This book summary and review of The Art of War was prepared by Peter Thomas Hoang while a Finance major student in the College of Business at Southeastern Louisiana University.
The introduction by the translator uses both the I Ching and the Tao-te Ching as the basis. The I Ching and the Tao-te Ching are works of Taoists. In the introduction, Cleary refers to many works of Taoists, because it sets a more formal tone for Sun Tzu.
In the Art of War, Sun Tzu writes about many strategies and the usage of them in perspective of generals. One could apply the same idea in the manner of today’s managers. Tzu’s book takes place on the battlefield and he talks about the environment in a more general form.
In the beginning chapters, Tzu is clear on not fighting to win a war. Tzu stress the assessment of strategies in order to be prepared before war ever begins. The one who will lose is the one who is not readily prepared for it.
One idea that comes from the later chapters is the idea of formlessness. This idea derives from the element form of water. Water has no real form and its strength is in the ability to change and adept to whatever environment it is held in. This is a key factor in how Tzu construct his plan around this ideology because once a general has master this formlessness then he is able to become all things around his enemy and is able to attain complete victory.
The idea of victory is different to Tzu. One would often believe that to become victorious, you would have just beaten your opponent in a physical battle. Tzu’s overall view is completely different, almost to a point where it seems Tzu would rather not fight if he can prevent it at all. Tzu often describes physical battle as a last resort; he would ready his men only as an abundance of caution.
The main idea of how Tzu would plan accordingly is when he knows exactly what he needed to plan for his enemies. Tzu would never let his own self defeat him because he is able to prevent it. Preparation has been the factor when it came to having the upper hand once you in war. Tzu states in order to win the battle; you must win it before the battle even begins. In this type of mindset, you would ready your men physical, while the general and leaders would ready themselves mentally. Tzu also allows for a significant time period in this phase because once you are rushing through, then you allow mistakes to take a greater impact.
Although, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is a book that took place over two thousands year ago, you can easily transition the applicable ideas into today’s work environment. Managers should read this book in order to grasp the simple idea of how to protect one’s business from attack. Once a manager is able to understand a few of Tzu’s methodology, then the manager can do without rather than with and will attain more keen sense of business.
The Ten Things Managers Need to Know from The Art of War
1. Sun Tzu states that in order gain victory, you will need to win at your headquarters, the place where you will design all your strategies. The one with the most depth and thought-out strategy, then when you win, you will win by that much more.
2. If you are planning to fight a battle, make sure it is short and decisive. People or soldiers in a long battle will burn themselves out like a fire.
3. Take three months to prepare your technical strategy and three months for your overall takeover strategy to be complete. When you are planning a takeover, it is best to keep the company intact.
4. Form alliances with knowledge rather than profits.
5. Use formlessness as a form of adaptation.
6. Use the materials of other, so you can save expending your own company’s resources.
7. Defeat your competitors without fighting.
8. Find out what your competitors are planning.
9. Make a comparison report between you and your competitors so you can assess the weakness and strengths.
10. Exploit their weakness while you strengthen your weaknesses.
Full Summary of The Art of War
In the preface, the translator, Thomas Cleary, gives a quick history overview of the book’s impact for over two thousand years. Cleary also stress the great work of Taoists; I Ching, which is translated to the Book of Changes, and the Tao-te Ching which is translated to the Way and Its Power.
Cleary begins his introduction with an old Chinese story, which depicts a tale about two brother physicians and how their differences can be related to the Art of War. Cleary continues with references from the I Ching and the Tao-te Ching. It is important to stress the understanding of Taoism from Cleary’s point of view.
Cleary, lastly introduces a standard collection of eleven interpreters: Cao Cao is the most distinguished military figure in Chinese history. Meng Shi is known for his time during civil war and massive suffering. Jia Lin is known be to the only for his commentary on the Art of War. Li Quan was a devotee of Taoism as well as the martial arts. Du You served as an official military advisor, war councilor, and military inspector. Du Mu was known as a knight of unflinching honesty and extraordinary honor. Zhang Yu was apart of the Sung Dynasty. Mei Yaochen served in both lock and central government of the Sung Dynasty. Wang Xi was a scholar in the Hanlin and author of two books on the Spring and Autumn Annals. Chen Hao was known for his extraordinary personal independence and his great aspirations. Ho Yanxi was known for his commentary on The Art of War.
