This summary and review of the book, The Art of War, was prepared by Shawn Herbert while a Business Administration student in the College of Business at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana.
Cover of The Art of War
The Art of War written by Sun Tzu, is the collective wisdom of Chinese generals in what is now North China, roughly about 2,300 years ago. It is an absolute masterpiece which shows a person how to conquer, shape, and manipulate any conflict, large or small, before confronting the actually conflict. The brilliance in this text is that it shapes the way you think so that you may apply these lessons to any and everyday situations. The general on the battlefield can use these tactics and lessons to gain victory over his enemy, while at the same time the manager in the board room can use the same tactics and lessons to gain a competitive advantage over his rivals.
Conflict is an everyday part of human life that we each must choose to face or flee. By deciding to face conflict, we can begin the process of understanding and manipulate it, so that we may overcome it. As dictated in the book, knowledge is the key to success. Transforming the way you think and seeing all the different paths that lead and trail a situation, will help you achieve the best possible outcome for dealing with your situation. Figuring out your strengths and weakness, knowing your employees strength and weakness, and knowing your competitions strength and weakness is one part of understanding, that of course is easier said than done.
The book was written in verses which have since been translated to English. Some of the translations are not exact due to language differences but the main points are there. It is interesting to note that the Chinese back then read a lot slower so the text is meant to be read slowly and then to focus on comprehending the text. Unlike a book that would be read today, it is very fragmented and has to be treated as many different lessons which are to be reread over again.
The beauty of the book is that the verses while written with a war like language are a way of thinking so that they can be applied to anything. “And so knowing victory is fivefold—knowing when one can and cannot do battle is victory. Knowing the use of many and few is victory. Superior and inferior desiring the same is victory. Being prepared and awaiting the unprepared is victory. The general being capable and the ruler not interfering is victory.” (Tzu, 2011 loc. 423) This quote shows 5 steps one must know to be able to succeed. The way I have translated this is, first know when to pick your battles. Second be sure to that you know when to use a lot of your resources compared to just a few of them. The third verse is a little tricky but I take it that no matter what position one may hold everyone must want to succeed to achieve the desired outcome. Fourthly, always be prepared for the situation at hand. Finally management must be given the authority and power to complete the task at hand without upper management restraining them. You can see that I’ve taken the passages from the book which is written towards a combat form and use them in a management style.
The Ten Things Managers Need to Know from The Art of War
1. Conflict is a part of life, whether on the battlefield, in a meeting room, or just in the comfort of your home. Sun Tzu tries to show how to deal with conflict and conquer it before it even begins. By understanding the conflict you must deal with, you can find ways to defeat it before even being faced with it.
2. To achieve full victory, you first must know your troops can strike. Secondly, you must know the enemy can be struck. Thirdly, you must know the form of earth can be used for battle. In management, you must know your employees, know your opposition and know what environment holds the best advantage for you. By knowing the strengths and weaknesses of these factors, you can take on a situation with the best chance of winning it.
3. “One bushel of enemy food equals twenty bushels of mine.” (loc. 351 ) When making management decisions it is important to consider using another company’s tangible resource over your own. You must consider what went into making that item, the money spent, the transportation costs, and all other factors involved.
4. “Seize what he loves, and he will heed you!” (loc. 954) When being faced with a well prepared enemy how do you get the advantage? Take what he loves, and he will fall. When faced with a decision where you are equally prepared, find out what the other most desires and take it from them. By doing this, you will hold the advantage because people give up much for what they love.
5. “The army one wishes to strike, the walled city one wishes to attack and the person one wishes to kill—
One must first know the family name and given name of the defending general, his intimates, the steward, the gatekeeper, and attendants.” (loc. 1188) In negotiating, knowing everything about the other person is essential. Find out about his family, what his colleagues think of him, even what his personal habits are. With this knowledge you can figure out what kind of personality and tactics he might employ. This will give insight which you can use against him.
