Saturday, November 20, 2010

Book Review By Professor M.S.Rao “The Art of War Sun Tzu” Foreword By James Clavell

”A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” - Lao Tzu

The book titled ‘The Art of War Sun Tzu’ with foreword by James Clavell is a tiny thin book about the art of war providing leadership lessons to everybody. Sun Tzu wrote this book 2500 years ago. It contains several leadership lessons that are relevant even today and would be relevant tomorrow. The book equips you with secrets and strategies to face several challenges and succeed in this complex and competitive world. After reading this book, you will not brood about problems rather you look at the solutions to come out of the problems with flying colors.

The book contains 13 chapters outlining about laying plans; waging war; attack by stratagem; tactical dispositions; energy; weak points and strong; maneuvering; variation of tactics; the army on the march; terrain; the nine situations; the attack by fire; and the use of spies.

The book breaks the ice with ‘The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death. A road to either safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of enquiry which can on no account be neglected. It ends: ‘Hence it is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use the highest intelligence of the army for purposes of spying, and thereby they achieve great results. Spies are a most important element in war because upon them depends an army’s ability to move.’

About Sun Tzu and Translation:

Not to have heard about Sun Tzu means not knowing anything about leadership and strategy. However, little is known of the man himself. He wrote the thirteen chapters in approximately 490 BC in the Kingdom of Wu. Sun Tzu became a general for the King of Wu in 512 BC.

In 1782 The Art of War was first translated into French by a Jesuit, Father Amiot. There is a legend that this little book was Napoleon’s key to success and his secret weapon. Certainly his battles depended upon mobility, and mobility is one of the things that Sun Tzu stresses. Certainly Napoleon used all of Sun Tzu to his own advantage to conquer most of Europe. It was only when he failed to follow Sun Tzu’s rules that he was defeated.

The Art of War was not translated into English until 1905. The first English translation was by P.F.Calthrop.

Leadership Lessons:

