Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"The Art of Strategy" By Sun Tzu, translated by R. L. Wing.

The Art of Strategy

A New Translation of Sun Tzu's Classic

The Art of War

By R. L. Wing

Report by


HPE 2340

Pleasure Reading Book Report

Spring 2009

The Art of Strategy

The Art of Strategy is R. L. Wing's reinvention of Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Wing took an original manuscript of Sun Tzu's Thirteen Chapters and translated it into English from Chinese. He further broke it down into a total of fifty-two passages, four for each chapter, to be read in the course of one year. The intention being for one to muse on the philosophy of one passage for a week before moving on to the next.

The thirteen chapters are: The Calculations, The Challenge, The Plan of Attack, Positioning, Directing, Illusion and Reality, Engaging the Force, The Nine Variations, Moving the Force, Situational Positioning, The Nine Situations, The Fiery Attack, and The Use of Intelligence. At the beginning of each chapter, Wing has added an introduction to each chapter detailing how the concepts discussed in the chapter proceeding it apply to Conflict with the Self, Conflict in the Environment, Conflict with Another, and Conflict Among Leaders. There is also space reserved with each passage for the reader to make notes.

The first chapter, “The Calculations”, is divided into the following four passages: The Five Fundamentals of Strategy, Examining the Fundamentals, The Tao of Paradox, and Foretelling Triumph. It is primarily concerned with tallying up one's forces and organizing a plan prior to entering an engagement. It emphasizes analyzing the conflict.

The second chapter, “The Challenge”, is divided into the following four passages: Knowing the Costs, Swift Strategies, Using the Opponent's Resources, and Incorporating the Opponent's Strength. It deals primarily with the costs of conflict and encourages one to use an opponent's resources in lieu of one's own. The expense of transporting supplies to an army in the field is weighed against taking advantage of supplies available in the enemy's territory. It further explains the consequences of housing an army within your own city's walls and the subsequent inflation of the local economy. It is a general chapter for estimating the costs and a good example of paying attention to unintended consequences.

The third chapter, “The Plan of Attack”, is broken down into the following four passages: Engaging the Entire System, The Rule of Numbers, Three Errors of Leaders, and The Essentials of Triumph. In this chapter development of strategy and a few fundamental rules of strategy are discussed. It brings forth the concept of skill not being how many battles you've won, but how many engagements you've won while avoiding conflict. It emphasizes developing an error-free strategy. This chapter is also where the famous quote of knowing yourself as well as your enemies comes from.

The fourth chapter, “Positioning”, contains the following four passages: The Power Defense, The Triumph of No Effort, The Position of No Error, and The Five Strategic Arts. Sun Tzu here emphasizes working with the Tao(the way of things, balance, nature, it has various definitions) in order to ensure triumph. He states that it is not skill that leads to triumph, but a lack of errors and a willingness to take advantage of opportunities when they arise.

The fifth chapter, “Directing”, consists of the following four entries: The Positioned Strategy, The Power of Surprise, Moving the Opponent About, and Using Others to Create Momentum. The point made here is that events in motion move quickly, thus one has to setup triumph before hand and allow the opponent to blunder into error. This is achieved by direct and indirect manipulation of an opponent's movement.

The sixth chapter, “Illusion and Reality”, subsists of the following four passages: Creating Imbalance, Distorting the Opponent's Position, Adjusting the Opponent's Numbers, and Reacting with Systematic Positioning. It details camouflage in the sense of hiding one's position in order to encourage the opponent to spread the forces thinly, thus allowing you to attack a smaller force with your larger force and ensuring victory. Essentially, be as water and have no discernible fixed position.

Chapter seven is entitled “Engaging the Force.” The four sections are: Direct and Indirect Tactics, Avoiding Competition, Flexibility and Imitation, and Controlling the Variations. It deals mainly with anticipating an opponent's disposition and taking advantage of the idle or distracted moments as they present themselves. Attacking when an army is just waking up and preparing is not as advantageous as attacking as they are bedding down for the night.

Chapter eight is “The Nine Variations.” It gives us the passages known as: Situational Strategies, Combining Advantages and Disadvantages, Anticipating the Opponent, and Five Weaknesses in Leaders. In this chapter we are advised to be flexible in our plans and avoid weaknesses that an opponent may take advantage of. Similarly, we are to take advantage of any weaknesses the opponent shows by way of an indirect attack, therefore not opening ourselves up to attack in turn.

In chapter nine, known as “Moving the Force”, we are given the following passages: Using the Situation, Determining the Opponent's Strategy, Determining the Opponent's Vulnerability, and The Cultivation of Allegiance. This chapter is varied. Again we see the resumption of distinguishing an opponent's moods and how to take advantage of them, but also we are advised on how to marshal our own forces to be able to take advantage of those moods. The strategy of defense by avoiding weak positions and exploiting strong ones while avoiding feints and lures from an opponent is reinforced here as well.

The tenth chapter, “Situational Positioning” holds the passages of: The Six Positions, The Six Strategic Mistakes, Superior Leadership, and Knowing the Situation. In this chapter we are told to strive for triumph without the motivation of glory or honor, but as a practical and detached matter of course. Taking a less emotional stance and advancing or retreating based on the Tao of the situation, your position, and your opponent.

Chapter eleven, “The Nine Situations”, gives us the passages of: Situational Response, The Spirit of the Corps, The Way of the Adventurer, and The Strategy of the Superior Leader. Throughout most of the book it is emphasized that conflict should be avoided. Here, however, the true art of conflict resolution is expounded on. To fight or to flee, all the while throwing dust and trickery in the eyes of your opponent, depends upon the situation you find yourself in.

Chapter twelve, “The Fiery Attack”, brings us: The Five Fiery Attacks, The Five Fiery Variations, The Decisive Techniques, and The Ultimate Restraint. Sun Tzu elaborates further on knowing when, why, and if one should attack and the advantages of distraction through conflagration. The intended and unintended consequences should be observed and analyzed to determine whether or not the determined action is advantageous.

Finally in chapter thirteen, “The Use of Intelligence”, we gain the last four passages of: Obtaining Foreknowledge, The Divine Web, The Importance of Counterintelligence, and The Essence of Strategy. As the title implies, this chapter drives home the utmost importance of intelligence gathering being the most important aspect of conflict resolution. Sun Tzu says that nothing is more important nor should any expense be withheld towards those who gather intelligence.

This was an incredible book. It was thought provoking while still being common sense. The fact that it was originally written over 2300 years ago truly makes me understand why it is such a classic piece of literature. Not only because of its survival, but of the importance of its message.

R. L. Wing did a phenomenal job of translating this work. During my foray into The Art of Strategy I perused other translations, and while the additional perspectives were advantageous, they did not have the same clarity of thought and poetic flow of R. L. Wing's work. The introductions to each chapter gave me a base of reference without predisposing me to perceiving the accompanying passages in anything less than a neutral frame of mind. The addition of footnotes on each passage giving alternate translations of words used in the text greatly increased my understanding of the concepts through a synthesis of alternate ideas. I also found the translator's choice of breaking each chapter into four passages highly appropriate and incredibly well organized.

I do not know how to convince you or anyone else to read this book. I believe everyone should, without a doubt. After reading it I can understand why it is recommended reading for anyone planning to go into politics. I can easily see where the concepts could be applied to corporate strategy and why it would hold a place on every major CEO's desk.

This was not simply a piece of literature, it was a timeless work of art. To give a more depth explanation on why I feel you should read this would require more time than I currently have. Suffice to say, once you read it from cover to cover and if you actually internalize what is said, you will undoubtedly understand. Thank you for your time.

No comments: