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The Way Of Strategy

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“Being endowed with teeth and mounting horns, having claws in front and spurs in back, coming together when happy, fighting when angry, this is the way of Heaven, it cannot be stopped.
Thus those that lack Heavenly weapons provide them themselves.”

Sun Bin

These days – the world has become a tougher and tougher place to live, and the competition for ever scarcer resources is only going to increase.

In fact, I predict that the economies, quality of life and social conditions of developed countries is only going to GET WORSE for the next 10-20 years…

“Success Anorexia” Strikes 70-95 Million Americans Every Year, but –

      You can protect yourself…

            You can outrun the herd…

                  You can BECOME A LION!

The U.S. economy may supposedly be recovering, but Americans aren’t getting any happier: Only one in three Americans say they’re very happy, according to a recent Harris Poll.

The online poll of 2,345 U.S. adults used a series of questions to determine Americans’ levels of contentment and life satisfaction.

Overall, just 33 percent of Americans said that they were very happy, remaining consistent with happiness levels in 2011 but dropping from the 35 percent who reported being very happy in 2008 and 2009.

And it’s no surprise as to why people are feeling less of a sense of well-being, and instead – feeling more distressed than ever.

The Great Recession officially ended three years ago, but most middle-class Americans are still feeling pinched.

About six-in-ten (62%) say they had to reduce household spending in the past year because money was tight, compared with 53% who said so in 2008.

The downbeat short-term perspective is not surprising in light of the heavy economic blows delivered by the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and the sluggish recovery since.

About four-in-ten (42%) middle-class adults say their household’s financial situation is worse now than it was before the recession.

That’s nearly half!

Make no mistake about it:  Times ARE tough and getting tougher…

Violent crime is getting more violent…

Well-paying jobs are harder and harder to find…

And people are experiencing less and less happiness, fulfillment and freedom…

Times like these are like a fiery crucible – which consumes and destroys the weak but turns the strong and the strategic minded into un-bendable, un-breakable steel.

In fact during the last great depression in the 1930’s – while millions of people were wandering the countryside looking for work, or lined up in the city streets looking for a handout just to get a hot meal in their bellies – More millionaires were created than at any other time in American history!

The world is changing.

The gap between the extremely rich and desperately poor is widening, and the middle class is in the process of being completely decimated throughout the world.

You’re going to have to learn how to outmaneuver, outwit, and out play your most formidable competitors – and even competitors you can’t see… Before they know what hits them!

To achieve personal success, you should first know what you want.

You should first know your destination.

Then, after knowing your destination, you should figure out how to get there.

Do you have a model for your future?

Do you have a real vision of the future for you and your family over the next ten to fifteen years, complete with written strategies to achieve that vision?

Successful businesses and institutions have visions of their future and strategic plans that they not only follow, but monitor and update on a regular basis.

This is an effective model that can be applied to personal lives, including your life.

What is a personal vision, and how do you define it?

A personal vision is simply your statement of what you want your future to be.

When asked, some people say that their vision is to be healthy, wealthy and successful.

That’s a good start, but you should recognize that those terms might have different meanings at different times in your life.

To develop your vision of the future, start with a pen and a piece of paper, and ask yourself “What?”

What do you want for your future?

What would your future look like if there were no financial restraints? No time constraints?

Now, ask yourself about your values….

What or who is really important in your life?

  • Family?
  • Career?
  • Wealth?
  • Ethics?
  • Knowledge?

What do you want to achieve during this life stage?

  • Career advancement?
  • Raise family?
  • Educate your children?
  • Travel? Accumulate?
  • Change the world?

Summarize all of this into one sentence about your preferred future. Two at the most.

This written vision should give you direction, declare where you are going, what you want to achieve and, by implication, what you want to avoid.

With your vision and mission defined, the next step in strategic planning is to devise strategies to achieve your vision.

A strategy is simply a way to do something, but some strategies are better than others.

Good strategies are what make the difference for winning generals or championship chess players.

The winners develop better strategies than their opponents.

So, for each component of your vision, ask “How?”

How will you achieve that component of your vision of the future?

The Anxin Art Of War works.  It will work for you.

No matter how big or small your goals are – The Art Of War will help you to achieve them.

Becoming the person you were really meant to be, fulfilling your own highest and best potential and achieving the unlikeliest of goals is all possible.

You can do this…

As you go through The Anxin Art Of War you’ll begin to reprogram yourself for success

Your mind will open to possibilities…

The obstacles that you currently face will transform into opportunities…

And, in the end if you would like even more help and training on the art of strategic thinking and mental warfare – it’s available for you.

Now, I want you to read this from beginning to end.

Don’t skip around the first time.

Later, after you’ve begun internalizing the process it will be ok for you to refer back to specific sections when you need guidance or advice, but for now – just read and absorb.

These pages hold within them the master framework for your success, and I’m truly honored to be your guide, coach and mentor.

Here’s a visual overview of the process of The Jon Anxin Art Of War:

The Framework

On this site, you’ll learn a simple framework, which is easy to use, and easy to implement in all areas of your life.

This frameworks represents the overall framework of strategic thinking.

You’ll also discover tactical specifics for each element in the framework – so that you become a master of The Way Of Strategy.

In brief, the framework is:

1. Situation Appraisal

2. Formulation of Goals and Strategies

3. Evaluation of Strategies

4. Implementation of Strategies

5. Strategic Controls

This framework is modeled on the classics of strategy from Europe and Asia, but for this work we’ll be looking most at Chinese thought on strategy.

While European strategy is fantastic and useful – it is often a broadsword.

It seeks total domination and total warfare, whereas it’s Chinese counterpart is more diplomatic and subtle.

One could argue that conflict is one of the major themes throughout human civilization.

On the soil that is now called “China”, the rise and fall of dynasties has seen various interest groups fight for control of the land, people and resources for thousands of years.

These battles have ranged from individual intrigues to clashes of 100,000 men armies.

These battlefield experiences and personal plots spawned a body of work that sought to grasp the underlying principles of warfare and understand the human combatants.

Throughout history these texts were appreciated, not only by military and political leaders, but also by the intelligentsia.

The writings provided principles and tactics suitable for the battlefield and also embodied philosophical truths and essential wisdom about the human condition.

The concepts within could be applied to numerous contexts—the battlefield, business, and the individual art of life.

These bingfa [~BEENG-fah], or works of

military strategy, have been, and still are, useful for areas outside armed conflict.

They provide not only specific military tactics but they also embody underlying principles and patterns of human behavior. Variations of the strategies can be implemented whenever you are dealing with humans.

Sunzi Bingfa—The Art of War is by far the most famous bingfa.

It’s interesting to note that it is not just the most highly acclaimed bingfa in the West, it has the same level of esteem in China and Asia.

It was regarded to be the best of its kind in ancient times too. In fact, it features prominently in one of the later bingfa, from around 600 A.D., Questions and Replies Between Tang Tai Zhong and Li Jing .

It also features prominently is this work since it’s such a seminal text. I’ve also added parts from other bingfa to flesh out certain themes.

The opening passage of The Art of War states:

 

Warfare is the greatest affair of the state, the basis of life and death, the way of survival or extinction.
It must be thoroughly pondered and analyzed.

 

With an abstracted view of “warfare” as “competition,” and the context personalized, the quote above reads:

Competition is the greatest affair of the individual, the basis of life and death, the way of survival or extinction. It must be thoroughly pondered and analyzed.

 

In addition to Sun Tzu, other strategists have suggested that war, and competition by proxy, is nothing to take lightly.

