The Art of War in Practice in 2009

Just a quick note. Watch for practice of Sun Tsu's philosophies in the world around you.

Perhaps our President Obama has read The Art of War, as suggested by his push to put strategy before resources in Afghanistan.

Apparently I’m not alone in this thought.


Pitching a No-Hitter

So, to recap our journey to-date:

In Chapter 1 – Making of Plans, You learned to not hasten into war in a fit of anger. Take the necessary time to analyze Your 5 Fundamentals against those of Your Enemy. Only when complete, exhaustive and honest analysis proves beyond a doubt that You will be victorious, and only after you have designed and tested infinite strategies, should You make the final decision to wage war.

In Chapter 2 – Waging of War, You learned to not under estimate the prohibitive cost of war. It is an ongoing cost, piling up daily, and borne by You – unless You can shift the cost to The Enemy. A supersonic, wicked strong and single-minded war will end quickly and inexpensively, leave Your reputation intact and Your allies still Your allies. Reward Your supporters and bring the battleground back to normal quickly.

Chapter 3 – Strategic Offensive

Master Sun said:

In War,
Better take
A state
Than destroy it.

Better take
An army,
A regiment,
A detachment,
A company,
Than destroy them.

Ultimate excellence lies
Not in winning
Every battle
But in defeating the enemy
Without ever fighting.
The highest form of warfare
Is to attack
Strategy itself;

The next,
To attack

The next,
To attack

The lowest form of war is
To attack
Siege warfare
Is a last resort.

In Strategic Offensive we return quickly to the Taoist concept of The Way – inherent and unexplainable rightness – in stating that it is better (The Way) to take a State intact than to destroy it. It is much more honorable and ethical – not to mention the positive spin that could be generated on worldwide cable TV and at the United Nations – to simply render The Enemy impotent… to seize control and leave the infrastructure intact.

Regardless the size of the organism being battled, Your reputation and esteem will suffer less – could actually be enhanced if your gripe serendipitously follows The Way – by diminishing the damage during initial occupation.

The Mother of All Strategies – The Way to the nth! – would be to win the battle without ever fighting, employing the Taoist ideal that the most Skillful Warrior is never warlike.

Ultimately the goal of waging war is to control or overpower The Enemy. This can be achieved using the exhaustive planning and testing from Making of Plans. Duplicity and deception, as we mentioned in “Two Negatives Make a Positive”, can be a means to this end. Psychology or espionage can also lead to pitching a no-hitter. The use of firepower is an immediate detour off The Way.

There is a hierarchy which can be followed so as to diminish the damage of conflict. Attack at the point of strategy – while Your opponent is still planning. Next, break the ties of Your Enemy – isolate him from allies. If you must engage, have your professionals fight their professionals. And never, ever, ever attack The People.

Next time, how does all this relate to the Cube Dweller.


Bearing the Cost

The killing of an enemy
Stems from
The fighting for booty
Stems from
A desire for reward.

In chariot fighting,
When more than ten
Enemy chariots are captured,
The man to take the first
Should be rewarded.
Change the enemy’s
Chariot flags and standards;
Mingle their chariots
With ours.

Treat prisoners of war kindly,
And care for them.
Use victory over the enemy
To enhance your own strength.

In War,
Prize victory,
Not a protracted campaign.

The wise general
Is a Lord of Destiny;
He holds the nation’s
Peace or peril
In his hands.

As our discussion equates both The Nation and The Wise General to You, the Cube Dweller, a single individual, You must possess and use the required wisdom. And You will bear all associated costs.

If you are determined to cause this conflict, take care of your health and your reputation - drain those of the enemy. Integrate spoils into your own empire. Reward those who help you. Avoid collateral damage. Make the War as swift as possible. And bring the work place environment back to normal as quickly as possible.

Next time: Chapter 3 – Strategic Offensive


The Cost of War

Chapter 2 – Waging of War

Master Sun said:

In War,
For an army of
One thousand
Four-horse swift chariots,
One thousand
Hide-armored wagons,
For one hundred thousand
Mail-clad soldiers,
With provisions for
Four hundred miles;

Allowing for
Expenses at home and at the front,
Dealings with envoys and advisers;
Glue and lacquer,
Repairs to chariots and armor;
The daily cost of all this
Will exceed
One thousand taels of silver.