The Art of War (Photo credit: kainet)
6. For effective planning, you must realize that everything is interconnected. Understanding these connections will allow you to be efficient in your decision making process. Everything from your employees, to the services or items you provide, will have connections with other processes. To understand them all is what allows you to have the information needed to make the correct decision.
7. “Subduing the other’s military without battle is the most skillful.” (loc. 1379) You can have a victory but the battle can cost you dearly. In management, you might get your way but what is the cost? How may you achieve your goal without using all your resources? These are questions you should ask yourself when you are looking to engage in an activity.
8. Knowledge will bring you power and allow you to defend yourself. It is the greatest asset anyone can have. If you find yourself unsure about a decision or situation then perhaps you do not know enough and that should be a sign for you to learn more.
9. Shih is a term used to describe the inherent power that a configuration holds. The example used is water, which is very soft, but when it comes together it can move rocks. When your company is faced with huge obstacles, your employees are your water. Focus them and you can overcome anything you face.
10. “Every activity, in life as in battle, takes place on a certain ground. Every ground suggests the response most appropriate to it.” (loc. 2935) This quote is a simple one to understand. Simply, every situation is different and will require a different response. Do not expect to tackle every problem using the same solution.
Full Summary of The Art of War
- Applying The Art of War:
- When a leader needs to overcome an objective, or your community needs to pass a project to the housing community, how does one face the task at hand? By taking the concepts from The Art of War, it shows how to conquer without using aggression, whether the task at hand is big or small. “One hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the most skillful. Subduing the other’s military without battle is the most skillful.” (loc. 62)
- Conflict is an integral part of human life. Conflict can be avoided, passed by, ignored, but it can also be defeated before it begins.
- Conquer the enemy in a way that keeps as much of the enemy intact as possible using both your resources and the enemy’s resources against them.
- Begin with the ordinary details of everyday life and understand how they work and they are connected. Seeing the connections will allow you to manipulate how things work before directly confront them.
- Sun Tzu’s The Art of War:
- Tao is what causes the people to have the same purpose as their superior and lets them live, die, and be honest with him. (loc. 261 )
1. Heaven is defined as the moving seasons. If you follow it and move along you will find victory while going against it you will find defeat.
1. The earth is everything around you, high and low, small and big.
1. General is courage, attuned and strict. He holds the knowledge.
1. It’s the ranking and supply, and order of your divisions.
B. Doing Battle:
a. The method of doing battle.
1. When raising 1000 troops, you must raise 1000 weapons, all the material for the weapons, the food, means of survival, and once these are all done it is then you will have 1000 troops.
b. When one employs battle.
1. Victory must be taken swift, if not it grinds down the army. Strength and swiftness diminish. Resources begin insufficient.
c. One skilled at employing the military.
1. Does not have need to call in reinforcements or resources.
d. Taking the enemy’s goods is a matter of advantage.
e. Reward the first who captures an enemy resource so that others may follow.
f. The military values victory while not prolonging victory.
C. Strategy of Attack:
a. Taking everything whole is superior while destroying it is inferior.
b. Inferior cuts alliances, and the military itself.
c. Methods of employing the military.
1. When you outnumber 10 to 1, surround the enemy.
2. When you outnumber 5 to 1, attack the enemy.
3. When you outnumber 2 to 1, battle the enemy.
4. When you have even numbers, divide your enemy.
5. When outnumbered, defend against the enemy.
6. When your forces are inadequate, avoid the enemy.
d. Victory is five folded.
1. Knowing when you can and cannot do battle is victory.
2. Knowing how to use greater and fewer resources is victory.
3. Know that when the superior and the inferior desire the same is victory.
4. Being prepared and awaited the unprepared is victory.
a. Invincibility is defense, while vincilibity is attack.
b. Defend and you will have a surplus while attack and it is insufficient.
c. The victorious military is the one that is first victorious and does battle
afterwards, while the defeated military does battle first and seeks victory
d. A victorious military will have weight nothing, while a defeated military will
have the weight of the world on it.
a. Controlling the few as if they were many
F. The Solid and the Empty:
a. Taking position first will allow your army to rest, while the enemy is hasten.
b. Advance so that you may not be resisted, or retreat so that you may not be
c. Form the battlefield and dictate to the enemy.