It is something to always keep in mind.

As mentioned in Sima Fa:

Even though a state may be vast, those who love warfare will inevitably perish.
Even though calm may prevail under Heaven, those who forget warfare will certainly be endangered.

And in Sun Bin’s Military Methods, it says:

One who takes pleasure in the military will perish, and one who finds profit in victory will be insulted. The military is not something to take pleasure in, victory not something through which to profit.

The material in these bingfa can be viewed as a “mental” martial art. So, the same “rules” apply as with physical martial arts.

Use the same amount of discretion when employing the techniques you learn here.

In the following, I talk a lot about the “competition” and your “opponent” and the “enemy.”

Please remember that an “enemy” is conceptualized as someone who wants to harm you.

Thus, all “enemies” involve conflict, but not all conflicts involve enemies.

Sometimes, the conflict is internal. You are “fighting” with yourself.

Or you may get into conflicts with your friends and family about certain courses of action.

Perhaps you have differing opinions or it might be a case of miscommunication.

While you might disagree with them, they probably are not trying to harm you, so this does not make them an “enemy”.

Some of the strategies might not be appropriate for every conflict. But the overall process should be useful for almost any situation.

In order to gain a clearer grasp of competition and how this understanding can be beneficial, we will focus on one strategic process.

The structure of this overall process actually echoes the structure of The Art of War.

Before we being, please note that the source documents are from ancient China, so you will need to do a bit of imaginative thinking to really understand how this process and the principles within apply to your particular situation.

In the words of the samurai Miyamoto Musashi, “From one thing know ten thousand.”

Situation Appraisal

To win a hundred victories in a hundred battles is not the hallmark of skill. The acme of skill is to subdue the enemy without even fighting.

The Art of War

One who excels in warfare does not await the deployment of forces.

One who excels at eliminating the misfortunes of people manages them before they appear.

Conquering the enemy means being victorious over the formless.
The superior fighter does not engage in battle.
Thus one who fights and attains victory in front of naked blades is not a good general.
One who makes preparations after the battle is not a superior Sage!

The Six Secret Teachings

You start with an idea—a notion—about something you want to do or something you want to get or someone you want to become.

Before you take action or even make an action plan, you should first take a moment and see if it’s worth it.

To borrow a business term, you need to do a “feasibility study.”

You need to gather as much quality information as you can roughly estimate the feasibility of the project.

Or in terms of conflict, this is an initial “sizing up” of the opponent in the environment.

For instance, the annoying loudmouth at the bar often has a crew to back him up, so you might want to think twice before telling him that he is an annoying loudmouth.

You must answer “Yes” to 3 questions (or maybe 2 out of 3) to move past this initial stage when any action.

1. Are there definite advantages to be gained?

2. Is my defense solid?

3. Is there is a high probability of victory?

1.          There are definite advantages to be gained.

Do not move unless there are definite advantages to be gained; do not use troops unless you can succeed; do not fight unless you are in danger.

The Art of War

Don’t allow yourself to get pulled into a conflict that you are not suited, or ready, for due to emotional reasons.

One of the most difficult things in life is to control your emotions.

To achieve this control, we must be ever vigilant.

A ruler must not start a war out of anger; A general must not fight a battle out of resentment.
Engage only when it is in the interest of the State; Cease when it is to its detriment.

The Art of War

2.          Your defense is solid

In ancient times, those adept at warfare first made themselves unbeatable and waited for opportunities to defeat the enemy.

The Art of War

You can think of “defense” as “worst case scenario” thinking. If I pursue this course of action, what is the worst thing that can happen?

Sometimes it’s the best course of action to work “bottom-up.”

You figure out what the worst thing is that can happen and then you continually work to make that worst case scenario slightly better.

You keep working at improving your “base rate” until there is a relatively low margin for “failure.”

3.          There is a high probability of victory

There are rarely things in life that are one hundred percent certain, but strategy and strategic advantage can dramatically increase the odds of a certain outcome.

Those that the ancients referred to as excelling in warfare conquered those who were easy to conquer.
Thus the victories of those that excelled in warfare were not marked by fame for wisdom or courageous achievement.
Thus their victories were free from error.
One who is free from error directs his measures toward certain victory, conquering those who are already defeated.

The Art of War

If you choose a course of action where the odds are highly stacked in your favor, your victory will be “free from error”.

So, how do you go about determining the feasibility of a proposed course of action?

There is one “quick and dirty” method that will pretty much get to the heart of the matter right away.

He who has a thorough knowledge of himself and the enemy is bound to win in all battles.
He who knows himself but not the enemy has only a fifty percent chance of winning.
He who does not know himself or the enemy is bound to perish in all battles.

The Art of War

You should also factor in external variables as much as possible.

Know your enemy, know yourself, and your victory will not be threatened.
Know the terrain, know the weather, and your victory will be complete.

The Art of War

 

You can do a quick appraisal of the situation by examining your strengths and weaknesses vis-àvis the competition in that particular context.

After you’ve done that, you can do a more detailed analysis.

A thorough analysis involves the examination of 8 key factors.

1. Moral influence

2. Generalship / Command

3. Climate

4. Terrain

5. Doctrine/ Law

6. Troop Strength

7. Training of Troops

8. Discipline (System of Punishment and

Reward)

Most of these factors involve Social and Structural aspects, so I will only touch on them briefly here.

In this module, we will look at the factors of Generalship / Command in greater detail.

1.          Moral Influence

Moral influence is symbolic of the external factor of the “ruler” in the environment.

For example, in business the political leadership of the country affects the entire context for business in that country.

2.          Generalship / Command

There are 5 important attributes of the general.

1. Wisdom

2. Sincerity

3. Benevolence

4. Courage

5. Strictness

The Sage takes his signs from the movements of Heaven and Earth.

He accords with the way of yin and yang, and follows their seasonal activity.

He follows the cycles of fullness and emptiness of Heaven and Earth, taking them as his constant.
All things have life and death and in accord with the form of Heaven and Earth.

The Six Secret Teachings

Wisdom is the ability to recognize changing circumstances and act accordingly.

Sincerity means the ability to gain trust from your working group.

Benevolence means the ability to empathize and sympathize with others—be able to see and feel the world from other people’s perspectives.

Courage suggests the ability to be decisive and capitalize on opportunities without hesitation.

Strictness is the ability to have self-discipline and instill discipline in others.

The Six Secret Teachings refer to a very similar list of positive traits.

If he is courageous he cannot be overwhelmed.
If he is wise he cannot be forced into turmoil.
If he is benevolent he will love his men.
If he is trustworthy he will not be deceitful.
If he is loyal he won’t be of two minds.

In addition, Sima Fa has this to add:

The mind must embody benevolence and actions should incorporate righteousness.
Relying on the nature of things is wisdom; relying on the great is courage; relying on longstanding relations leads to good faith.
Yielding results in harmony.

Aside from these positive qualities that a general needs to foster, there are some common weaknesses which can afflict a general.

Below is a list of weaknesses and how to capitalize on them.

You would first want to use this knowledge to protect yourself. If necessary, you could use these points to leverage your enemy.

If reckless, he can be killed.
If cowardly, he can be captured.
If easily angered, he is easily provoked.
If sensitive to honor, he can easily be insulted.
If overly compassionate, he can easily be harassed.

