The Objective and Subjective Nature of Positions

Sun Tzu taught that strategic positions are both physical and psychological. Building a psychological position is easier than building a physical one because it is easier to manipulate information than it is to move real objects. For example, the war on terror has always been an information war. The main thesis of my adaptation of Sun Tzu to address the terror war, Strategy Against Terror, is that terrorism is best understood as a advertising campaign in which the terrorist leverage the systemic problems with mass media.

Feelings, Expectations, and Reality

Sun Tzu teaches that we cannot see our own position clearly. We need the viewpoints of others to give us perspective on our situations. But what happens when that perspective comes through an increasingly political and dishonest media? One part of the answer comes from in this article about America's general unawareness of its own material financial success:

Consistent Success Is Not an Accident

While anyone can get lucky, consistent success is always a matter of understanding Sun Tzu's strategy. While learning strategy from Sun Tzu is a nice shortcut, you can also learn the same principles from painful trial and error or by studying history, as Sun Tzu himself did. If someone is consistently successful, they will always espouse basic strategic principles that most people don't understand.

The Need for Calculation

Sun Tzu teaches that you must calculate the balance of forces before a battle. Strategy usually looks for ways to winning by avoiding opposition, but, when meeting an opponent is necessary, you can know if you will win or lose given meeting beforehand if you compare the five key elements that determine the strength of a position. You can thereby avoid battles that are certain losers.

Attacking Positions: The Most Common Strategic Error

Sun Tzu goes into some detail in his work why attacking established positions is the worst strategy. He does this because it is the temptation is so appealing. This is why it is the most common strategic error. It also provides the clearest examples of people repeating the same mistake over and over without realizing their errors.

Burma: The Rules of the Ground

In Sun Tzu's writing, the same Chinese character means both "ground" and "situation." Similarly, one character is translated as both "form" and "position." Sun Tzu's strategy teaches that it is the "form of the ground" or "your position in a situation" that determines your tactics: which methods work and which will fail. One of the most common mistakes in strategy is using methods that worked in one area in another area without understand the differences in the form or rules of the ground.

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.


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