In War,
Victory should be
If victory is slow,
Men tire,
Morale sags.
Exhaust strength;
Protracted campaigns
Strain the public treasury.

If men are tired,
Morale is low,
Strength exhausted,
Treasure spent;
Then the feudal lords
Will exploit the disarray
And attack.
This even the wisest
Will be powerless
To mend.

I have heard that in war
Hast can be
But I have never seen
Delay that was

No nation has ever benefited
From a protracted war.

Without a full understanding of
The harm
Caused by war,
It is impossible to understand
The most profitable way
Of conducting it.

The Skillful Warrior
Never conscripts troops
A second time;
Never transports provisions
A third.

He brings equipment from home
But forages off the enemy.
And so his men
Have plenty to eat.

Supplying an army
At a distance
Drains the public coffers
And impoverishes
The common people.

Where an army is close at hand,
Prices rise;
When prices rise,
The common people
Spend all they have;
When they spend all,
They feel the pinch of
Taxes and levies.

Strength is depleted
On the battlefield;
Families at home
Are destitute.

The common people
Lose seven-tenths
Of their wealth.
Six-tenths of the public coffers
Are spent
On broken chariots,
Worn-out horses,
Armor and helmets,
Crossbows and arrows,
Spears and bucklers,
Lances and shields,
Draft animals,
Heavy wagons.

So a wise general
Feeds his army
Off the enemy.
One peck
Of enemy provisions
Is worth twenty
Carried from home;
One picul
Of enemy fodder
Is worth twenty
Carried from home.

Analysis accomplished, the decision to attack behind You, now it’s time for The Warmonger to understand the cost of his endeavor.

Sun-tzu was perhaps the first military strategist, and his skill and insight led to his being sought by overlords and kings who wanted to expand or save their dynasties – we may imagine he was a Blackwater consultant. At the beginning of my reading of The Art of War, I acknowledged that Sun-tzu’s methods were created for an audience with different goals than You, Gentle Cube Dweller. After some reflection I’ve concluded that Your goals are probably the same – expanding or saving Your dynasty – the difference being that Your dynasty is distinctly smaller.

Master Sun, in advising Warriors, spoke in material financial terms – for x-number of battle-ready soldiers, the king must plan for y-number of humvees, z-number of tanks, and zzzzzzzz-number of dollars per day – for soldiers and officers and bribes and spies and repairs and VA hospital care of wounded GIs and whatever else. He makes it very clear that war is expensive – every day – a black hole into which you pour cash.

But what would be the currency paid by the Cube Dweller who wages war in the office space? I believe he would pay on an external level, and an internal level. Externally, the Attacker would lose job productivity due to exhaustive analysis and surveillance required; he would potentially lose political capital in the office if his war is carried out clumsily or without deception; he could ultimately lose his reputation and his job. Internally he faces burnout, paying with his health, his stability, his peace of mind.

A war which has been analyzed and decided, and which is prohibitively expensive, should be swift and powerful, The Enemy put out of his misery quickly and humanely – lest the all too familiar domino effect Sun-tzu describes happen to you, (as we’ve experienced our own Homeland) toppling your regard, degrading your mental and physical health.

“No nation has ever benefited from a protracted war.” Boy, don’t we know that?

"Without a full understanding of the harm caused by war, it is impossible to understand the most profitable way of conducting it."

Understand the enormity of the cost of battle. Supply Your own hardware -- only what You need to bring with You from home. Do not pay for nourishment -- take Your perishables from The Enemy. Deplete The Enemy, drain the enemy.

Next time, the end of Chapter 2.


The Outcome is Apparent

This is
Victory in warfare;
It cannot be
In advance.

Victory belongs to the side
That scores most
In the temple calculations
Before battle.
Defeat belongs to the side
That scores least
In the temple calculations
Before battle.
Most spells victory;
Least spells defeat;
None, surer defeat.
I see it in this way.
And the outcome is apparent.

At first glance at this final section of Chapter 1 – Making of Plans, Master Sun offers us a brief section of seemingly contradictory guidance – victory cannot be divulged in advance. Wha?

Yet he quickly returns to his theme – victory belongs to the combatant most prepared.