“Military actions is important to the nation-it is the ground of death and life, the path of survival and destruction, so it is imperative to examine it”… Tzu, S.
Sun Tzu begins by addressing the weight on war on a nation. It is necessary to assess one’s surrounding in the terms of the way, weather, lay of the land, leadership, and discipline.
Sun Tzu first wants to induce the people to have the same mindset, which is describe as the way. Tzu talk about the use of the weather because Tzu understood that soldiers would lose limbs to frostbites and died from the plagues during the winter and the summer.
Tzu would gain knowledge of the terrain because he would be able to assess the amount of time, soldiers, and difficulty of the travel. Furthermore, Tzu emphasize on a leader with five virtues: intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage, and sternness. Tzu believes once a general can balance the five virtues then he can truly lead effectively. Also, the discipline talks about organization, chain of command, and logistics.
In the chapter about strategic assessment, Tzu believes one is able to win the battle at their headquarter. Tzu is through in his assessment of enemies, so he is able to pre-determine their motive and exploit their weaknesses. In Tzu’s preparedness, Tzu determines which has more strategic favors and the determine victor of battle from his assessment. All before the battle has taken place.
Sun Tzu describes the many different elements taken place in the midst of battle. One main element being address is the overall length of the battle. Once you are in battle, even if you are winning, if you continue for a long time, then you will exhaust your army and your supplies will be depleted.
First, you would not want to raise your troops more than once. By gathering your troops more than once in a given period, then you will be exhausting supplies at a rate where you will be expensing the cost to your nation. Also, you will cause the nation’s citizens to be weary and arise bitterness.
After depleting the nation’s resources then you will have to increase taxes and the nation’s people are being charged for a leader’s misstep. Therefore, a wise general would gain resources off the enemies. Now a quick and decisive victory is often consider vastly important in battle.
Planning A Siege
In the process of planning a siege, Tzu’s general rule for the use of the military is that it is better to keep a nation intact than to destroy it.
It is better to keep an army intact than to destroy it, better to keep a division intact than to destroy it, better to keep a battalion intact than to destroy it, better to keep a unit intact than to destroy it… Tzu, S.
This method allows Tzu to continue to build an empire rather than destroy two.
After the planning the siege, Tzu instruct on how you should attack the opposing enemies. You should strike while your enemies are planning. Next, you should destroy alliances, then you should attack their army. Tzu address attacking a city, Tzu declares that siege of a city is only done as a last resort because armies will cause many unforeseen casualties.
In the chapter about formation, Tzu explain that to see the inner conditions of opponents by measuring their external formation. Tzu allows another strategy to guide one to victory; defend yourself when you don’t have enough and attack when you have a surplus.
Tzu decides on patience being a key factor in gaining a more favorable outlook in a battle. In another sense, Tzu declares when it is time to defeat your enemies, then you should defeat your enemies. Tzu describes how bad warriors lose battles with their pride and ego.
Force means shifts in accumulated energy or momentum. Skillful warriors are able to allow the force of momentum to seize victory for them without exerting their strength… Tzu, S.
Tzu decides that it is better to fight with a large number as if you are fighting with a small amount. Breaking down a large army into a division, then further breaking it down to groups, and to cells. Overall, this will allow the momentum to have a far greater impact in a battle.
Once, the momentum of the army is at their high point, then the force is swift should be considered fast and decisive in battle. The idea of force is considered to be vastly different because it makes the use of both unorthodox and orthodox methods.
Emptiness and fullness
In this chapter, Tzu begins to discuss the advantages and disadvantages at any given time in battle.
So when opponents are at ease, it is possible to tire them. When they are well fed, it is possible to starve them. When they are at rest, it is possible to move them… Tzu, S.
