Action Decisions

Opportunity in a Dynamic Environment

Strategy works best in dynamic environments. Open, unregulated, free enterprise creates most wealth for everyone, giving people more and more choices, which requires more and more use of strategy. There is no limit on what you can achieve in places like America. There is an infinite amount of space at the very top. The proof? Look at the Forbes 400:

The Collapse of Societies

Sun Tzu taught that organizations grow until their protected, internal elements are divided from their external competitive elements. In their internal region of control, planning works, creating stable hierarchies of elites. These elites gradually raise the costs of external competition so that the organization can no longer support itself. The chaotic, independent, creative action of the common people required for successful external competition is controlled out of existence and the organization fails.

Optimistic or Pessimistic?

Sun Tzu's strategy is neither pessimistic or optimistic. Rather, it is a system for controlling investments while determining whether pessimism or optimism is warranted. A recent book called Breaking Muphy's Law (review here) looks at optimism or pessimism from a scientific viewpoint. The book considers research that harkens back to Sun Tzu's basic principles. According to the review:

A Comic Book Tribute to Planning

We often say that strategy is the opposite of planning. Strategy starts by realizing that control of the environment is impossible. The mistake of planning is assuming that internal control can be extended everywhere. Even if it could, the picture isn't pretty, even in a comic book. The only addition that I would make is that during a war internal planning is necessary because of the uniting focus on the external threat. Only in a crisis of survival do everyone's desires become one.

The Freedom to Decide

Each strategic position is unique: you are the only one who can decide which moves work from your position. Free societies have created unparalleled success and prosperity because individuals were not just permitted but actually forced to make decisions for themselves. We have no "masters" that we can turn to who can rightfully decide for us. The freedom to choose is both a right and a responsibility.

In a Cycle, Nothing Comes First

Sun Tzu taught that all systems exist as cycles powered by opposing but complementary forces. When you are stopped by what you see as a "what comes first?" problem, the answer is often than neither comes first, but that the elements can only be understood as a cycle. Neither the chicken or the egg comes first. They are both part of a cycle. Think about working cycles the same way you ride a bicycle. You press on one peddle then the other, depending on their position in the cycle. You cannot move forward if you press on only one pedal, no matter how hard you work.

Sun Tzu and Systems

The Art of War is a technical description about how competitive systems (literally bing-fa) work. For Sun Tzu, systems balance opposing forces to create a cycle. For example, our breathing system has two opposing set of muscles for inhaling and exhaling that create a cycle of incoming oxygen and out-going carbon dioxide. OUr circulatory system balances the pressure from the heart against the resistance of the capillaries to bring oxygen to the cells and remove waste products. Systems interact with other systems to create larger systems with more complex cycles.

Finding Resources in the Ground

Like most of my generations, I was fascinated with space exploration as a child. As I learned more about strategy, I realized that outer space would never be viable until we found resources there that could reward people for claiming the ground. The good news is that we may have done just that. The magic resources is called Helium 3. Read about the new space race here.

Competitive "Distance"

Strategy maps positions on both an objective and subjective levels. Both facts and opinions are important because both are forms of knowledge on which people make decisions. An example of how Sun Tzu's strategy joins the objective and the subjective is the idea of "distance." While distance is a physical feature that can be measured, it is also a measure of the amount of learning required to reach a certain point.


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