Through initial impressions of the week six readings, I constantly tried to to find a way to relate the literature as a perspective of leadership. After finishing the reading however, I came to the epiphany that The Art Of War by Sun Tzu relates to leadership in ways that are both direct and indirect. Since we no longer live in a time and place where the original purpose of The Art Of War could apply in a straightforward manner, I instead will relate it to real life experiences through a symbolic approach. Through symbolism, The Art Of War can apply to the science of victory and leadership in everyday goals the daily lives of the modern civilian.
Sun Tzu’s The Art Of War is widely regarded as one of the top strategy books and a “must read”. An acquaintance of mine has even taken a class at University of California, Berkeley on the computer game Starcraft where the professor chose The Art Of War as the textbook. Because of the renown of The Art Of War, I approached the reading with high expectations and was left initially unimpressed. As a young teenager, I was captivated and possibly even addicted to real time strategy games such as Warcraft, Starcraft and many other titles. Through these games, I gained an understanding of many of the strategies that Sun addresses and felt as though the reading was just restating strategic concepts that I already had a basic understanding of.
The chapters of The Art Of War assigned to us this week has a lot of different topics of strategy including strategic assessment, planning a siege, formation, force, emptiness and fullness, adaptation, and maneuvering armies. Some of these topics are easily relatable to modern day leadership and strategy whereas other topics require an opponent to compete with and are therefore more difficult to relate to in a day to day setting.
If there is a common theme that covers every chapter assigned and also easily relatable to modern strategy however, that theme is preparedness. Sun does not directly address being prepared, but every chapter speaks about knowing your enemy, knowing yourself, knowing your surrounding and being able to adapt to any situation; or simply, be prepared:
“Du Mu – 5 things are to be assessed – the way, the weather, the lay of the land, the leadership, and discipline” these are to be assessed at headquarters. First assess yourself and your opponent in terms of these five things, decided who is superior. Then you can determine who is likely to prevail. Having determined this, only then should you mobilize your forces” (Sun 2).
Now that all of the themes are connected through the common strategy of being prepared, I can easily relate it to many real life experiences that have already occurred, are occurring, or will occur in the future.
Recently I was selected for an in-person interview with Scottrade, Inc. Excited with this opportunity, I quickly assessed my situation. “The way” refers to the step-by-step approach to the interview. I would start with proper business etiquette such as a firm handshake and confident eye contact. The next step includes preparing myself to answer questions that are likely to arise. Finally, I must end the interview on a good note by asking relevant questions, thanking the interviewer and asking for business cards. “The weather” and “lay of the land” incorporates assessing the corporate culture of Scottrade and the nature of the position that I am applying for. After assessing these, I knew that I must dress in business attire and come prepared with all of the paperwork and extra copies of my resume. The “leadership” and “discipline” assessments include my actual qualifications. I must exude confidence, passion, an active interest in the company and outstanding customer service experience. After assessing myself, I finished the preparations of my “offense” by asking friends for interview tips to further strengthen my advantages. Finally, I assessed my “opponent”, in this case, the hiring manager at Scottrade, Inc. After careful review of the company website and further research on the basics of an interview with a financial corporation, I deemed myself prepared for the interview, worthy of victory. As Sun predicted, “Be prepared and you will not be defeated” (Sun 84), I received a call from the hiring manager of Scottrade a few days later offering me a position with the company.
This interview situation is extremely applicable to the challenges of modern day life even if it is stretching Sun’s words to an extremely symbolic approach. To relate Sun better to modern day life, I can use a situation where there is a clearly defined opponent that I am trying to beat. My hobbies in basketball, poker and chess serve as great examples.
I was once able to win a game against a more skillful friend of mine in basketball. Upon careful assessment of our physical skills, I knew that I had size to my advantage even if he had more experience and overall “talent” than me. The negative side of this advantage is that my friend is not only quicker than me, but also has more stamina. Therefore, I knew that I could not utilize certain aspects of my game and must instead concentrate on using my size to post up or get rebounds. The stamina difference influenced me to keep the game short – a mere seven-point game to ensure that I would not run out of breath and suffer a loss due to fatigue. Coincidentally, I also knew the lay of the land better than my opponent and on the specific court that we were playing on, there is a slight uphill slant which I utilized to my advantage by keeping the slightly higher ground, a strategy that Sun suggests, “Master Sun – Watch the light, stay on the heights. When fighting on a hill, do not climb. This applies to an army in the mountains” (Sun 116).
Poker and gambling introduces another theme that Sun speaks of: control of emotions. Generally, emotions must be separated from logical thinking so that it will not cloud your judgment, “Master Sun – If the general cannot overcome his anger and has his army swarm over the citadel, killing a third of his soldiers, and yet the citadel is still not taken, this is a disastrous attack” (Sun 40). In poker, not only must you assess your opponent to be able to adapt to what he bets and calls, you must also keep your emotions under control. If you are losing, you cannot let desperation and anger cloud your judgment or else you will bet everything on a bad hand and lose. If you are winning, you cannot become greedy and disregard strategy or else you will risk putting yourself at a disadvantage.
In Chess, there is a very simple example of losing due to a lack of preparedness. A Fool’s Mate is a simple four-move checkmate that I lost to when I first started playing Chess. A lack of preparation for this seemingly harmless move can lead to a checkmate and cost you the game.
A concept that I found vague is the idea of “form”. Sun speaks about form throughout all of the chapters, but elaborates on it heavily in the “Emptiness And Fullness” chapter. At a glance, I thought that form was referring to the basic build of his army. Though still vague, the concept of form is clarified a bit when Sun compares it to water, “Master Sun – So a military force has no constant formation, water has no constant shape: the ability to gain victory by changing and adapting according to the opponent is called genius” (Sun 94). My understanding of form is that it is just another extension of preparedness; of having a plan. Sun suggests that you should plan to not have a concrete plan, therefore you are not only difficult for your opponent to assess, but you can easily adapt to your opponent.
For future purposes, Sun Tzu’s The Art Of War can be used in a way to make myself well prepared. For any upcoming situation where I want to ensure victory before doing battle, I can prepare by putting myself in the position of Sun’s opponent. In this way, I can effectively be assessed by Sun and find my weaknesses and fix them. Once I can see what weaknesses my opponent is looking for, I can prepare myself for victory.