The Art of War

One who is courageous and treats death lightly can be destroyed by violence.
One who is hasty and impatient can be destroyed by persistence.
One who is greedy and loves profit can be bribed.
One who is benevolent but unable to inflict suffering can be worn down.
One who is wise but fearful can be distressed.
One who is trustworthy and likes to trust others can be deceived.
One who is scrupulous and incorruptible but doesn’t love men can be insulted.
One who is wise but indecisive can be suddenly attacked.
One who is resolute and self-reliant can be confounded by events.
One who is fearful and likes to entrust responsibility to others can be tricked.

The Six Secret Teachings

3.          Climate

Climate is the varying weather conditions, seasons, temperatures, and cycles of day and night.

These climatic conditions refer to externals that are out of your control.

4.          Terrain

Terrain refers to fixed external factors. Terrain will determine the type of strategies that can be employed.

To give a military example, in a conflict in the Middle-East, the openness of the terrain dictates which types of military strategies can be used, the types of weaponry and the ways in which troops can be employed.

Terrain is not the same as Ground.

Battlegrounds are not necessarily fixed.

The general can decide on what type of battleground he wishes to engage the enemy.

The Ground or battlefield is a variable factor and more or less controllable.

5.          Doctrine or Law

This factor suggests the overall organization and structure of a group.

In military terms, this would mean the designation of ranks, allocation of responsibilities, management of supply routes and provisions of the army.

In a business context, this would be the different departments and the specific roles each of those departments play in the overall organization.

6.    Troop Strength

This refers to numerical aspects of the group and their equipment or resources.

In business, this can refer to relative strengths and weaknesses in terms of human resources, management, capital reserves, technology, markets and so on.

7.          Training

This refers to the training or education of the group.

While overall numbers can be an important factor, training can also be vital in determining outcomes.

For example, smaller, expertly trained fighting units, like the U.S. Navy SEALs can have as much impact as an entire army, if deployed in a strategic way.

And in business, many stock investors will do a thorough examination of a company’s top personnel before buying the stock.

The few people in leadership positions, and their level of training and expertise, impact the organization significantly.

8.          Discipline

While the general must exhibit self-discipline and lead by example, discipline here refers to the system of punishment and reward used to motivate and regulate members of the group.

The 8 factors: You and the Enemy

Just as a good general must appraise these factors before going to war, you must carefully weigh these variables in your assessment.

These factors are evaluated in relation to your competition.

You must choose if this course of action is appropriate for you.

You must know the enemy and know yourself.
When I was about to engage in battle, I first
evaluated the enemy’s mind by comparing it
with my mind to determine who was more controlled.
Only then could I know myself.

Questions and Replies

A final word on situation appraisal, it is best to concentrate your forces at the point of highest leverage.

However, there are other tools in the strategy toolkit like adaptability and innovation.

If there is something you really want to do and you do a situational appraisal and it looks like you don’t have a good chance of succeeding— do it anyway.

Perhaps I am counteracting everything I’ve said up to this point, but there is more than one way to skin a dog.

At times you have to go against the odds.

As my friend Mr. Wang used to say, “You must try. You must do your best.”

Sometimes you must trust that you can adapt as the situation calls for it.

As Emerson said, “Do the thing and you will have the power.”

If you have a strong enough desire to something, then you will succeed despite circumstances.

If you don’t have that burning desire to put the concept into action and the initial appraisal doesn’t look too promising, then go back and revise the initial idea until it becomes more feasible.

Before the engagement, one who determines in the ancestral temple that he will be victorious has found that the majority of factors are in his favor.
Before the engagement one who determines in the ancestral temple that he will not be victorious has found few factors are in his favor.
If I observe it from this perspective, victory and defeat will be apparent.

The Art of War

If there is a definite advantage to be gained, the worst case scenario is not that bad and you have a high probability for victory, then move on to the next step—

Formulation of Goals and Strategies

A. Formulation of Goals

After you have a general notion that your idea is feasible, it’s time to set some specific goals— decide some clear outcomes you want to reach.

And as in war, the ultimate goal is to “win”.

You want to achieve the objective, complete the mission— whatever that may be.

In order to move on from this stage you must be able to say “Yes” to three questions:

1. Do my goals represent some net positive gains?

2. Are my goals achievable?

3. Are my goals prioritized?

Ideally, you want to achieve maximum gains with minimum effort.

In order to do that, it’ generally the best thing to follow the “path of least resistance”.

Your aim is to capture all the enemy’s states intact.

Thus, your forces are not worn out and your victory can be complete.

This is the crux of the offensive strategy.

 

…subdue the enemy’s army without direct battle;
capture the enemy’s cities without fierce assaults

—The Art of War

1.          Result in . net positive gains

The bottom line is that the gains must exceed the costs.

You don’t want to put more into something than you’ll get out of it.

Sometimes these gains can be quantitative, for example you find a new job that pays more money.

Sometimes these gains can be qualitative –  you find a new occupation that you enjoy more or a new job that pays slightly less but provides vital experience.

Do not move unless there are definite
advantages to be gained.
Engage only when it is in [your] interest; Cease when it is to [your] detriment.

—The Art of War

2.          Achievable

When deciding on goals you should also attend to timeframe. You should be able to achieve the objective within a reasonable amount of time. 

There has never been a protracted war that has brought benefits to the state.
Therefore, in war it is advantageous to go for swift victory and not prolonged campaigns.

—The Art of War

Generally, when we don’t see clear progress it is hard to stay motivated. A “swift victory” builds confidence and creates momentum.

When victory is long delayed, the ardor and morale of the army will be depressed.
When the siege of a city is prolonged, the army will be exhausted.
When the army engages in protracted campaigns, the resources of the state will be impoverished.

—The Art of War

3.           Prioritized

Being victorious in battle is easy, but preserving the results of victory is difficult.
Thus it is said that among the states under Heaven that engage in warfare those who garner five victories will meet with disaster;
those with four victories will be exhausted;
those with three victories will be hegemons;
those with two victories will be kings; and
those with one victory will become emperors. For this reason those who have
conquered the world through numerous victories are extremely rare, while those who thereby perished are many.

—Wuzi

When formulating goals, strategy comes first. If you fight too many battles, you will lose in the end.

And if you have to engage in battle, attacking the enemy’s strategy is highest priority.

The highest form of generalship is to attack the enemy’s strategy;
the next best policy is to disrupt his alliances;
the next best is to attack his army;
The worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.
Besiege cities only when there are no other alternatives.

—The Art of War

The chain of desirability moves from the nonphysical to the physical– the formless into the “myriad things.”

The ultimate goal is to “win without fighting” and to avoid head to head competition if possible.

While there is always some form of inexplicit competition, it’s best to try and keep it that way, and try to avoid explicit competition or “open battle”.

If open competition is unavoidable, one way to attack the enemy’s strategy is to take initiative and “psyche them out” before open competitionbegins.

Those from whom the initiative has been taken have no spirit;
those who are afraid are unable to mount a defense;
those who have suffered defeat, have no men.
They are all cases of an army lacking the way of the military.
When you go forth and have no doubts, then follow your plan.
When you rob the enemy of his plans and still no on confronts you, press the attack home.
If you can see clearly and occupy high ground then overawe them into submission.
This is the pinnacle of the way of the military.

–Wei Liaozi

Mount a sudden strike on their doubts.
Attack their haste.
Force them to constrict their deployment.
Launch a sudden strike against their order.
Take advantage of their failure to avoid harm.
Obstruct their strategy.
Seize their thoughts. Capitalize on their fears.

–-Sima Fa

Attacking the opponent’s strategy can also take the form of a preemptive strike. As it is said, “prevention is the best cure.”