G. The Army Contending:
a. A contending army brings advantage and danger.
b. An army without a baggage train is defeated.
H. The Nine Transformations:
a. Know the ground you do battle so that you may use it against your enemy.
b. Know when to face your enemy and when to avoid them.
c. Know the five dangers as a general
d. The plans of the wise include using advantage and harm
I. Moving the Army:
a. Know how to use the different terrains to your advantage. Mountains,
water, salt marshes, and plains all hold different advantages and disadvantages.
J. Forms of the Earth:
1. Occupy and arrive first to open ground.
1. Only the prepared against the unprepared will have the advantage.
1. There is no advantage for either army.
1. If you arrive first, occupy and wait. If the enemy arrives first then
1. It is the same as narrow.
1. Both armies are equal and there are no advantages.
K. The Nine Grounds:
a. Dispersed Ground
1. Feudal lords fight for this ground.
b. Light Ground
1. Just entering another’s grounds.
c. Contested Ground
1. Whoever attains this ground gains the advantage.
d. Connected Ground
1. The military can go and leave as they please.
e. Junction Ground
1. The grounds where 3 militaries meet.
f. Heavy Ground
1. Entering another’s ground with cities at your back.
g. Spread-out Ground
1. Roads that are difficult to move along.
h. Enclosed Ground
1. Where few can strike the many.
i. Death Ground
1. If quick you will survive, if not you will die.
L. Attack by Fire:
a. Setting fire to people.
1. Let fire burn there army.
b. Setting fire to stores.
1. Use fire to destroy their resources on hand.
c. Setting fire to baggage trains.
1. Cut off their resources that are coming in by setting fire to the routes
d. Setting fire to armories.
1. The army cannot fight you if you set fire to the weapons they use.
e. Setting fire in tunnels.
1. Set fire in tunnels so that there troops might not see the danger and
M. Employing Spies:
a. Foreknowledge will allow you to be victories.
III. Three Essays:
A. Taking Whole:
a. Do not destroy what you wish to be victorious over.
B. The Sage Commander:
a. The person that holds knowledge and power is the sage commander.
C. Joining the Tradition:
a. Oral tradition was the primary method of transferring knowledge till Sun Tzu
decided to use written form.
A. Various commentary on the different concepts of The Art of War.
The Video Lounge
After trying extensively to find an interview with the author from back in 500 B.C., a little humor there, I eventually stumbled upon this video. It depicts Osama El-Kadi giving a presentation on how to use The Art of War for strategy and business. He goes on to explain how you can apply the concepts to everyday life. He compares the book to a Swiss army knife. You can use this book to apply to all situations in everyday life.
Osama goes on to talk about how he’s given speeches on these strategies to various leaders in government and businesses. The businesses that want to stay successful will incorporate these strategies to stay competitive.
Why I think:
- The author is one of the most brilliant people around…or is full of $%&#, because:
- Sun Tzu is one of the most brilliant people around because the knowledge he gathered and the way he presented it is still relevant today. The Art of War was written around 500 B.C. in a period of constant fighting among the Chinese, yet today you can apply it to any situation dealing with conflict. I would say that any book that is capable of making an influence after 2510 years should be read by everyone. Other than perhaps some religious books such as the Bible or Quran, name one author that has written a book that has been relevant so such a long time.
- If I were the author of the book, I would have done these three things differently:
- I would have tried to go a little more in depth with some of the verses. I think a lot of the book is left open for interpretation which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it leaves a lot of room for what might be the authors point.
2. Some of the book was written with a poetic feel, which is great in Chinese, but when translated to English loses its poetic qualities. The message could have been conveyed without the use of poetry which would have allowed for an easier translation into all languages.
