Art of War Quote:
"See the time to move.
Don't try to find something clever."
Sun Tzu's The Art of War 4:3:8-9
"Repetition of the same thought or physical action develops into a habit which, repeated frequently enough, becomes an automatic reflex." Norman Vincent Peale
Sun Tzu saw that every competitive situation had unique aspects. This diversity of conditions creates many problems for those trying to execute strategic decisions. The details of situations can easily confuse and distract us. Without a system for instantly recognizing different classes of competitive situations, we will often respond inappropriately. There are more than a thousand conditions important to competitive situations. Recognizing them all on a conscious level would be totally overwhelming. In situations where we must respond quickly and confidently, we cannot question every aspect of our situation.
Another of Sun Tzu's common complementary opposites is the alternating use of expansion and contraction. When we look for opportunities, we expand our awareness. When we focus on pursuing one, we must know how to concentrate our efforts. If we can focus on the key elements distinguishing different classes of competitive situations, we can recognize the major categories of situations instantly. That recognition automatically triggers our situation response. We limit ourselves to recognizing the nine major classes of situations because we have techniques for drawing clear lines separating them (6.4 Nine Situations).
The following Sun Tzu's methods help us understand the nature and demands of situation recognition.
- Competitive situations are event-driven changing relationships among competitors, rivals, and their environment. The triggering event is the pursuit of an opportunity. We cross a border from controlled territory to explore an opportunity. That event takes us into a new area and changes the relationship that we have with our rivals. This nature of relationship is what we call a situation (5.2 Opportunity Exploration).
- As we get information more quickly, we must recognize situations instantly. In the course of making a move, the requirements of progress are more intense and demanding. Crossing a border puts us in immediate contact with new ground, potentially creating new rivalries. In listening and aiming phases of progress, time presses but it doesn't threaten to overwhelm. When we are executing a move, we are under much pressure to respond to conditions as they arise. In most situations, if we don't recognize what is happening almost instantly, the situation will quickly get out of control (6.1.1 Instant Reflexes).
- Recognition must be geared to triggering a response. To reflect the faster pace, decisions at this stage are best understood as responses. These responses arise from reflex rather than contemplation. Recognition of situations to which we do not know how to respond is worse than useless. Such recognition simply creates confusion. We focus on broad categories of recognition to eliminate gray areas and confusion, which are often even more destructive than the situation itself (6.0 Situation Response).
- Recognition must be limited to relatively few generic situations. While we can pursue an infinite number of different types of opportunities using an infinite number of activities, recognizing situations requires a much narrower focus. While we could theoretically define a hundred generic situations and craft a hundred good responses to them, we could not execute them. The demands of time require us to limit our scope. We do so by limiting ourselves to recognizing those nine situations in which our instant response is critical to success. While limiting our focus to the nine most important situations is somewhat arbitrary, some limit is necessary, at least as a starting point. Over time, we can incrementally extend this list into more specific areas (5.0 Minimizing Mistakes).
- Recognition must pick out key details to categorize a situation. The skill of situation response requires recognizing the key characteristics of situations. We must discern the difference between general conditions and the specific conditions that affect our responses. We cannot contemplate all conditions or even all relevant conditions. We must focus only on those dominant conditions which dictate the specific type of situation in which we find ourselves (6.1.2 Dominant Conditions).
- Recognition must be unambiguous. We cannot know how to respond to ambiguous situations. Vacillation can not only eliminate our best option but create a more difficult situation. One of the key benefits of mastering the nine common situations is that they are unambiguous and exclusive. While other situations can arise out of our current situation, one situation always dominates our position (6.4 Nine Situations).
- The skills of situation recognition can only be learned over time by practice. Situation recognition develops over time. This is true both in terms of our personal skills and in the course of a given move or campaign. We can adapt to situations correctly, sometimes without even recognizing them, but skill as situation recognition takes work to develop. While we can write and read about this situation, recognition is not an academic exercise. Our training programs are built around constant exercise in decision-making because it is only through those exercises that we can develop these types of skills. Our StrateSition Board Game was specifically designed around teaching the nine common situations and their responses in an environment based on building positions (1.8 Progress Cycle).
To put this idea in everyday terms, let us use the example of driving to the store to buy groceries (6.0 Situation Response).
- Competitive situations are event-driven changing relationships among competitors, rivals, and their environment. The situation is the series of conditions we encounter on the road, culminating in a traffic jam.
- As we get information more quickly, we must recognize situations instantly. The longer it takes us to recognize the formation of a traffic jam, the more likely it is that we will be trapped within it.
- Recognition must be geared to triggering a response. If we are on a freeway and do not know the best response to the traffic jam, our recognition is useless.
- Recognition must be limited to relatively few generic situations. Though traffic jams didn't arise until two thousand years after Sun Tzu, they fit nicely into his nine classes of situations.
- Recognition must pick out key details to categorize a situation. To react appropriately to the traffic jam, we must know what the key differences are. In one type of situation, we can get off the freeway (6.4.3 Contentious Situations) while in another situation, when we are not near an exit, we must simply be patient (6.4.7 Difficult Situations). Both require very different responses.
- Recognition must be unambiguous. Do we try to get off the road or should we be patient? Vacillation between the two on the road can lead to a worse situation, an accident.
- The skills of situation recognition can only be learned over time by practice. Most new drivers are bad drivers simply because they lack the skills of situation recognition. What an experienced driver sees automatically from the signs, they miss entirely.