The ‘temple calculations’ wording, according to translator Minford, refers to war games, simulations of battles. The side that practices war games most, wins.

So, by keeping Your eyes open for advantageous opportunities to move forward, applying cunning and treachery, and keeping Your Enemy off balance, if you have run through every possible course of action and angle and are prepared with a devious plan for 99 & 44/100% of the infinite scenarios, the outcome is apparent.

In Summary:

In Chapter 1 Master Sun instructs that war should only be waged after careful analysis of the Five Fundamentals, and only then if You have ascertained You are stronger than Your Enemy. After deciding to proceed and before striking, You must outline a loosely held strategy and prepare for infinite situations. Exhaustive analysis and preparation complete, You move forward in Deception, keeping your enemy disturbed and surprised. And by keeping your eyes open for every opening and taking it! – the outcome is apparent. Victory is Yours.

Next time, Chapter Two – Waging of War.


Two Negatives Make a Positive

Settle on the best plan,
Exploit the dynamic within,
Develop it without,

Follow the advantage,
And master opportunity:
This is the dynamic.

The Way of War is
A Way of Deception.

When able,
Feign inability;

When deploying troops,
Appear not to be.

When near,
Appear far.

When far,
Appear near.

Lure with bait;

Strike with chaos.

If the enemy is full,
Be prepared.
If strong,
Avoid him.

If he is angry,
Disconcert him.

If he is weak,
Stir him to pride.

If he is relaxed,
Harry him;

If his men are harmonious,
Split them.

Where he is
Where you are

If You have analyzed your situation, calculated your odds of winning, and decided to move forward in causing conflict in your organization, Master Sun says develop a loose strategy, put it into play, and keep your eyes open for advantageous opportunities to push that strategy forward.

The Way of War, is a Way of Deception. This is a phrase that I believe can be problematic for us on many levels.

First we have to revisit that difficult concept of The Way. Just as we originally said, every endeavor has a Way – war has a Way. Master Sun says The Way of War is Deception.

What a dilemma. We spend our entire lives learning that deception is negative, bad, lying is bad. Then we learn that everything in the world has a Way – which has been explained as the right way to do something. And The Way, the right way, to conduct war is through deception, lying. So, The Way of war is a negative thing.
If we consider war itself a negative and The Way of war a negative, and we apply the rule of two negatives making a positive -- and shake (never stir) -- we can arrive at the second part of the equation where waging war by following The Way of war has a positive outcome.

While this deliberation is labyrinthine and blurred by a mist of je ne sais quoi -- wrongdoing? – isn’t a victory exactly what You, Gentle Warmonger, Conflict Causer, seek?

So once we make the intellectual leap that the right way to succeed at a negative task is by behaving in a way we’ve been taught is bad, we’re ready to move forward.

Deception defined as lying is too heavy-handed and narrow for our purposes here – what You must be is cunning, devious, crafty, treacherous, duplicitous, etc., etc., etc. Following the framework of the loose strategy laid out, and keeping alert for favorable fissures, You must now be slippery.

You must be totally unpredictable, everywhere and nowhere, inside and outside, and ever changing. You must keep The Enemy off balance. And once he figures he’s figured You out, You must change again.

Very important, also, that You know what he’s up to, know his mood, and approach him in a totally unexpected manner.

See you next time, same Sun time, same Sun channel!


The Predestined Outcome

For this deliberation
For the making of comparisons,
And the assessing of conditions,

Which ruler
Has the Way?

Which general
Has the ability?

Which side has
Heaven and Earth?

On which side
Is discipline
More effective?

Which army
Is the stronger?

Whose officers and men
Are better trained?

In which army
Are rewards and punishments

From these
Can be known
Victory and defeat.

Heed my plan,
Employ me,
And victory is surely yours;
I will stay.

Do not heed my plan,
And even if you did employ me,
You would surely be defeated;
I will depart.

In this segment of text from The Art of War, Sun-Tzu is speaking as a strategist, marketing himself to a person who wants to wage war.

He is stepping through the Five Fundamentals once more before he moves on, asking the warmonger to believe the wisdom and reality that cold calculation and analysis can determine the outcome before the gauntlet is thrown.