The easiest way to achieve this is through positioning.

It’s like that fable about the apple tree and the pear tree.

Everyone is going for the apples, pushing and shoving and struggling, but just a bit off in the distance, off to the side, is a pear tree with no one around it.

All you have to do is simply go over to the tree and start picking pears.

This is the way of Competition.

This principle is represented in business as “firs mover advantage”.

There can be clear advantages for a company that opens a new market.

This doesn’t prevent competitors from entering the market, but when they arrive late they will have to “rush into action when they are already tired and exhausted.”

The first mover generally has better positioning and the costs of entry are usually higher for the later entrant.

And if a business is operating in a niche market where is has core competency, it can be very difficult for others to compete.

One who excels at warfare first establishes himself in a position where he cannot be defeated while not losing any opportunity to defeat the enemy.
For this reason, the victorious army first realizes the conditions for victory, and then seeks to engage in battle.
The vanquished army fights first, and then seeks victory after the battle has begun.

—The Art of War

What does this mean for an Individual? You can think of this in terms of your personal strengths.

What are you good? What are you good at that you like doing?

And then, what are you good at that you like doing that no one or not many other people are doing?

For example, if you are a 250lb.  white guy with limited success in ball sports, it probably would not be the best idea to try and become an NBA basketball player.

However, if you are someone who is obsessed with printed material, who has been doing martial arts his whole life and spent the better part of the last 5 years intensively studying Chinese language and culture, it is probably not too bad of an idea to write about Chinese strategy.

After you have formulated your goals and they represent some net positive gain, they are achievable and prioritized; it’s time to think about how to reach those goals.

B. Formulation of Strategies

1.          Choice of battleground

First mover advantage is about the choice of battleground—the area of competition. While “terrain” is fixed and not alterable, “battleground” is variable and controllable.

There are two main factors in choosing the battleground:

a. Areas that have distinct advantages

b. Areas ignored by the enemy

a. Being the first to occupy the battleground:

Generally, those who reach and occupy the battleground early will have time to rest and wait for the enemy.
Those who arrive at the battleground late will have to rush into action when they are already tired and exhausted.

—The Art of War

b. Choosing a battleground that is more advantageous to you than your competitor:

Those who are skilled in warfare will always bring the enemy to where they want to fight, and they are not brought there by the enemy.

—The Art of War

Being the first one to occupy a key battleground allows you to be better prepared than the enemy.

It will allow you to obtain advantages accorded by the terrain.

In addition, it allows you to consolidate resources before the arrival of the enemy.

A battleground that is more advantageous is one in which the terrain fits your resources better than it fits the competition’s resources.

It is a ground that magnifies your strengths and minimizes your weaknesses.

By first occupying this type of ground yourself, then bringing your enemy to that ground for battle, you obtain a higher assurance of victory.

Do not rely on their not coming, but depend upon having the means to await them.
Do not rely on their not attacking, but depend on having an unassailable position.

—The Art of War

Concentration of forces

Another leverage point is the principle of concentration of forces.

In terms of warfare, the economy of forces means finding a way to concentrate your “many” against the enemy’s “few.”

If I determine the enemy’s disposition of force while I have no perceptible form, I can concentrate my forces while the enemy is fragmented.
If we are concentrated into a single force while he is fragmented into ten, then we attack him with ten times his strength.
Thus we are many and the enemy few.

—The Art of War

“Many” and “few” are relative terms.

The principle of concentration of forces recognizes relative strength, not absolute strength. Ultimately, the point of contact dictates the outcome of the battle.


The strength of an army does not depend on large forces.
Do not advance relying on sheer numbers.
Rather, one must concentrate the forces and anticipate correctly the enemy’s movements in order to capture him.

—The Art of War

How is this possible?

How can you concentrate all of your force at the point of contact and assure that your enemy cannot do the same?

This is one place where deception and unpredictability factor in.

The enemy must not know where I intend to attack.
For if he does not know where I intend to attack, he must defend in many places.
The more places he defends, the more scattered are his forces, and the weaker is his force at any one point.
If the enemy prepares to the front, his rear will be weak;
if he defends the rear, his front will be fragile.
If he strengthens his left, he will weaken his right;
if he strengthens his right, he will weaken his left.
If he tries to prepare everywhere, he will be weak all over.

—The Art of War

3.          Attack and Defense

As mentioned earlier, outright head to head competition is best avoided, but if it is unavoidable, then the only way to win is through attack.

Let’s look at the world of sports for a moment.

In playing a game of soccer, the only way to win is to kick the ball into the opponent’s goal.

You cannot win by just defending your own goal. If you focus on defense only, the best possible outcome is a draw.

You cannot win a basketball game without putting your ball in the opposing teams net.

Of course, you need to get back on defense too but you can’t win by focusing on defense only.

In boxing, you can slip and dodge but ultimately you need to punch to knock out your opponent.

However, this doesn’t mean you should just charge into the conflict unprepared.

The best overall strategy is to build a strong defense first, then once you have established a solid position, wait for an opening and attack when the opportunity presents itself.

In antiquity those that excelled at warfare first made themselves unconquerable in order to await the moment when the enemy could be conquered.  Being conquered lies within yourself; being conquerable lies within the enemy.
Thus one who excels in warfare is able to make himself unconquerable

In ordinary situations using the military, if the enemy does not make an error in judgment, how can our army conquer them?
It may be compared with chess where two enemies begin in equal strength.
As soon as someone makes a mistake, truly no one can rescue him.
For this reason, in both ancient and modern times, victory and defeat have proceeded from a single error.

–Questions and Replies

In addition, it is important to have a correct assessment of relative strength and advantage before you attack.

One who cannot be victorious assumes a defensive posture; one who can be victorious

attacks.
In these circumstances by assuming a defensive posture, strength will be more than adequate, whereas in offensive actions it would be inadequate.
Those who excel at defense bury themselves away below the lowest depths of the Earth.
Those who excel at offense move from above the greatest heights of Heaven.
Thus they are able to preserve themselves and attain complete victory.

—The Art of War

4. The Orthodox . and the Unorthodox

Another consideration in the formulation of strategies is the use of the “orthodox” and the “unorthodox”.

Orthodox or zheng can be understood as “actual, normal, direct, full, substantial”.

Unorthodox or qi can be understood as “surprising, extraordinary, indirect, deceptive, empty, vacuous”.

In battle, there are only two forces—the orthodox and the unorthodox.

There is a yin yang principle involved in the use of these forces.

Generally, orthodox represents yang and unorthodox represents yin, but sometimes the orthodox is yin and the unorthodox is yang.

Yin is inside yang. Yin is not “opposed” to yang.

Yang is inside yin. Yang is not “opposed” to yin.

These forces contain each other and whichever side is dominant shifts fluidly according to circumstance.

Musical notes do not exceed five, but the changes of the five notes can never be fully heard.
The colors do not exceed five, but the changes of the colors can never be completely seen.
The flavors do not exceed five, but the changes of flavors can never be completely tasted.
In warfare the strategic configuration of power do not exceed the orthodox and unorthodox, but the changes of the orthodox and unorthodox can never be completely exhausted.
The orthodox and unorthodox mutually produce each other, just like an endless cycle.
Who can exhaust them?

—The Art of War

The unorthodox represents the strategic advantage that you need to win in battle.

Every strategic action has two aspects: the “yang” superficial move and the “yin” underlying purpose.

