History credits the Chinese General Sun Tzu (circa 500 BC) with authoring a series of essays on the subject of war. Considered to be the earliest known treatises on the subject, Sun Tzu discussed military organization, defensive and offensive strategies as well as tactical maneuvering.
Of his many essays his best known work, The Art of War, continues to be a reference for modern military strategists. Sun Tzu’s longevity is indebted mainly to Father J. J. M. Amiot, a French Jesuit priest, who brought a translation back to Europe shortly before the French Revolution.
The nucleus of Sun Tzu’s principles for the conduct of war are: “All warfare is based on deception” and “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”. In addition to Sun Tzu’s later western influence, his ideas spread throughout continental Asia and eventually to Japan. The Japanese were quick to adopt Sun Tzu’s precepts; eventually adding a few chapters to The Art of War of their own. In the end, Sun Tzu’s treatises played a significant role in later Japanese military strategies and history. Although Sun Tzu’s work is credited to the Spring and Autumn Period, it is interesting to note the following era was that of the Warring States.
Whether or not Sun Tzu’s treatises are simply a product of their time or an ominous indicator is difficult to discern. What is clear, however, is the dramatic nature of his subsequential historical impact. “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”, Sun Tzu said. Being one of his most famous sayings, it has urged thousands and thousands of strategists to meticulously analyze their enemies and opponents. A stratagem of timeless value, appreciated by military leaders of all times.
The military thought expounded in Sun Tzu’s Art of War is abundant, almost touching on all aspects of ancient wars. His thirteen chapters of principles and theories on war have been praised by militarists around the world. But the influence of his tactics has gone far beyond the military field. Today, his military theory is appreciated by businessmen and politicians as well. Highly applicable in the business world, Sun Tzu’s Art of War has become a major influence on business strategy, especially in Asia.
Sun Tzu’s Art of War is written by Sun Wu and is set in the final years of the Spring and Autumn Period, 770-476 BC It is not only the oldest Chinese military work in existence but the oldest military theory in the world. Sun Wu, also called Chang Qiao, is known to have lived at about the same time as Confucius (the founder of Confucianism) and the Buddha (the founder of Buddhism). “Tzu” means man and was the title for famous men in ancient China. Hence, Sun Wu became Sun Tzu. Sun Wu, who was a native of Qi, caught King Ho Lu’s attention with his profound knowledge on military theory.
The king appointed him to train a few troops as an experiment. The experiment was conducted with women instead soldiers. The king sent him one hundred and eighty beauties from the palace. Sun Wu divided them into two companies with the king’s two favorite concubines as their leaders. He gave them axes and halberds and asked them if they knew their right from their left. The women assured him that they did.
Then with the roll of a drum he gave the order “Turn right!? The women burst out laughing. Sun Wu said, “If the rules are not clear and the orders are not clear, the commander is to blame”. He repeated the instructions a third and a fourth time. Again the beauties from the palace burst out laughing. Then Sun Wu said, “If the rules are not clear and orders are not understood, the commander is to blame.
But when orders are clear yet not carried out, it is the officers who are to blame”. Then he executed both company leaders. The king protested. Sun Wu replied, “I have been appointed commander, and a general in the field is not bound by orders from his sovereign”. Again he gave the orders, this time the women turned left or right and advanced or retreated exactly as they were told.
After a period of time, the troops were in fighting trim and they would go through fire or water at the command of their general. King Ho Lu, now convinced of Sun Wu’s skills as a commander, made him his general. Sun Wu went on to defeat the mighty kingdom of Chu and the powerful states in the north, Qi and Jin. Sun Wu’s fame spread through all states and even further on. Sun Tzu’s Art of War spread throughout Asia and became the Koran for militarists. The Japanese hold high esteem for Sun Tzu and call him the “Military Sage of the East”.
In Japan, managers and directors (commanders) have attached great importance to the application of Sun Tzu’s theories to the improvement of management and corporate strategy. In the second half of the 18th century, the first French translation of Sun Tzu’s Art of War appeared in Paris. Since then Sun Tzu’s works have been studied and appreciated by economics experts, military leaders, politicians and scholars. As a matter of fact Sun Tzu’s theories have had great influence among the general public too, especially in China and in the Chinese communities in Southeast Asia. Sun Tzu’s Art of War consists of thirteen chapters or thirteen principles, each having its own unique significance. A few quotes and interpretations follow.
In “Laying Plans”, Sun Tzu says: “War is a matter of vital importance to a nation, a matter relating to life and death of the people, survival or ruin of the sovereignty. Hence it demands serious study and under no circumstances can it be neglected. ? In many ways this also applies to business in our times, as bold and controversial as it may sound. Knowing economics and using it as an instrument to produce wealth is such a matter.
In appraising the outcome of a war one should analyze the actual situation and compare strengths and weaknesses by calculation, “. . . with respect to 5 fundamental factors: (1) morality, (2) weather, (3) terrain, (4) commander and (5) legal system”. Morality is important. Only by conforming with morality can a commander have the support of the people and a manager the support of his employees.
Only when “united in heart and mind” states and firms can be successful and prosper. In “Waging war”, Sun Tzu says: “In chariot fighting . . . the chariots taken should be mingled and used in conjunction with ours.
The captured soldiers should be kindly treated and kept. This is called, using the conquered foe to augments one’s own strength. ” Treating the defeated foe with sensitivity and gaining their respect is good. This principle is apt for mergers and acquisitions.
In “Planning A Siege” Sun Tzu says: “So there are five ways of knowing who will win. Those who know when to fight and when not to fight are victorious. Those who discern when to use many or few troops are victorious. . .
” Here Sun Tzu is talking about timing and effiency. This concept is of uttermost importance in war. There is no doubt that timing and effiency also are key ingredients in a successful firm of our time. In “Manoeuvre” Sun Tzu says: “Nor can one march through a country without knowing its mountains and forests, all the dangers and difficulties of the route and marshes”. Knowing the terrain is advantageous.
Knowing the industry and the market is extremely advantageous. The book, which holds numerous military strategies and accounts of the law of war, has long become a treasure of military science. Now, many people have discovered that the book contains ingenious ideas about management strategies, management decisions, market competition, organizational principle and selection and employment of personnel. Reading, understanding and applying appropriate parts of the rules and principles may do well.
But one should be careful in obeying it completely. For we live in the midst of change and globalization. Having basic business principles to lean back on is good, but one must also be flexible. What is certain is that having one of the worlds most credible and trusted books on warfare in the briefcase can do no harm. If there is any place in the world where the principles of Sun Tzu are frequently used in management and business strategy it must be Asia, its place of birth. In the end all tremble at weapons; all fear death.
Comparing others with oneself, one should not slay, nor cause to slay.