In my opinion, Master Sun understands the fundamental hubris of moguls and the ease with which those in power slip into a pattern of presumed infallibility. He is stating for the last time that acting on this unwise conviction – absent the calculation and analysis – can lead to a conflict in which a negative outcome was predestined.

If you don’t follow my plan, I won’t stay with you through certain failure.

It may be even more difficult for the Cube Dweller than the leader to analyze his beef and his situation with objectivity, especially those climbing the career ladder. So much more, relatively speaking, is at stake and there is such egotistic and emotional investment by CD. Yet this goal at stake is exactly why the scenario must be documented and flowcharted and sliced and diced and analyzed to the nth degree with total honesty and open-mindedness.

And You should only move forward if analysis proves beyond doubt You have the conflict sewed up.

Next time, Sun-tzu moves deeper into the Plan.


The Five Fundamentals

The Way
Causes men
To be of one mind
With their rulers,
To live or die with them,
And never to waver.

Heaven is
Yin and Yang,
Cold and hot,
The cycle of seasons.

Earth is
Height and depth,
Distance and proximity,
Ease and danger,
Open and confined ground,
Life and death.

Command is

Discipline is
Chain of command,
Control of expenditure.

Every commander is aware
Of these
Five Fundamentals.
He who grasps them
He who fails to grasp them

As we continue Chapter 1 – Making of Plans, it’s important that we try to fully understand The Way. Since my interpretation is targeted for the individual Cube Dweller in the trenches the question is, are you a person who lives by the high moral ground? Are you a good person whose foremost ideal is justice, regardless of where you stand in the equation? This requires honest self-evaluation.

Just as importantly, is your Enemy a good person whose foremost ideal is justice? Which of you would rank highest in this category?

Important in this, as with all Five Fundamentals, that you be brutally honest in your evaluation of yourself, and in comparison of your Enemy with yourself. This is not a time for righteous indignation or idealism, an emotional declaration of being right – if ever there was a time for someone to be a realist, evaluating your character against that of your Enemy is the time.

Heaven for the Cube Dweller is code for Timing, which I believe can be viewed in multiple ways. Is this the time – in your organization, in your market, in your life, in your career – for you to cause conflict? Is it the right time in your Enemy’s life to wage war?

Another way to regard Timing is do you have the intuition, self control and skill to act and react in Yang fashion (quick, sharp, forceful) in attack, and in Yin fashion (hidden, subtle, still) in retreat? Do you have the insight to know when the iron is hot and when you should sound retreat? Can you sense when the tide has turned. Can your Enemy?

Earth is terrain, Corporate Culture. What is espoused top down throughout your organization? No matter what the stated values are, what are the true values in there? Does your issue and vantage point fall within these values? Does your Enemy’s? Regardless of who were to cause this conflict, introduce this issue – would your particular viewpoint pass the muster of your Corporate Culture?

In discussing Command with respect to a General, Sun-tzu lists Wisdom, Integrity, Compassion, Courage and Severity. A commander who possesses all these traits will win in battle and will earn and keep the respect, loyalty and veneration of his troops. For the Individual, Command seems to question, do you possess these traits, or some variation of them, and have they earned you the respect, loyalty and veneration of your peers. Compare your level of esteem, your reputation, with that of your Enemy. Again, this is a tough one, and must be approached with brutal honesty.

Regarding Discipline, an Individual must ask himself if he has what it takes to complete the task, is he ready to go the mile, does he have the intestinal fortitude to fight to the end. Does the Enemy?

“He who grasps them”, I believe, speaks not only of You, the Cube Dweller, understanding the Five Fundamentals, but of You possessing the Five Fundamentals. Possessing them more fully than your Enemy. “He who fails to grasp them loses.”

So, to this point in our journey, we’ve learned that a war, a conflict, must not be undertaken lightly, but must be evaluated honestly and thoroughly. And only if You possess the Five Fundamentals more completely than your Enemy can You hope to win.

Next, our journey through The Art of War Chapter 1 continues.


Beginning with the Beginning

In reading Chapter 1 of The Art of War, and the accompanying commentary, it becomes evident that a student of The Art of War needs to have at least a rudimentary understanding of Eastern/Taoist/Chinese philosophy. Since I am writing this blog for the individual, the Cube Dweller, who is simply trying to successfully navigate the aisles without being Mongol-ed by Genghis Kahn (and without becoming Genghis Kahn), I will work to give a basic, straightforward and un-nuanced explanation of terms (accompanied by the jagged blue line so you can explore the topic to your heart’s content).