In battle, one generally engages with the orthodox and gains victory through the unorthodox.
Thus one who excels at sending forth the unorthodox is as inexhaustible as Heaven, and unlimited as the Yangtze and

Yellow rivers.
What reach an end and begin again are the sun and moon.
What die and are reborn are the four seasons.

—The Art of War

When action is initiated it becomes the orthodox; what has not yet been initiated is the unorthodox.
When the unorthodox is initiated and not responded to, then it will be victorious.
One who has a surplus of the unorthodox will attain surpassing victories.

–Military Methods

In addition, by concealing both the orthodox and unorthodox, you can take the enemy completely by surprise.

But such ideal secrecy can seldom be attained. The only alternative is to make the enemy neglect or misinterpret the underlying

purpose of your operation.

In other words, you aren’t going to be able to keep the enemy ignorant of your actions, you’ll have to trick them right under their nose. 

Our orthodox should be like the mountain, our unorthodox like thunder.
Even though the enemy is directly opposite our front, no one can fathom where our unorthodox and orthodox forces are.
At this point what shape do I have?

–Questions and Replies

The interchangeable use of the two forces will make it difficult for the enemy to guess your real intention.

This will create deception.

Creating deception can allow you to direct forces where the opponent is not guarded. You can attack with the “substantial” where the opponent is “vacuous”.

If wherever the army attacks it is like a whetstone thrown against an egg, it is due to the vacuous and substantial.

—The Art of War

When you have mastered the orthodox and unorthodox, they are used interchangeably. Thus you always maintain an element of surprise and a strategic advantage.

For those who excel at employing troops there are none that are not orthodox, none that are not unorthodox, so they cause the enemy never to be able to fathom them.
Thus with the orthodox they are victorious, with the unorthodox they are also victorious.

–Questions and Replies

Contingency Plans

Things rarely turn out “according to plan”. It’s generally a good practice to allow some margin for error.

What if the enemy does not respond as anticipated?

If the enemy is not forthcoming after the launch of the orthodox attack then a different combination must be used.

This can be achieved by transforming the orthodox and unorthodox.

The number and degree of transformations are virtually limitless. Hence, the flexible use of these two forces allow for contingencies.

In any planning decision, contingencies must be included.
At times, you may even develop two or more alternative courses of action.
It is said that the famous strategist Zhuge Liang often prepared contingency plans based on different circumstances and put them in envelopes.
As the situation developed, the appropriate envelope would be opened and the new plan followed.
Contingency plans ensure that alternative effective actions are available when needed.
Those who are advancing should have a route out, those withdrawing should have a route for advancing.

–Military Methods

After you your goals and strategies have been formulated and you have made some contingency plans, it’s time to evaluate the strategies.

Evaluation Of Strategies

It might seem like all this planning and formulating and evaluating is a lot of work and a waste of time, but by doing all this preparation you are saving a lot of time and effort in the long run.

Laozi pointed out that when a problem is difficult to recognize, it is easy to solve.

When it is easy to recognize, it is difficult to solve.

It’s easy to recognize when it is a big problem.

Since it is a big problem, it is difficult to deal with.

At this planning stage you want to recognize the problems, so you can change them now.

You want to foresee major difficulties and “nip ‘em in the bud.”

If trickling streams are not blocked they will become great rivers.
If you don’t extinguish the smallest flames, what will you do about a great inferno?
If you do not eliminate the two-leaf sapling, how will you use your ax when the tree has grown?

The Six Secret Teachings

Strategy must be evaluated for effectiveness,
probability of success, net gain and efficiency.
Hence, the wise general must consider both
favorable and unfavorable factors in deliberations.
By taking into account the unfavorable within the favorable factors, he ensures his plan is feasible.

 

By taking into account the favorable within the unfavorable, he can resolve difficulties.

The Art of War

The evaluation has been divided into two categories.

1. Subjective Evaluation

2. Objective (numerical) Evaluation

Subjective Evaluation

A general’s leadership ability is vital during times of war.

His appraisal of the battle situation is critical to the success or failure of the campaign.

He who knows when to fight and when not to fight will win; 

He who knows how to deploy large and small forces will win; 

He whose whole army is united in purpose will win; 

He who is well prepared to seize opportunity will win;

The Art of War

At this point, we are just considering the Individual— to borrow a phrase from the U.S. Army—an “army of one.”

But it’s good to consider the factors mentioned above.

You need to know when to fight and when not to fight.

You need to know when to commit large or small expenditures of energy, time and effort.

Your whole self must be united in purpose (and it is often our unacknowledged fears and limiting beliefs that are actually holding us back).

And, finally, you must be well prepared to seize opportunity.

There are four areas you, as the “general”, should particularly attend to.

These four areas include:

1. Selection of strategic targets

2. The ability to create strategic advantage

3. The ability to fit the strategy to the situation

4. A sense of strategic timing

Strategic target

The success of any military conquest depends largely on what kind of enemy the attacking force is facing.
If battle is initiated by the attacking force, then it is important that the right enemy is chosen.
The same principle applies to you.
Those that the ancients referred to as excelling at warfare conquered those who were easy to conquer.
The victories of those that excelled in warfare were not marked by wisdom or courageous achievement.
Thus their victories were free from error. One who is free from error directs his measures toward certain victory, conquering those who are already defeated.

The Art of War

Strategic fit

After selecting the target, the next stage of the evaluation process is assessing the suitability of the strategy to the battle situation.

The wise general is one who can:

Evaluate the enemy’s plan to determine which strategy will succeed and which will not.

Deliberate and assess the situation, then move.

The Art of War

Strategic Advantage

As part of an effective strategy, the general must be able to create strategic advantage to secure victory.
Thus I say that victory can be created.
For even if the enemy has a large force, I can prevent him from engaging me.

The Art of War

Victory in war is not dependant on having a large force alone.

What is equally important as numbers is the training of the people involved and the appropriate use of strategy.

For example, if you can conceal your strategy but you know the opponents strategy, then they will never know where, when or how you are going to attack.

They will have to defend everywhere, resulting in a scattering of his forces which favors the attacking force.

As the saying goes, “divide and conquer.”

The attacking force can achieve relative supremacy at the point of contact by concentrating the brunt of his forces on the enemy’s few.

 

Those who excel in warfare, even when the enemy’s forces are strong and numerous, can force them to divide and separate, unable to rescue each other, and suffer enemy attacks without mutually knowing about it.

Military Methods

There are many other ways a smaller force can prevent a larger force from overtaking them.

The following are some examples of how to avoid a direct confrontation with a force that is larger than your own.

A. Keep a low profile.

If you keep a low profile, you will not attract as much animosity from the enemy. This can be achieved through humility and feigned vulnerability.

 

In the beginning, be as shy as a young maiden to entice the enemy to lower his defenses.

The Art of War

B. Attacking the enemy through their strength.

In order to attack the strong you must nurture them to make them even stronger, and increase them to make them even more extensive.
What is too strong will certainly break;
what is too extended must have deficiencies.
Attack the strong through his strength.

The Six Secret Teachings

C. Seizing something that is of great value to the enemy.

Exploit the advantages conferred by the tactical balance of power.
Increase the enemy’s excesses, seize what he loves. Then we, acting from without, can cause a response from within.

Sima Fa

 

If someone asks: “What should I do when faced with a large and well-organized enemy troop about to invade my territory?”
My reply is, “Seize what he loves, and he will conform to your desires.”

The Art of War

In warfare, this could include things like kidnapping high commanders or stealing battle plans.

Or as the high school football coach used to say, “Sack the Quarterback.”