“The supreme act of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting ….”
The book reveals several military strategies for both offending and defending which can be applied in corporate world. Here are the hallmarks and the takeaways about the book.
• In peace prepare for war, in war prepare for peace.
• To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.
• He who wishes to fight must first count the cost, which prepares us for the discovery that the subject of the chapter is not what we might expect from the title, but is primarily a consideration of way and means.
• In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns. That means, while waging war focus on war and win, not on blowing your trumpet.
• We must cause the enemy to regard our straightforward attack as one that is secretly designed, and vice versa.
• Steadily develop indirect tactics either by pounding the enemy’s flanks or falling on his rear.
• There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combination of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard. There are not more than five primary colors, blue, yellow, red, white and black. There are not more than five cardinal tastes, sour, acrid, salt, sweet, bitter. Yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.
• Simulated disorder postulates perfect discipline; simulated fear postulates courage; simulated weakness postulates strength.
• When two countries go to war, they are naturally inclined to make an ostentatious display of their strength.
• The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and does not require too much from individuals.
• He first of all considers the power of his army in the bulk; afterwards he takes individual talent into account, and uses each man according to his capabilities. He does not demand perfection from the untalented.
• The chief lesson is the paramount importance in war of rapid evolutions and sudden rushes. Great results can thus be achieved with small forces.
• Emerge from the void, strike at vulnerable points, shun places that are defended, attack in unexpected quarters.
• If the enemy is the invading party, we can cut his line of communications and occupy the roads by which he will have to return; if we are the invaders, we may direct our attack against the sovereign himself. It is clear that Sun Tzu was no believer in frontal attacks.
• By discovering the enemy’s dispositions and remaining invisible ourselves, we can keep our forces concentrated, while the enemy’s must be divided.
• If the enemy’s dispositions are visible, we can make for him in one body; whereas, our own dispositions being kept secret, the enemy will be obliged to divide his forces in order to guard against attack from every quarter.
• The spot where we intend to fight must not be made known; for then the enemy will have to prepare against a possible attack at several different points.
• The highest generalship is to compel the enemy to disperse his army, and then to concentrate superior force against each fraction in turn.
• In war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.
• Like water, take the line of least resistance. As water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions. The five elements: water, fire, wood, metal, earth, are not always equally predominant; the four seasons make way for each other in turn. There are short days and long; the moon has its periods of wanting and waxing.
• He, who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain.
• Without harmony in the State, no military expedition can be undertaken; without harmony in the army, no battle array can be formed.
• You cannot shut your ears to the thunder or your eyes to the lighting – so rapid are they. Likewise, an attack should be made so quickly that it cannot be parried.
• Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.
• The value of a whole army – a mighty host of million men – dependent on the one man alone: such is the influence of spirit!
• Presence of mind is the general’s most important asset. It is the quality which enables him to discipline disorder and to inspire courage into the panic-stricken. The great general Li Ching (A.D. 571-649) has a saying: ‘Attacking does not merely consist in assaulting walled cities or striking at an army in battle array; it must include the art of assailing the enemy’s mental equilibrium.’
• Do not pursue an enemy who simulates flight; do not attack soldiers whose temper is keen.
• Do not swallow a bait offered by the enemy. Do not interfere with an army that is returning home.
• When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. This does not mean that the enemy is to be allowed to escape. The object is ‘to make him believe that there is a road to safety, and thus prevent his fighting with the courage despair.’ Tu Mu adds pleasantly: ‘After that, you may crush him.’
• Do not press a desperate foe too hard.
• If we wish to wrest an advantage from the enemy, we must not fix our minds on that alone, but allow for the possibility of the enemy also doing some harm to us, and let this enter as a factor into our calculations.
• The wise man considers well both advantage and disadvantage. He sees a way out of adversity, and on the day of victory is not blind to danger.
• There are five dangerous faults which may affect a general; 1) recklessness, which leads to destruction; 2) cowardice, which leads to capture; 3) a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults; 4) a delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame; 5) over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble.
• When birds that are flying along in a straight line suddenly shoot upwards, it means that soldiers are in ambush at the spot beneath.
• Humble words and increased preparations are signs that the enemy is about to advance. Violent language and driving forward as if to the attack are signs that he will retreat.
• Fear makes men restless; so they fall to shouting at night in order to keep up their courage.
• If there is disturbance in the camp, the general’s authority is weak. If the banners and flags are shifted about, sedition is afoot. If the officers are angry, it means that the men are weary.
• When an army feeds its horses with grain and kills its cattle for food, and when the men do not hang their cooking-pots over the camp-fires, showing that they will not return to their tents, you may know that they are determined to fight to the death.
• Too frequent rewards signify that the enemy is at the end of his resources; Because when an army is hard pressed, there is always a fear of mutiny, and lavish rewards are given to keep the men in good temper.
• The commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness.
• The five cardinal virtues of the Chinese are (1) humanity or benevolence; 2) uprightness of mind; (3) self-respect, self-control, or ‘proper feeling’; (4) wisdom; (5) sincerity or good faith.
• Attack him when he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
• If attackers and attacked are equally matched in strength, only the able general will fight.
• War is not a thing to be trifled with.
• Knowing the enemy enables you to take the offensive, knowing yourself enables you to stand on the defensive. Attack is the secret of defence; defence is the planning of an attack.
• He who sees the obvious, wins his battles with difficulty; he who looks below the surface of things, wins with ease.
• In warfare, first lay plans which will ensure victory, and then lead your army to battle; if you will not begin with stratagem but rely on brute strength alone, victory will no longer be assured.
• When envoys are sent with compliments in their mouths, it is a sign that the enemy wishes for a truce.
• If the enemy open friendly relations by sending hostages, it is a sign that they are anxious for an armistice, either because their strength is exhausted or for some other reason.
• We may distinguish six kinds of terrain, to wit: 1) accessible ground; 2) entangling ground; 3) temporizing ground; 4) narrow passes; 5) precipitous heights; 6) positions at a great distance from the enemy.
• Now an army is exposed to six several calamities, not arising from natural causes, but from faults for which the general is responsible. These are: 1) flight; 2) in-subordination; 3) collapse; 4) ruin; 5) disorganization; 6) rout.
• When the officers are too strong and the common soldiers too weak, the result is collapse.
• There are six ways of courting defeat: 1)’neglect to estimate the enemy’s strength’; 2) ‘want of authority’; 3) ‘defective training’; 4) ‘unjustifiable anger’; 5) ‘non-observance of discipline’: 6) ‘failure to use picked men’. Which must be carefully noted by the general who has attained a responsible post.
• Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.
• The art of war recognizes nine varieties of ground: 1) Dispersive ground; 2) facile ground; 3) contentious ground; 4) open ground; 5) ground of intersecting highways; 6) serious ground; 7) difficult ground; 8) hemmed-in ground; 9) desperate ground. On dispersive ground, fight not. On facile ground, halt not. On contentious ground, attack not. In difficult ground, keep steadily on the march. On serious ground, ensure a continuous stream of supplies. On difficult ground, push on along the road.
• Rapidity is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy’s unreadiness, make your way by un expected routes, and attack unguarded spots.
• Make forays on fertile country in order to supply your army with food.
• Carefully study the well being of your men, and do not overtax them. Concentrate your energy and hoard your strength.
• Keep your army continually on the move, and devise unfathomable plans.
• Throw your soldiers into positions where there is no escape, and they will prefer death to flight. If they will face death, there is nothing they may not achieve. Officers and men alike will put forth their uttermost strength.
• If our soldiers are not overburdened with money, it is not because they have a distaste for riches; if their lives are not unduly long, it is not because they are disinclined to longevity.
• Wealth and long life are things for which all men have a natural inclination. Hence, if they burn or fling away valuables, and sacrifice their own lives, it is not that they dislike them, but simply that they have no choice. Soldiers are but human, it is for the general to see that temptations to shirk fighting and grow rich are not thrown in their way.
• It is the business of a general to be quiet and thus ensure secrecy; upright and just, and thus maintain order.
• Plunge your army into desperate straits and it will come off in safety; place it in deadly peril and it will survive
• If the enemy leaves a door open, you must rush in.
• Walk in the path defined by rule, and accommodate yourself to the enemy until you can fight a decisive battle.
• There are five ways of attacking with fire. The first is to burn soldiers in their camp; the second is to burn stores; the third is to burn baggage-trains; the fourth is to burn arsenals and magazines; the fifth is to hurl dropping fire amongst the enemy.
• Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical.
• Use your spies fully to minimize damage and destruction and maximize success. To neglect the use of spies is nothing less than a crime against humanity. Sun Tzu divides spies into five classes: 1) local spies; 2) inward spies; 3) converted spies; 4) doomed spies; 5) surviving spies. When the five kinds of spy are all at work, none can discover the secret system. This is called divine manipulation of the threads. It is the sovereign’s most precious faculty.
• Worthy men who have been degraded from office, criminals who have undergone punishment; also, favorite concubines who are greedy for gold, men who are aggrieved at being in subordinate positions, or who have been passed over in the distribution of posts others who are anxious that their side should be defeated in order that they may have a chance of displaying their ability and talents, fickle turncoats who always want to have a foot in each boat.


