The Art of War is one of the oldest books on military strategy in the world. It is the first and one of the most successful works on strategy and has had a huge influence on Eastern and Western military thinking, business tactics, and beyond.
Sun Tzu was the first to recognize the importance of positioning in strategy and that position is affected both by objective conditions in the physical environment and the subjective opinions of competitive actors in that environment.
He taught that strategy was not planning in the sense of working through a to-do list, but rather that it requires quick and appropriate responses to changing conditions. Planning works in a controlled environment, but in a competitive environment, competing plans collide, creating unexpected situations.
The book was first translated into the French language in 1782 by French Jesuit Jean Joseph Marie Amiot, and had possibly influenced Napoleon, and even the planning of Operation Desert Storm. Leaders as diverse as Mao Zedong, General Vo Nguyen Giap, and General Douglas MacAthur have claimed to have drawn inspiration from the work.
Nowadays, the book has gained popularity in corporate culture; there have been a variety of business books written applying its lessons to "office politics" and corporate strategy. Many Japanese companies make the book required reading for their key executives. The book is also popular among Western business management, who have turned to it for inspiration and advice on how to succeed in competitive business situations.
The Art of War has also been the subject of various law books and legal articles on the trial process, including negotiation tactics and trial strategy.
13 Chapter summary:
1) Laying Plans explores the five key elements that define competitive position (mission, climate, ground, leadership, and methods) and how to evaluate your competitive strengths against your competition.
2) Waging War explains how to understand the economic nature of competition and how success requires making the winning play, which in turn, requires limiting the cost of competition and conflict.
3) Attack by Stratagem defines the source of strength as unity, not size, and the five ingredients that you need to succeed in any competitive situation.
4) Tactical Dispositions explains the importance of defending existing positions until you can advance them and how you must recognize opportunities, not try to create them.
5) Energy explains the use of creativity and timing in building your competitive momentum.
6) Weak Points & Strong explains how your opportunities come from the openings in the environment caused by the relative weakness of your competitors in a given area.
7) Maneuvering explains the dangers of direct conflict and how to win those confrontations when they are forced upon you.
8) Variation in Tactics focuses on the need for flexibility in your responses. It explains how to respond to shifting circumstances successfully.
9) The Army on the March describes the different situations in which you find yourselves as you move into new competitive arenas and how to respond to them. Much of it focuses on evaluating the intentions of others.
10) Terrain looks at the three general areas of resistance (distance, dangers, and barriers) and the six types of ground positions that arise from them. Each of these six field positions offer certain advantages and disadvantages.
11) The Nine Situations describe nine common situations (or stages) in a competitive campaign, from scattering to deadly, and the specific focus you need to successfully navigate each of them.
12) The Attack by Fire explains the use of weapons generally and the use of the environment as a weapon specifically. It examines the five targets for attack, the five types of environmental attack, and the appropriate responses to such attack.
13) The Use of Spies focuses on the importance of developing good information sources, specifically the five types of sources and how to manage them.
"So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will fight without danger in battles. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself." (Sun Tzu)
1) Sun Tzu translated by Lionel Giles, edited by James H. Ford (2005). The Art of War by Sun Tzu - Special Edition. El Paso Norte Press.
2) Sun Tzu translated by Dr Han Hiong Tan (2001). Sun Zi's The Art of War. H H Tan Medical.
3) Sun Tzu translated by Samuel B. Griffith (1963). The Art of War. Oxford University Press.