Seizing something of value to the enemy allows you to gain strategic advantage.

The advantage gained should be sustained throughout the battle or at least buy some time for the smaller force to devise a better battle plan.

Strategic advantage can also be brought to bear when the enemy leaves gaps in their defenses.

For example, if he chooses not to defend a particular area, then that area can easily be taken.

When those who excel at warfare discern an enemy’s strength, they know where he has a shortcoming.
When they discern an enemy’s insufficiency, they know where he has a surplus.
They perceive victory as easily as seeing the sun and the moon. Their measures for victory are like using water to conquer fire.

Military Methods

 

In addition to capitalizing on situations for victory, the capable general also ensures he has a strong defense.
Therefore, those adept in warfare ensure that he is in a position of non-defeat, while never missing the opportunity to defeat the enemy.

The Art of War

In order to ensure victory and achieve a situation of non-defeat, one must create and find strategic advantage.

This requires the use of both offensive and defensive strategies.

And even when a seemingly effective strategy is adopted, there is still a need to try and maintain and strengthen your strategic advantage.

If an advantageous strategy is already adopted, there is still a need to create advantageous situations so as to support its accomplishment.
By ‘situations,’ I mean one must change according to the circumstances so as to obtain advantages.

The Art of War

Strategic Timing

Timing is one of the most important aspects of conducting an operation.

External conditions are always changing. And more specifically, timing will affect the precise moment to launch your campaign.

It will also affect what strategy to employ.

There are times it is suitable to engage the enemy and times it is not.

There are also certain moments when it is more fitting to engage the enemy.

In the early stages of a battle, the spirits of the forces are high; they will gradually flag. 

At the end stage, their spirits are low and they are thinking of returning home. 

Therefore, those adept in warfare avoid attacking the enemy when their spirits are high, but attack them when their spirits are

sluggish.

The Art of War

Objective/Numerical Evaluation

The subjective evaluation of strategy, proposed four interlocking elements of strategic target, fit, advantage and timing.

These can provide an indication of how effective a strategy might be.

In addition, it’s also good to do a numerical/quantitative analysis. This can include complex calculations or simple budgeting of time and money.

The elements of the science of war are first, measurement of space; second, estimation of expenses,
third, calculation of forces; fourth, weighing possibilities; and fifth, planning for victory.

The Art of War

After all that analysis, of every shape and sort imaginable, it’s time to get moving—to start “doing” something.

If you’ve factored everything in and tweaked and adjusted the goals and strategies, it’s time to start implementing.

Implementation Of Strategies

So far we have discussed situation appraisal, formulation of goals and strategies and evaluation of strategies.

The next step is the implementation of strategies.

Implementation involves two parts: the human element, and the operational element.

The human element means understanding the roles and responsibilities of the people involved in the mission.

The operational element relates to certain principles that affect the successful accomplishment of the mission.

The Human Factor

1. The Sovereign

2. The Army

3. The Commander

The “sovereign” represents the larger political/cultural space you are operating in.

The “army” is your working group.

The Commander

To reiterate some of the points from section two, the general should develop the qualities of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness. And he should avoid the five negative traits of recklessness, cowardice, quickness of temper, sensitivity to honor, and being too compassionate.

Taking into account both positive and negative traits, a capable general must possess five vital characteristics – caution in action, courage in battle, composure under stress, pragmatism in decision making and sincerity in dealing with people.

In addition, he needs to have three abilities – the ability to plan, the ability to execute and the ability to lead his army.

Heaven gives birth to the four seasons, Earth produces the myriad things.
Under Heaven there are the people, and the Sage acts as their shepherd.
Thus the way of spring is birth and the myriad things begin to flourish.
The way of summer is growth and the myriad things mature.
The way of autumn is gathering, the myriad things are full.
The way of winter is storing away, the myriad things are still.
When they are full they are stored away; after they are stored away they again revive.
No one knows where it ends, no one knows where it begins.
The Sage accords with it, and models himself on Heaven and Earth.
Thus when the realm is well ordered, his benevolence and sagacity are hidden.
When All under Heaven are in turbulence, his benevolence and sagacity flourish.
This is the true way.

The Six Secret Teachings

Cautiousness

The general must be cautious in action.

Being cautious, however, does not mean being indecisive or slow to act.

It does not suggest overly conservative decision making or avoidance of aggressive actions.

Cautiousness, rather, is the ability to weigh possibilities and determine their likely consequences.

 

One who excels at warfare will await events in the situation without making any movement.
When he sees he can be victorious he will arise: if he sees he cannot be victorious he will desist.
Thus it is said that he doesn’t have any fear, he doesn’t vacillate.
Of the many harms that can beset an army, vacillation is the greatest.
Of disasters that befall an army, none surpasses doubt.

The Six Secret Teachings

Courage

Aside from caution, the general must be courageous in action. Courage means the ability to make bold decisions and to take risks when necessary.

Sometimes this means sticking to an unpopular decision when he feels it is the right decision.

Also, he must be courageous enough to admit fault and accept responsibility in the face of defeat.

Composure

The capable general is someone who is composed and not easily provoked. Despite his high stature, he must not succumb to hubris and egotism. He must be able to withstand insults and provocation. He must not be tempted into taking reckless action or being provoked into overreaction.

…a general must not fight a battle out of resentment.
For while anger can be restored to happiness, and resentment can become pleasantness; a state that has perished cannot be restored, and a man who is dead cannot be resurrected.

The Art of War

Pragmatism

The general must be pragmatic in decision making.

Sometimes a decision will have to be made that differs from the prior consensus of the group.

Because the general is there on the battlefield and watching the events unfold, sometimes he will need to make an “executive decision.”

To be practical and realistic requires initiative.

If the situation is one of victory, the general must fight even though the ruler may have issued orders not to engage.
If the situation is one of defeat, the general must not fight even though the ruler may have issued orders to do so.

—The Art of War

Sincerity

The general must be sincere when dealing with people, especially the members of his working group.


When a general treats his men like his
beloved sons, they will be willing to support
him unto death.
Pay attention to nourishing the troops, and do not tire them unnecessarily.

The Art of War

However, he must also beware of being overl compassionate.

If he is too considerate, this could be interpreted as weakness by his group and result in a lack of discipline an insubordination.

In addition, this could be a weakness exploited by the enemy.

If over-compassionate to the people, he can be easily harassed.

—The Art of War

In addition, there are three abilities that a general needs.

A. Ability to plan.

The general should have the ability to plan, especially in the area of strategy.

He must know when to fight and when not to fight, where he should be fighting, how he should go about fighting, whom he is fighting and why he is fighting.

He should know which weapons to use and which troops to employ.

His ability to plan will enable him to effectively exploit opportunities on the ground as they arise.

Therefore, the adept at war seek victory from the situation, and do not rely on the efforts of the individuals.
Thus, he is able to select suitable men to exploit the situation.

The Art of War

B. Ability to execute plans.

The general should have the ability to execute plans effectively. Even if your plan has a Ninety eight percent chance of success, if you don’t execute, you will not reach your objective.

If at the height of the day, you do not dry

things in the sun, this is termed losing time. 

If you grasp a knife you must cut. If you hold

an axe, you must attack.

The Six Secret Teachings

C.         Ability to lead his army.

Something that often gets overlooked is the need to employ others in the execution of your plan.

This is one of the highest leverage factors in executing a plan.

We only have 24 hours in a day. In order to achieve maximum effectiveness, it is absolutely necessary to utilize the talents of others.

