, and attack unguarded spots.”
After you’ve come up with a solid strategy, act on it quickly. Good opportunities don’t come often.
If possible, don’t announce your attack in advance.
Exploit Your Enemy’s Weaknesses, Avoid His Strenghts
“If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.
Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
If we wish to fight, the enemy can be forced to an engagement even though he be sheltered behind a high rampart and a deep ditch. All we need do is attack some other place that he will be obliged to relieve.
So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.”
This is self-explanatory in war, but it might be slightly more difficult to think of ways to do this in business. Be creative.
Don’t Just Do Something For The Sake Of Doing Something
“If it is to your advantage, make a forward move; if not, stay where you are.”
We often feel anxious to do something, to say something when there is silence for example, when it really isn’t necessary. You really should try to learn how to control yourself.
A great leader will find value in the extra time he or she gets to think.
Plan Ahead – Don’t Make Plans Up As You Go
“Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.
Carefully study the well-being of your men, and do not overtax them. Concentrate your energy and hoard your strength. Keep your army continually on the move, and devise unfathomable plans.
The skillful tactician may be likened to the shuai-jan. Now the shuai-jan is a snake that is found in the Ch’ang mountains. Strike at its head, and you will be attacked by its tail; strike at its tail, and you will be attacked by its head; strike at its middle, and you will be attacked by head and tail both.
We cannot enter into alliance with neighbouring princes until we are acquainted with their designs. We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country – its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps. We shall be unable to turn natural advantages to account unless we make use of local guides.
Hence the saying: The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources.”
It may seem cool to not have a strategy, and be that character in movies that just stumbles upon success as he gets lucky (Jack Sparrow comes to mind). In business, you can not rely on luck, and you must not go into a situation without thinking and planning it first. Think before you act.
Don’t Attack Just Because Someone Provokes You
“No ruler should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen; no general should fight a battle simply out of pique.”
These days, it’s easy to think of a leader who is guilty of this. You know who I’m talking about.
In your own life, you must not react to provocation. When you attack for poor reasons, you expose your weakness, perhaps more, and soon your castle will crumble.
Don’t Go Into Battle Without Knowing What You Are Up Against
“What enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge.
Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any deductive calculation.
Knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions can only be obtained from other men. [i.e., spies.]
Spies cannot be usefully employed without a certain intuitive sagacity.
They [spies] cannot be properly managed without benevolence and straightforwardness.
Without subtle ingenuity of mind, one cannot make certain of the truth of their reports.
Be subtle! be subtle! and use your spies for every kind of business.
When a general, unable to estimate the enemy’s strength, allows an inferior force to engage a larger one, or hurls a weak detachment against a powerful one, and neglects to place picked soldiers in the front rank, the result must be rout.
He who knows things, and in fighting puts his knowledge into practice, will win his battles. He who knows them not, nor practices them, will surely be defeated.
Carefully compare the opposing army with your own, so that you may know where strength is superabundant and where it is deficient.”
Information is king. It always has been. Keep that in mind when coming up with a plan.
Sun Tzu talks about spies. While spies can be used in business these days as well, in most cases this isn’t needed. You don’t have to employ spies since all the information you need is freely available on the Internet… if that wasn’t obvious to someone.
In business, fighting fairly is a highly beneficial in the long run.
How To Lose
“There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune on his army:
- By commanding the army to advance or to retreat, being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey. This is called hobbling the army.
- 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 soldiers’ minds.
- 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.
The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and does not require too much from individuals. Hence his ability to pick out the right men and use combined energy
When he uses combined energy, his fighting men become as it were like unto rolling logs or stones. For it is the nature of a log or stone to remain motionless on level ground, and to move when on a slope; if four-cornered, to come to a standstill, but if round-shaped to go rolling down.”
Tell your people to do something they can’t; promote incapable people; or work your team to death.
Basically, this boils down to poor management resulting in losses.
“Now a soldier’s spirit is keenest in the morning; by noonday it has begun to flag; and in the evening, his mind is only on returning to camp.
When the soldiers stand leaning on their spears, they are faint from want of food.
If those who are sent to draw water begin by drinking themselves, the army is suffering from thirst.
If there is disturbance in the camp, the general’s authority is weak. If the banners and flags are shifted about, sedition is afoot. If the officers are angry, it means that the men are weary.
Thus the skilful general conducts his army just as though he were leading a single man, willy-nilly, by the hand.
It is the business of a general to be quiet and thus ensure secrecy; upright and just, and thus maintain order.
He must be able to mystify his officers and men by false reports and appearances, and thus keep them in total ignorance.
Bestow rewards without regard to rule, issue orders without regard to previous arrangements; and you will be able to handle a whole army as though you had to do with but a single man.”
Read these carefully and think how to apply it to your business, and your own personal life.
Sweet, Sweet Victory
“Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory:
- He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.
- He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.
- He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.
- He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.
- He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.
In the practical art of war, 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, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them.
Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.
The good fighter is able to secure himself against defeat, but cannot make certain of defeating the enemy.
Hence the saying: One may know how to conquer without being able to do it.”
It is important to know what victory is before achieving it, for it is necessary for you to be able to imagine victory in your mind to push yourself towards it.
The Art Of War, By Sun Tzu
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
The lessons learned from this book are vast and varied. Reading a mere blog post on what’s in the book will not suffice, you should read the book for yourself.
You can buy the book here: The Art of War. You can also read the book for free online if you feel like it.
The book is short, and packed full of information. Don’t skip this one.
Extra: The Three Big Ideas
There are three distinct ideas that you should be able to get from this book. I will just lay them out for you without explaining further.
Idea #1: Know your enemy, and know yourself, and in 100 battles you never be in peril.
Idea #2: Avoid what is strong. Attack what is weak.
Idea #3: To Win 100 battles is not the height of skill – to subdue the enemy without fighting is.
Buy the book here: The Art of War
with this, I hope you will join me and read the next post (I will provide link later) when I start with Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill. It’s a massive undertaking, and I hope I can do it justice.
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