In ancient China, wars left millions dead and the leaders in search of a new way of governing. In the Art of War, Sun Tzu recommended a strategic method to win that rarely required actual war. Spies, diplomats, deception, and a well organised internal structure were his main tools. If it came to war though, he had detailed insight into its methods and strategies.

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Sun Tzu's Art of War

More than war, the book is all about victory.  How to get what you want without conflict.  How to win if conflict arises.  To describe his strategy, in the first chapter, Sun Tzu describes its five elements:

Chinese Character Direct translation Meaning in the Art of War Examples
- dao path mutual philosophy & purpose of the group patriotism, team sprit, shared values
- tian heaven environmental factors time, seasons, light, darkness
- di earth situation distance from opponent, even or uneven ground
- jiang leader leadership intelligence, credibility, compassion, courage, discipline
- fa law art, as in "Art of War" the ability to perceive and implement the strategic concept

Mutual philosophy

Even enemies will help each other if they are together on a boat that is in trouble.  Similarly shared ideas and identification bind people together into a useful, cohesive team. 

Business examples: Team spirit, employees identification with the brand, mission statement (in the rare case that the staff actually believe in it), mutual trust amongst staff and management. 

Environment

The prevailing conditions determine what plans you can undertake.  These conditions are to big and general to be controlled by people, hence the use of the Chinese character for heaven ().  You need to understand them and take them into account. 

Business examples: Economic cycle, election cycle, financial reporting cycle, shopping season, zeitgeist.

 

Situation

This is similar in effect to environment but on a smaller scale that you and your opponent can control, if you know how. 

 

Leadership

Leadership allows you to make good plans because of your perception, foresight, emotional intelligence and objectivity.  It allows you to implement your plans because of your control of your troops.

 

Art

This is the skill and ability to implement your strategy.  Preparation and coordination are essential here.

 

Other Recurring Ideas

Sun Tzu explains several times that you should make yourself well defended, but that victory comes from taking advantage of your opponents' actions.

Straightforward attacks are hard to win.

Having a conflict is bad.  Having a long conflict is always a disaster, even if you are victorious in the end.