You must learn how to lead and manage the group of people working on the execution of the plan.

Whenever one mobilizes the army it takes the commanding general as its fate.
Its fate lies in a penetrating understanding of all aspects, not in clinging to one technique.
In accord with there abilities assign duties, each one taking charge of what they are good at, constantly changing and transforming with the times, to create the essential principles of order.
Thus the general has seventy-two “legs and arms” and “feathers and wings” in order to respond to the way of Heaven.

—The Six Secret Teachings

Operational Factor

In addition to human factors, there are operational factors to consider.

These factors can be summarized by 3 underlying principles.

1. The Principle of Speed

2. The Principle of Adaptability

3. Deceptiveness in Action and Strategy

The Principle of Speed

This refers to swiftness in execution. A plan is useless unless it is executed.

However, it is also important how it is executed.

One of the primary principles in execution is speed.

This is in sharp contrast to the views on planning, which support thoroughness and attention to detail.

This thoroughness naturally tends to take some time. But once the plan is formalized it needs to be executed expediently.

Speed of execution ensures that the plan actually gets done and doesn’t just sit on the “back burner”.

If one sees good but is dilatory in doing it;
If the time for action arrives and one is doubtful;
if you know something is wrong but you sanction it—it is in these three that the way stops.

The Six Secret Teachings

Also, in a directly competitive situation, if the plan isn’t executed swiftly, it could be leaked or offer the enemy a chance to read your

movements and start preparing countermeasures.

Speed in execution will give the added advantage of surprise and capitalize on the enemy’s lack of preparation.

If your plans are heard about, the enemy will make counterplans.
If you are perceived, they will plot against you.
If you are known they will put you in difficulty.
If you are fathomed, they will endanger you.

The Six Secret Teachings

Speed is the essence of war.
Capitalize on the unpreparadness of the enemy;
travel by unexpected routes; and attack those places where he does not take precautions.

–The Art of War

Timing

Timing means acting at the appropriate moment.
When the strike of the falcon breaks the body of it’s prey, it is because of correct timing.

The Art of War

The falcon is able to fatally strike its victim because of accurate timing.

It is able to overcome a much larger prey because of speed and accuracy.

It uses its strengths against its victim’s weaknesses, so it is able to attain relative superiority at the moment of engagement.

It’s important to strike at the most opportune time–neither too early nor too late.

Timing is more of an art than a science. A lot depends on the judgment of the commander on the battlefield.

The art of applying correct timing depends on the general having a good feel for the situation.

 

The wise follow the time and do not lose advantage;
the skillful are decisive and have no doubts.
For this reason, when there is a sudden thunderclap there isn’t time to cover the ears;
when there’s a flash of lightning, there isn’t time to close the eyes.

The Six Secret Teachings

Momentum

Timing is used to catch the enemy off guard and exploit advantages of the situation as they appear.

Momentum is used to achieve a synergy of action.

One action leads to another to another to another and all the while building up strength.

When [a good general] uses combined energy, his army become like rolling logs or stones.
It is the nature of logs or stones to be motionless on level ground and move when on a slope. …
Thus the energy generated when employing troops is like the momentum of rolling a round boulder down the side of a thousand foot mountain.

The Art of War

Water is a soft substance, yet it can move homes off their foundation and cut valleys into solid rock because of its movement.

When rushing water moves boulders, it is because of momentum.

The Art of War

Momentum also refers to the pace of action.

Speed of implementation builds momentum.

Protracted campaigns kill the energy.

When victory is long delayed, the ardor and
morale of the army will be depressed.
When the siege of a city is prolonged, the army will be exhausted.
If the army engages in protracted campaigns, the resources of the state will be impoverished.

The Art of War

The Principle of Adaptability

Despite all the detailed planning and swiftness of execution, things can still go wrong.

Thus, you must be able to adapt to changing conditions.

There are three primary aspects to the principle of adaptability:

1. Flexibility

2. Innovativeness

3. Deceptiveness

Flexibility

Again we will take “water” as an example of how to be flexible and how to “effortlessly” fit the situation.

The guiding principle in military tactics may be likened to water.

Just as flowing water avoids heights and races downwards, an army should avoid strengths and strike weakness.

Just as water configures its flow according to the terrain, an army controls its victory according to the enemy.

Water has no constant shape.
The army does not maintain any constant strategic configuration of power.
One who is able to change and transform in accord with the enemy and wrest victory is termed spiritual.
None of the five phases dominates;
the four seasons do not have constant positions;
the sun shines for longer and shorter periods;
and the moon waxes and wanes.

The Art of War

In order to gain maximum strategic advantage from changing circumstances, the general must be flexible and adopt fluid strategies that change in response to the situation.

Strategic power is exercised in accord with
the enemy’s movements.
Changes stem from the confrontation between two armies.
Orthodox and unorthodox tactics are
produced from the inexhaustible resources of the mind.

The Six Secret Teachings

When neither the beginning nor end have yet become visible no one is able to know them.
Heaven and Earth are spiritual and enlightened, with the myriad things they change and transform.
The commander’s changes and movements
should not be constant.
He should change and transform in response to the enemy.
He does not precede affairs.
When the enemy moves he immediately follows up.
Thus he is able to formulate inexhaustible strategies and methods of control.
He can sustain and complete the awesomeness of Heaven.
Such a strategist is a teacher for an emperor or true king.

Huangshi Gong

Innovativeness

 In addition to responding to the necessities of the situation, you must be innovative, take initiative and consistently alter your strategy.

This non-repetition of tactics suggests a constant search for new and innovative ways of meeting challenges.

The use of new approaches will prevent the enemy from anticipating your plans.

Do not repeat tactics that won you a victory, but vary them according to circumstance.

[The commander] must be able to change his methods and schemes so that no one can know his intentions.
He must be able to alter his camp-sites and marching routes so that no one can predict his movements.

The Art of War

While flexibility is more reactive and implies flowing with the situation, innovativeness is more proactive and suggests initiating and

dictating the situation.

Those skilled in manipulating the enemy do
so by creating a situation to which the enemy must conform.

—The Art of War

Deceptiveness

Using deceptiveness can be a difficult topic because it involves ethical issues.

You must use your own ethical radar in evaluating the appropriateness of deception.

However, its implications are clear for warfare.

War is based on deception.
Whether to concentrate or divide the forces, when changes should be made to gain advantages, must depend on circumstance.

The Art of War

Deception can be utilized in two primary ways.

The first way is to conceal your true intention.

This knocks the enemy off balance and keeps them guessing as to when and where you will attack.

This gives you strategic advantage.

To be the first to gain victory, initially display
some weakness to the enemy and only afterward do battle.
Then your effort will be half, but the achievement will be doubled.

–The Six Secret Teachings

Also, you can use illusion to deliberately mislead the enemy.

One of the stratagems from the 36 Stratagems is “make a sound in the East and attack in the West”.

This is the technique of distraction, or as we used to say on the basketball court, “fake right, go left.”

A different strategy based on illusion can be encapsulated in another schoolyard favorite—the tactic of “playing possum.”

Therefore, when capable, feign incapability;
when active, feign inactivity.
When near to the objective, feign that you are far away;
when far away, make it appear that you are near.

The Art of War

Illusion can serve several purposes. First, it will confuse your enemy about your real intention.

This will make you unpredictable in the enemy’s eyes.

Although you may have multiple engagements with the same enemy, he will have to do a new assessment of you each time.

This can serve to wear him down and cause him to spend excess time and resources.