“Know your enemy, know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster ….”

This book is a collection of ideas and ideals of Sun Tzu that will have deep impact on readers. It provides the preaching in a capsule format. It is an excellent book with great takeaways of Sun Tzu. It teaches us to fight back against problems rather than succumb to them. It encourages and motivates the readers by looking at the ideas rather than that of issues and individuals.

It contains pearls of wisdom in every sentence. It guides and grooves you in the right slot as a successful leader. You can read at a stretch and learn the secrets and strategies of Sun Tzu. However, the downside of the book is that it lacks analysis that prevents from seeing the big picture.

It has been translated from Chinese. It widens your mental horizons and improves your thinking skills. Reading this book helps minimize mistakes and maximize your success rate. It helps improve your personality development and leadership success. You need to read and reread this book number of times.

It provides several leadership lessons for future leaders so that they can take leaf out of them and excel as leaders. It is useful to leaders of all streams such as military, business and politics to avoid costly mistakes while waging organizational battles.

The ideas and ideals of Sun Tzu, one of the greatest generals written two and a half millennium ago are still relevant today and will be useful as long as human civilization exists.

The book is a must read for leadership educators, executives and everyone who would learn lessons from the strategies of Lao Tzu. Succinctly, the lessons in this book help you lose battle but win war as this book is based on strategy and art of war. It is a must read for every leader in his/her lifetime. Not to have read Sun Tzu’s book means not to have known anything about leadership.

Professor M.S.Rao
Founder and Chief Consultant,
MSR Leadership Consultants, India
Blog: http://profmsr.blogspot.com
Where Knowledge is Wealth
Email: profmsr7@gmail.com

Dear readers,

I would appreciate your comments about this article.


Success said...

This valuable article, and will be forwarding this link to my students. The Art of War is a highly valued work that has been referenced by many powerful individuals, such as Donald Trump, and Warren Buffett. Thank you for sharing.

RAMAN G V said...

Outstanding and excellent article. Thank you so much for sharing the same. Best Regards, Raman G V ( Gottumukkala Venkata Raman ), Bangalore