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Sun Tzu’s The Art of WarBeyond the great fadby Miroslav ŠebekMay 2013Most actual and most relevant to business strategyFrom the ancient text on war strategyExplained and glossedThe paragraphs
How to read this presentation:Chapter¶graphin The Art of War inRoman numeralsEnglish text of the paragraph in translation ofLionel Giles (which is now English standard of TheArt of The War)Text from author of this presentation : glosses, historic examples, parallelsto business strategy etc.
This is true essence of strategy for me that you never have resources satisfying all yourneeds, so you MUST make decisions on allocation of your resources, exploit yourweaknesses as baits and your strenghts as jaw for your beast, and grab initiative !VI.17 For should the enemy strengthen his van, he will weaken his rear;should he strengthen his rear, he will weaken his van; should hestrengthen his left, he will weaken his right; should he strengthenhis right, he will weaken his left. If he sends reinforcementseverywhere, he will everywhere be weak.Who will win ? Really 50:50 ?
• This is about the whole of the army! By contrast, leader MUST be ignorant about(1),(2) or (3) concerning a unit of the army if such regards endanger whole army!• In 1917 British general Douglas Haig broke morale of his army by futile andsenseless offensives in Paschendale battle.• On opposite, in November of 1941 commander of Western front G.K.Zhukovcategoricaly refused request of his subordinate general K.K.Rokossovsky for aminor retreat of his 16th army to better defendable position. The result wasmajor damage inflicted on 16th army but morale of Western front remainedundamaged; important few days before first Russian major offensive.III.12 There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune uponhis army:—III.13 (1) By commanding the army to advance or to retreat, beingignorant of the fact that it cannot obey. This is called hobblingthe army.III.14 (2) By attempting to govern an army in the same way as headministers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions whichobtain in an army. This causes restlessness in the soldier’s minds.III.15 (3) By employing the officers of his army without discrimination,through ignorance of the military principle of adaptation tocircumstances. This shakes the confidence of the soldiers.
How many business leaders afraids battle with equally strong opponent ! They sayinstead ‘ I employ Blue ocean strategy – battles are not necessary for me ’. Really?I’ve read the famous book from Kim and Mauborgne and seen some presentationson the topic – and there was nothing about shrinking of company and decline inincomes. This is more typical for companies which have fled a market battle than forthat ones which have developed uncontested marketspace...III.9 If equally matched, we can offer battle; if slightly inferior innumbers, we can avoid the enemy; if quite unequal in every way,we can flee from him.
This is not about leaders skillful in fleeing battle without any fighting, with theirforces intact and without losing a man! Sun Tzu should have highlight more that hisrules are intended for average generals seeking mastery, not for zero level strategistsin top positions seeking an alibi. Some people have really perverted these twoarticles from ‘The Art of the War’ into ‘Sun Tzu urged us avoid battle for any price’ !III.6 Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops withoutany fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them;he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in thefield.III.7 With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the Empire,and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete.This is the method of attacking by stratagem.
• General may be strong and with authority but his orders still may be unclear...• Job of a commander-in-chief is to convert Scarcity of resources, Uncertaintyabout future and Complexity of environment into Clear, Unambiguous andAttainable orders for his subordinates. There is no exception and no excuse fornot doing so!• If he tries to avoid the decision making, his subordinates become commanders-in-chief at their own – they have to deal with Scarcity, Uncertainty andComplexity in his stead. Very common situation in many western corporations!X.18 When the general is weak and without authority; when hisorders are not clear and distinct; when there are no fixed dutiesassigned to officers and men, and the ranks are formed in aslovenly haphazard manner, the result is utter disorganization.I think it must be slightly reworded in order to see the point(s):X.18 When the general is weak and without authority OR when hisorders are not clear and distinct OR when there are no fixedduties assigned to officers and men, and the ranks are formed ina slovenly haphazard manner, the result is utter disorganization.
That’s why western companies seek decisive, dynamic, strong and persitentmanagers – they have to run from one attacked point to another through all wilds atwill of their smart eastern adversaries.Never attack directly what is dear to YOU – it’s predictable and you’ll crash into wellprepared defence (like Wehrmacht in Kursk battle). Instead lure opponent’s forcesaway to defend objectives which are dear to HIM/HER and subsequently reap yourunprotected objective.VI.5 Appear at points which the enemy must hasten to defend; marchswiftly to places where you are not expected.XI.18 If asked how to cope with a great host of the enemy in orderlyarray and on the point of marching to the attack, I should say:“Begin by seizing something which your opponent holds dear;then he will be amenable to your will.”XI.66 Forestall your opponent by seizing what he holds dear, and subtlycontrive to time his arrival on the ground.