3. The book could have reached a greater audience in a shorter time frame if perhaps it had been written as a more generalized book versus a book on facing conflict for war. The message would be the same, but perhaps he could have related it to other aspects of life. Then again, I’m not entirely sure what kind of professions it could relate too back in 500 B.C.
- Reading this book made me think differently about the topic in these ways:
1. It really made me think how I view and understand situations. I’ve dealt with conflict before, as everyone has, but after reading this book I think I could handle it a lot better. I feel like it sort of open my eyes a little wider.
2. This book actually made me think of how much smarter earlier civilizations of humans were, than we actually give them credit for. The author used his knowledge which was partly his and partly passed down through generations, to write this masterpiece which has more relevance on the world today than it did back then. It amazes me to think that in 500 B.C. this is the insight people had.
3. The art of winning a conflict before it even begins is an ideal I’ve never thought about before. I’ve prepared for conflicts before, tried to do my best to face them, but never thought about the possibility of overcoming it before it even starts. I almost think this book has changed a little in the way I think.
- I’ll apply what I’ve learned in this book in my career by:
1. I can see the applications this book has in the business world. I want to take the steps from this book and apply them to business conflicts to see if it’s possible to gain an advantage over rivals who do not use these tactics.
2. The book has a part where it talks about by using less resources and less manpower it can be used to give an advantage over bigger rivals with more resources and power. It has got me thinking about the less is more concept and I can see it being applied to my current job.
3. When I’m put into a position where I need managers and such, I will require them to read this book. The insight and perspective that it brings will give any business a conceptual advantage.
- Here is a sampling of what others have said about the book and its author:
The book seems to have impacted people’s lives profoundly and makes an impact still to this day. It’s simply amazing what people have to say in regards to it. This particular translation has a lot of reviews which seem to praise its accuracy and ability to capture what Sun Tzu was trying to say. Denma, has been given great praises for there translation. The following are some of the praises which I think best captures what others have been saying about this book.
“A new standard has been set. The Denma Group’s Sun Tzu rendering shows extraordinary accuracy….In addition to the translation, this book has the finest essays analyzing the many Art of War concepts. Not stopping there, the authors then skillfully explained each and every passage of Sun Tzu. Needless to say, we highly recommend this book.” (VICTORY OVER WAR Reviews and Comments)
“An exhilarating experience. The principles of translation adhered to by the Denma group are among the best I have ever encountered for ancient Chinese texts.” (VICTORY OVER WAR Reviews and Comments)
“In my seminars I have found that the Denma group’s Art of War is the one version of the text that most closely resonates with the professional experience of senior military officers regarding tactics and doctrine. It’s the most sophisticated and accessible I’ve seen.” (VICTORY OVER WAR Reviews and Comments)
El-Kadi, O. (n.d.). Sun Tzu the Art of War Success Strategy. Retrieved from Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAJ3zO6YLZY
Hawkins, D. E. (2005). Sun Tzu and The Project Battleground. Houndsmills: Palgrave Macmillan.
Interview with the Denma Translation Group. (n.d.). Retrieved from Sonshi: http://www.Sonshi.com/Denma.html
The Art of War. (n.d.). Retrieved from Shambhala Publications: http://www.Shambhala.com/html/catalog/items/ISBN/978-1-59030-728-1.cfm
Tzu, S. (2011). The Art of War. Bonston & London: Shambala.
VICTORY OVER WAR Reviews and Comments. (n.d.). Retrieved from VICTORY OVER WAR: http://www.victoryoverwar.com/reviews2.html
To contact the author of this article, “A Management in a Minute Book Overview of The Art of War by Sun Tzu] for Practicing and Aspiring Managers” please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Publisher
David C. Wyld (email@example.com) is the Robert Maurin Professor of Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, and executive educator. His blog, Wyld About Business, can be viewed at http://wyld-business.blogspot.com/. He also serves as the Director of the Reverse Auction Research Center (http://reverseauctionresearch.com/), a hub of research and news in the expanding world of competitive bidding. Dr. Wyld also maintains compilations of his student’s publications regarding:
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