More Freedom Means More Uncertainty

Planning and control are good things, but their opposites, strategy and freedom, are also good things. The complementary opposites of Sun Tzu's strategy balance each other. It is wrong to think of them as good against evil. We need areas of control in order to design and build things. Large areas of control, such as corporations, a necessary to build large, complicated things. This planning and control only becomes oppressive when its opposite, freedom and strategy, are suppressed. That suppression leads to stagnation and increasing frustration.

Little Picture, Big Picture

Sun Tzu's strategy requires seeing beyond the immediate situation into the big picture. Planning is reductive, reducing each process to a series of smaller, discrete steps. Sun Tzu's strategy is additive, adding each discrete situation to a bigger picture that, ideally, others do not see. I offer the following joke as an illustration.
A boy enters a barber shop. The barber whispers to his customer, "This is the dumbest kid in the world. Watch! I'll prove it to you."

The Power of the Big Picture

Planning is about breaking a larger process into small detailed steps. Sun Tzu's strategy is about seeing the big picture in every small situation. Sun Tzu starts his book with the five key elements because people tend to focus on one or two of these elements and lose sight of the others. All contests always combine philosophy, climate, ground, leadership, and methods. Most contests require time to resolve the contest among these factors. Narrow, short-term, myopic views provide little useful strategic information.

Classic Defense against Larger Opponent: Invade

One of the nine common strategic situations is called "scattering terrain," which occurs when you are attacked by a larger, well-prepared opponent. The required response is to invade the opponent's territory and endanger what the opponent loves. How easy is this? I give you the wondrous example of Ezra Levine, under attack by a Canadian Human Rights Commission (watch the videos).

Networks and Hierarchies

Competitive environments that require strategy are open networks. In these networks, people, individually and in organizations, are relatively free to act, choosing their own partnerships. Within larger organization, we find controlled environments, in which hierarchies define who does what and works with whom. Within these hierarchies, planning is not only possible, but necessary.

A New Year

Strategy teaches that all positions are both objective, rooted in reality, and subjective, rooted in our impressions and imagination. The New Year is an imaginary boundary, but a useful one that beckons us to start changing our position for the better. The mistake is thinking that change comes in an instant, with a tick of the clock. Changing positions is a gradual process that forces us to move forward and preventing us from sliding back.

Teach Strategy to Teenagers

Sun Tzu taught that strategic skills must be taught. They are not instinctive. A recent study comparing the decision-making of teenagers to adults drive home this point. An interesting aspect of this article is the inability of the scientists to express the concept of strategic decision-making. The closest they can come is to call it "the gist" of the situation.

The Wealth Gap

Sun Tzu's strategy is the science of comparing relative positions. Sun Tzu's strategy offers a system for understanding the dynamics of positions. These dynamics create short-term random "jitters" in positions, but when you understand them, you can harness their power to create long-term progress in one direction or another.

The Dynamic Society

Sun Tzu's strategy is designed to deal with the unpredictable nature of a dynamic environment. The most common mistake social reformers make is viewing and analyzing highly dynamic elements of society as if they were static. As we mentioned in the last post, the common goal of both the ancient feudal lords of Sun Tzu's time and modern socialist reformers is to create a static social order for the "common good" of society. Sun Tzu taught that the real world environment is too complex and dynamic for that to work.


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