• It looks very naturally that some potential objectives must be ignored, but reallyisn’t. E.g. medieval obsession with fortresses is still alive in many military brains.In a similar way, business minds are frequenly obsessed with diversification, nomatter that in their case it may be harmful. No custom, no fad, no tool, no greatleader of the past can absolve a strategic leader from his/her basic duty – toassess current strategic situation !• To disobey sovereign (or company owner) is definitely the utmost measure inrelation between the sovereign and his/her commander-in-chief. However, insome extreme cases it must be introduced (e.g. panicked or insane sovereign).• More frequently, appointed commander-in-chief doesn’t do decisions onresource allocation and factual strategic decisions are made by middle officers ormanagers facing impossible to fulfil tasks. They may be desperate enough todisobey inept commander-in-chief and sovereign too, usually in a very noisy way.VIII.3 There are roads which must not be followed, armies which mustbe not attacked, towns which must not be besieged, positionswhich must not be contested, commands of the sovereign whichmust not be obeyed.X.23 If fighting is sure to result in victory, then you must fight, eventhough the ruler forbid it; if fighting will not result in victory, thenyou must not fight even at the ruler’s bidding.
Some commanders, some cultures and some nations are obsessed with idea of singleall-out decisive head-to-head battle with main body of enemy army. On example,ancient Romans.Here is well known story of consul Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus Cunctatorfrom second Puny war (following text is copied from Wikipedia):“Fabius was well aware of the military superiority of the Carthaginians, and so Fabius refused tomeet Hannibal in a pitched battle. Instead he kept his troops close to Hannibal, hoping toexhaust him in a long war of attrition. Fabius was able to harass the Carthaginian foragingparties, limiting Hannibals ability to wreak destruction while conserving his own military force.The delaying tactics involved a pincer of not directly engaging Hannibal while also exercising a"scorched earth" practice to prevent Hannibals forces from obtaining grain and other resources.The Romans were unimpressed with this defensive strategy and at first gave Fabius his epithetCunctator (=Indecisive) as an insult. “Ultimately, Romans sacked Fabius and appointed ‘decisive’ consuls Varro and Paulluswho immediatelly led Roman legions towards long-desired decisive battle withHannibal. The result of the battle was epic debacle near Cannae where Romans lostin one day more than 50000 soldiers including ‘decisive’ consul Paullus.VI.30 So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at whatis weak.
Sun Tzu says : PLACE...! You, you have to place your army ...!Sun Tzu doesn’t say: LET YOUR foe to place your army in desperate straits...!That’s the difference, that’s the wit : even in straits, you have initiative. This is whyAlexander defeated much more stronger Dareios in battle of Gaugamela, this is whySun Tzu defeated stronger army of Chu kingdom, using himself as bait.XI.24 Soldiers when in desperate straits lose the sense of fear. If thereis no place of refuge, they will stand firm. If they are in hostilecountry, they will show a stubborn front. If there is no help for it,they will fight hard.XI.58 Place your army in deadly peril, and it will survive; plunge it intodesperate straits, and it will come off in safety.
True. Nothing to add. If somebody wants to carry out honest war, I wish him/hergreat success. The same to people who believe that business needs no battles.I.18 All warfare is based on deception.
All my presentations on strategy andcorporate culturePersonal planning of strategist http://www.slideshare.net/kerimek/personnal-planning-of-strategistMy glosses to famous Sun Tzu’s The Art of War http://www.slideshare.net/kerimek/the-art-of-war-glossesSurprising roots of bad organizational culture http://www.slideshare.net/kerimek/roots-of-badcultureSurprising roots of bad organizational culture – shortened version http://www.slideshare.net/kerimek/roots-of-bad-culture-shortened-versionStrategic management as group of human beings http://www.slideshare.net/kerimek/strategic-management-as-group-of-human-beingsEnlargement of a small power plant http://www.slideshare.net/kerimek/enlargement-of-a-small-power-plant-project-and-strategy
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