The tactical balance of power lies in the extremities of the way.
If you have something, pretend not to have it; if you lack something, appear to have it.
Then how can the enemy trust the appearance?

Wei Liaozi

The use of illusion discussed above will make your opponent weary of you.

Illusion can also cause your opponent to underestimate you – particularly if you feign incapability, vulnerability, humility and weakness.

This serves to lower his defenses and indirectly encourage his arrogance.

When the enemy has let his guard down, that is the best time to strike.

In the beginning of battle, be as shy as a
young maiden to entice the enemy and lower his defenses.
When the battle progresses, be as swift as a hare so as to catch him unprepared.

The Art of War

You can even go so far as to initially accommodate your own plans with the designs of the enemy.

The crux of military operations is to pretend to accommodate one’s plan to the designs of the enemy.
Once an opportunity arises, concentrate your forces against the enemy, and no matter how distant the enemy, you
can kill his general and defeat his army.
This is what it means to achieve success in an ingenious way.

—The Art of War

But be careful with these kinds of tactics. To lure someone into your hands by seeming to be lured into his trap is an art that requires the utmost skill.

To feign confusion, one must possess discipline;
to feign cowardice, one must possess courage;
feigned weakness must be born out of strength.

The Art of War

This sudden change from weakness to strength and vulnerability to aggression can have a stunning impact that cripples the enemy. The true “master” of war wins so swiftly and covertly that by the time the enemy realizes what is happening, he is already defeated!

The victories won by a master of war never gained him reputation for wisdom or courage.

The Art of War

Strategic Controls

There is one underlying substance that underscores and affects every stage we have dealt with so far— information.

Information is the blood that allows all of the other organs of this process to function smoothly.

Information in the form of feedback is very important.

How do you know if your strategy is working?

You must constantly collect feedback, analyze the feedback and adjust accordingly.

There are two dimensions of information— information acquisition and information protection.

Information acquisition in a military sense is referred to as the principle of intelligence and information protection is referred to as the principle of security.

The Principle of Intelligence 

The reason why the enlightened ruler and the wise general are able to conquer the enemy whenever they lead the army and can achieve victories that surpass those of others is because of foreknowledge.

This foreknowledge cannot be elicited from

spirits nor from the gods; nor by inductive

thinking; nor be deductive calculations. It can

only be obtained from men who have

knowledge of the enemy’s situation.

The Art of War

This clearly indicates the use of espionage.

Espionage could include the use of spies to acquire information about the enemy’s plans, activities or location of troops and supplies and

so on. It could also include a detailed assessment of the enemy’s morale or an inside report about personal qualities of the enemy’s general.

(And if you know the enemy’s general’s favorite things, it is much easier to bribe him.)

The Principle of Security

While the principle of intelligence represents the offensive side of strategic controls, the principle of security represents the defensive side of the equation.

It’s important to realize that while you may be gathering information about your enemy, he is also gather information about you.

There are direct and indirect ways to protect your strategic advantage in regards to information.

One direct way is by withholding your strategic plans and maintaining secrecy.

The less the plans are divulged, the more secure they are.

The general must be capable of keeping his

officers and men ignorant of his battle plans. 

He only assigns tasks to his soldiers, but

does not explain the purpose.

The Art of War

Aside from this direct measure of secrecy, there is an indirect way.

You can maintain secrecy by becoming formless.

Assuming the formless is a combination of deception and unpredictability.

The ultimate in deploying one’s troops is to

be without ascertainable shape, to be formless.  

Thus even the ablest spies cannot detect anything, nor are the wisest men able to develop counterstrategies.

The Art of War

The Art Of Strategic Thinking And Mental Warfare

The seven key concepts embedded in the strategic process I teach are:

  1. Comprehensive planning
  2. Value of information
  3. Choice of battleground
  4. Speed of execution
  5. Adaptability
  6. Creation of advantage through deception
  7. Attack, if one must compete in the open

Comprehensive planning

To reach any goal that necessitates a multi-step process, planning must be done.

The focus is not whether to plan or not to plan.

Rather, the focus is how detailed the planning is.

Also, it is recognized that comprehensive planning is as much an art as a science.

Thoroughness of planning would encompass considerations on a macro and micro level, the inclusion of both controllable and uncontrollable factors, internal and external dimensions, human and non-human components, static and dynamic forces and tangible and intangible matters.

A comprehensive plan has to be exhaustive in coverage and considerations.

However, while plans should be detailed, the planning process should not be an excuse for not taking action.

In life there is usually never a “right time” or “perfect time” to do something. If you wait for the “right time,” then you will wait forever.

Sometimes you need to take action before the plan is “perfect” in order to build momentum.

Remember that planning should be done as preparation for implementation.

Planning is not just done for planning sake.

Value of Information

Comprehensive plans cannot be made on the basis of intuition, gut feeling or calculated guesses.

It must be based on intelligence—based on direct knowledge.

This intelligence cannot be obtained from spirits or gods; nor by inductive thinking or deductive calculations.

The best quality information is obtained by men who have direct knowledge of the enemy’s situation.

In addition, it’s best to get as close to the source as possible when gathering information.

There is a need to actively collect, store, analyze and utilize information, as well as protect your own information.

Choice of battleground

In military combat, one of the important factors is the choice of battleground.

This same logic applies to business and individual competition.

In choosing an area of competition, you should choose an area where you have some sort of distinct advantage.

Choosing the right battleground will allow you to draw on your strengths and camouflage your weaknesses.

Speed of execution

Once a comprehensive plan is created based on information gathered from intelligence and the battleground has been chosen, it is important to swiftly execute the plan.

Speed of implementation includes aspects of timing, momentum and pacing.

Adaptability

This speed in execution however does not mean just charging blindly forward.

You must collect feedback and change according to dynamic circumstances.

In addition to being flexible and responsive, you must also be innovative and creative.

You first have to get to “different” before you can get to “better”.

At any given moment, the best course of action might be a course yet to be conceived.

Plans should be adhered to as closely as possible but you must also use your judgment and deviate when the situation dictates.

Creation of strategic advantage through deception

In war, the creation of strategic advantage is very important.

Aside from exploiting advantages in weather and terrain, another important means is deception.

The morality behind the use of deception is not really questioned in war, but the use of deliberately deceptive tactics by an individual might bring up some ethical conflicts.

Certain individuals might not feel comfortable using deception themselves, but you cannot deny that other people are using deception.

If nothing else, you should be aware of deception so you can guard against it.

Attack, if one must compete in the open.

When in a direct confrontation, the most viable way to win is to go on the offensive.

Defense can only result in a “non-lose” situation.

It can prevent failure but cannot guarantee success.

As it says in Sima Fa, “With armor one is secure; with weapons one attains victory.”

Awesomeness lies in not making changes.

Benefice lies in according with the seasons.

Perceptivity lies in promptly responding to affairs.

Success in warfare lies in controlling spirit.

Skill in attacks lies in fathoming externals.

Defense lies in manipulating external appearance.

Not being excessive lies in measuring and counting.

Not encountering difficulty lies in foresight and preparation.

Being cautious lies in respecting the small.

Wisdom lies in controlling the large.  

Eliminating harm lies in being decisive.

Wei Liaozi

If you accept that there is an entanglement of explicit and implicit competition in life, then you can draw from the process and principles above to excel in whatever competitive situation you encounter.

Perfect practice makes perfect.

And in the words of Kenny Rogers, “If you’re going to play the game, boy. You got to learn to play it right.”

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