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.