To Succeed, Survive Defeat

No one succeeds without first surviving defeat. Before making a move, you have to consider what happens next, both if the move succeeds and if it fails. The Aim step of the Progress cycle selects the best opportunity. That opportunity is the most rewarding if you succeed AND the least costly if you fail. Last year, the New York Giants were eight and eight, losing a key game at the end of the season to miss the playoffs. Google "fire Tom Coughlin" to get a sense of how everyone felt about him at the time. To his credit, the team's owners, John Mara and Steve Tisch, kept Coughlin.

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.

Two Types of Science

Though I have often compared Sun Tzu's Art of War to Euclid's Geometry, the comparison has always been limited to a formulaic approach, building from simply propositions to the more complex. However, there are limitations to this comparison. In this article about a book by William C. Wimsatt discussing philosophy and science, he following quote describes two approaches to science:

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.

The Quality of Ideas

Sun Tzu taught that ideas are the key to survival and destruction. However, in a wealthy society, such as ours, survival is easy. The result is that many ideas that are inherently self-destructive are allowed to thrive simply because they are entertaining. Unfortunately, more and more people are believing these silly ideas, not because they conform with real life but because they conform with the fictional world of movies and television.

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.

Making the Claim: Alternative Viewpoints

Sun Tzu's strategy teaches that the subjective view of a situation is more important in terms of people's decisions than the objective situation. However, subjective viewpoints must be confirmed by their predictions of the future. A single viewpoint where no alternative views are allowed is a self-fullfilling prophecy. All the decisions make the subjective reality real. Only alternative viewpoints allow different, possible futures. This is why any student of strategy must seek alternative views. A single "concensus" view is nothing but blinders leading us down a single path.

The Unseen Opportunity

Sun Tzu's strategy teaches that opportunities are both 1) right in front of you and 2) hard to see. Why is something that is right in front of you is hard to see? Because your perspective, which is subjective and not objective, blocks your view. As human beings, we get locked into certain views of our situations, which filter out information that doesn't fit our mindset. Sun Tzu's entire system for strategic analysis was developed to overcome this problem.

Good Strategist or Calculating

The whole point of strategy is to carefully gage your position with the clear awareness that everything you do affects it in some way or another. I have often said that Hillary is by far the best strategist in the Democratic Party, but I worry about the party because being a strategist apparently makes you a target:
She's a triangulator. A trimmer. A carefully calculating pol who says what people want to hear. A canny candidate who is allergic to specifics.


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