First, Tzu explains what strategy to employ for the given situation. Secondly, Tzu allows for a comparison between the enemy and one’s self because it is prudent in determining the areas in which either you or the enemy is sufficient. In this manner, a general is able to flesh out information of the enemy and therefore you are able to attain formlessness.
The idea of formlessness is an act of both offense and defense because without a form how can the enemies design a plan of attack or a plan to defend. Tzu compares this idea to the element of water; water has no definite form but it carries it’s strength in accordance with its form.
This has a double meaning, because struggle means struggle for advantage; those who get it first, wins. In order to gain the advantage, one would go great length if it means to secure the victory. If the travel length were long, then you would wear out your soldiers and ensure your defeat. Now, you would want to take advantage of going to battle at the unknown, use the knowledge of the local in place of what you do not know.
The ordinary rule for use of military force is for the military c command to receive the orders from the civilian authorities, then to gather and mass the troops, quartering them together. Nothing is harder than armed struggle…Tzu, S.
The general rule for military operations is that the military leadership receives the order from the civilian leadership to gather armies. Let there be no encampment on difficult terrain. Let diplomatic relations be established at borders. Do not stay in barren or isolated territory. When on surrounded ground, plot. When on deadly ground, fight.
In Tzu’s chapter about adaptation, his tone has change to a more survival type of view. At first, Tzu has declared to only fight when it’s a last resort, now he begin to stretch the possibility of fighting once you are in a position in which you are surround and has to fight in order to survive.
The five dangerous traits in generals are: Those who are ready to die can be killed, those who are intent on living can be captured, those who are quick to anger can be shamed, those who are puritanical can be disgraced, those who love people can be troubled. Enemies easily exploit these traits, so Tzu is keen on how one should prepare for this. Tzu explains the faults in general by not allowing the generals to subject themselves to jovial feelings rather act accordingly to the events.
After assessing the situation and determining your advantages, you would choose to use the most advantageous strategy.
The strategy should take into consideration the following:
It is in the best interest of the general to understand the form of the land. One would be consider a basic lesson for the general. Then the general should be able to sort through his troops, divide them among skilled and unskilled.
According to the rule for military operations, there are nine kinds of ground. Where local interests fight among themselves on their own territory, this is called a ground of dissolution… Tzu, S.
You must first understand which type of grounds you are on because it can depict what type of action you will need to take next. You have the ground of contention, this land is advantageous to you because you got it and advantageous to your enemy if they got it. A trafficked ground is land where you and other can come and go. Intersecting ground is land that is surrounded on three sides by competitors. When you enter deeply into others’ land, past many cities and towns, this is called heavy grounds. When you traverse mountain forests, steep defiles, marshes, or any route difficult to travel, this is called bad grounds. When the way is in narrow and the way out is circuitous, so a small enemy force can strike you, even thought your numbers are greater, this is called surrounded ground. When you will survive if you fight quickly and perish if you do not, this is called dying ground.
Once you understand and assess your situation then you are able to quickly determine the course of action you will take. In any manner, time is a factor and acting quickly should be a priority.
Fire attack/On the use of Spies
The use of both fire attack and the use of spies should be use sparingly. If not, then you risk the chance of being defeated by an error on the general’s part.
One cannot use spies without sagacity and knowledge, one cannot use spies without humanity and justice, and one cannot get the truth from spies without subtlety. This is a very delicate matter indeed. Spies are useful everywhere… Tzu, S.
In the strategy of using spies, you must account for the off chance that they will betray you in order to preserve themselves. If you cannot do without the information then you are placing yourself in harm’s way.
One useful tactic would be the use of the enemies’ mistreated spies. They would have more incentives other than to further enrich themselves. Give a spy more than just riches and they will be able to provide more than just knowledge, they will be able to provide the key to victory.