Some concepts I’ll take more care to interpret as – though I’m reading The Art of War for the first time – my previous readings of Eastern philosophy emphasize the same words and I believe we’ll be seeing them throughout this entire book.

Chapter 1: Making of Plans

Master Sun said:
War is
A grave affair of state:
It is a place
Of life and death.
A road
To survival and extinction,
A matter
To be pondered carefully.

There are Five Fundamentals
For this deliberation,
For the making of comparisons
And the assessing of conditions:
The Way,

In this first part of Making of Plans, it is directly stated that making War (causing conflict with the purpose of winning something) is a grave matter, undertaken very often too lightly (don’t we know that!). War always changes the status quo, a positive outcome usually reserved for the victor. War should be chosen only as a last resort.

(Most of the commentators point out that those who take pleasure in creating conflict are wrong and criminal; there is no beauty in victory.)

There are five elements of every situation which must be assessed before choosing this last resort. And the analysis must be thorough and honest in comparing Your strengths and weaknesses with those of The Enemy.

The Five Fundamentals
o The text states: The Way; Heaven; Earth; Command; Discipline
o Translation for Generals: Compassion, integrity of the ruler; The Seasons; The Terrain; Chosen Leader; Authority over the troops
o Tranlation for Cube Dwellers: The Moral High Ground; Timing; Corporate Culture; Others' opinion of you; Are you prepared to do what is necessary

(This table is subject to change as my understanding grows with the reading.)

The Way is a difficult Taoist concept to explain, and it is even said that “the Way that can be spoken of is not the true Way”. Every endeavor has a Way – how you treat others has a Way, waiting your turn at Starbucks or the gym has a Way, finding a lounge chair at a crowded beach resort has a Way. It’s an intangible concept, not easily stated, but everyone inherently knows what is right (the Way) and what is not.

In this case it means are You, the Cube Dweller who is considering War, operating within the value system of the organization, do you hold the moral high ground in the issue which is causing you to contemplate War?

As earlier stated this must be honestly compared against the moral ground and value system of your stated Enemy. Never underestimate the value of the moral high ground.

Next installment: Chapter 1 continued.

(In the background I can hear from my TV Beatrix Kiddo is using her Hattori Hanzo sword on O-Ren Ishi.)


Beginning with a Single Step

Maybe it’s my imagination, but it seems that an unusually large number of sites I visit in my web wanderings reference The Art of War, a short (yet jam-packed) Taoist book on military strategy purportedly written by Chinese General Sun-tzu in the Fifth Century BCE.* As a Googlophile, I’m a sucker for clicking on the jagged blue underlines and following where they lead, and the more I read about The Art of War, the bigger the topic got and the bigger my interest became.

Written as a military strategy, the author supports using ethical behavior and “defeating the enemy without ever fighting”, and takes an analytical approach to learning the enemy’s weaknesses, tricking the enemy – essentially wrenching warfare from the fists of barbarians bent on causing widespread damage to prove superiority of strength, and transforming it into an elegant gentleman’s game where an entire army can be defeated by the mental equivalent of a Five Point Palm Exploding Heart strike.

Used through the centuries by militarists, including Generals we know such as Norman Schwarzkopf, the 20th and 21st Centuries have seen the philosophy and tactics within studied and used by Henry Kissinger, Gordon Gekko, and Tony Soprano. It has morphed into a business strategy text, taught in MBA studies and used all along Wall Street. And conventional wisdom suggests that the strategies can be applied across a universe of verticals.

Which led me to wonder, has The Art of War ever been used for other “horizontals” – can the insights be interpreted not just for the Generals, but also for the troops? Can these same age-old strategies be employed in Cube World?

So that’s my challenge. I bought The Art of War (translation by John Minford) and have started reading the 13 Chapters (with commentary included). My goal is to distill the poetry and philosophy into bits of wisdom directed at the great American workforce.

And so, as stated by another wise Taoist, Lao-tzu, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ** This is my first step.

* I have no interest in debating the dates or spellings – irrelevant to the topic at hand.
** I have no interest in debating the various translations – irrelevant to the topic at hand.