The Video Lounge
1. In this clip, the businessman is talking about applying the strategies of Sun Tzu to help failing businesses.
2. It is clear, both of the failing businesses had let the other people capitalize on their ideas.
- Why I think the author is one of the most brilliant people around
Sun Tzu’s The Art of War has been around for over two thousand years. It still encompasses many of the ideas and problems the current manager face today. Tzu’s mentality transcends his environment because he was able take any situation and give one’s self the advantage and the ability to be successful. Even in another one thousand year, Tzu’s work will still be applicable.
- With business conditions today, what the author wrote is because:
Competition is becoming more widespread than ever. In business today, we are face with global competition at an exponential rate. The information era has given competitors the means of a cheap but powerful resource to gain advantages. We are currently seeing new and different ways, that competitors are using it to assess strategic plans.
Then, all of the following bullet-items are mandatory to write about:
· If I were the author of the book, I would have done these three things differently:
1. I would write in a more structure manner. Tzu’s style of writing has no definite meaning rather it meant for others to drawn their own conclusion.
2. I would reference actual events in a more personal way.
3. I would had include my own introduction rather, I would let the reader know that it would be best to read both I Ching and Tao-te Ching first.
· Reading this book made me think differently about the topic in these ways:
1. A manager has much more to think about when it comes to mergers or acquisition.
2. The people who will work for me in the future means a lot in order for me to be successful.
3. After a takeover, it is best to keep a company intact rather than take it apart.
· I’ll apply what I’ve learned in this book in my career by:
1. Giving myself enough time before I commit to a takeover or acquisition.
2. Plan thoroughly before I do anything because everything is decided in the war room rather than on the battlefield.
3. Attain the formlessness in order to fool my competitors and exercise complete control.
Here is a sampling of what others have said about the book and its author:
As a retired military intelligence professional and conflict theorist, I must say this is the best interpretation of Sun Tzu’s classic work I have read. The author focuses on the meanings behind this ancient Chinese war philosopher’s writings. He puts them into a modern context, making them easy to understand. Apparently the Department of Defense agrees with me on this, since they have selected Mr. Cantrell’s book as a text for the National War College in Washington DC. This is a must read for all military officers and business leaders. It rated a perfect five hearts.
Publisher and Chief Reviewer for Heartland Reviews, Leavenworth, KS
Midwest Book Reviews (Reviewer’s Choice Selection)
Robert L. Cantrell’s Understanding Sun Tzu On The Art Of War contains both the complete translated text of Sun Tzu’s enduring classic on battle strategy, and a modern-day interpretation packed with advice on leadership, learning to keep one’s intentions a secret from one’s opponents, leveraging advantages as the key to victory, and a great deal more. An excellent resource for anyone seeking self-improvement through internalizing Sun Tzu’s wisdom, Understanding Sun Tzu on the Art of War is thoughtful and thought-provoking reading of the highest order.
Sonshi.com, the largest online resource for The Art of War
Your book was extremely thorough in its explanation and presentation and is the standard on which all other analyses of Sun Tzu should be based.
The many, different individuals who have read the Art of War has range from managers, military generals, kings, princes, your everyday entrepreneur. In the vastly change world of business today, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War has been to attain the formlessness. For over two thousand years, Tzu’s words have been able to translated and understood by countless people and it will still continue in the same fashion. We often think how did true leader do what they did thousands of year ago without the aid of technology, but we should think on how mimic them because one individual has survive through the ages without a wrinkle.
The Art of War. (2006). Retrieved November 08, 2010 from Understanding the Art of War: http://www.artofwarsuntzu.com/.
Tzu, S. (1988). The Art of War. (T. Cleary, Trans.). Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala.
Contact Info: To contact the author of this “Summary and Review of The Art of War,” please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.blogspot.com/), a hub of research and news in the expanding world of competitive bidding. Dr. Wyld also maintains compilations of works he has helped his students to turn into editorially-reviewed publications at the following sites:
· Management Concepts (http://toptenmanagement.blogspot.com/)
· Book Reviews (http://wyld-about-books.blogspot.com/) and
· Travel and International Foods (http://wyld-about-food.blogspot.com/).