Decision Science: A Winning Strategy for Making Choices.

Success is a choice. Success comes from making the right choices based on competing alternatives. Competition is just comparison. In battle, armies are compared. In the marketplace, products are compared. In sports, teams are compared. All these comparisons have something in common. 

You make choices but everyone else's choices affect you as well. People can choose to support you, oppose you, or ignore you.They can avoid you or join you. All of these decisions are based on comparisons, how you compare to others in their minds. In the end, your success in competition is determined by the choices that others make, but this means that you must choices that improve your position in the eyes of others.

We can win comparisons either by building up our own position or tearing down the positions of others. The minute people start thinking about competition as a fight rather than as a comparison, they start making competitive mistakes. Winning "fights" is just one method people used to win comparisons with others.  Those we try to take down will also try to take us down. It is most costly and damaging strategy. It never works long-term.

Golden Key Strategy teaches us to look for opportunities to improve our position with others. It teaches that people see each other's positions as consisting of five different elements or aspects, called 1) mission, 2) climate, 3) ground, 4) command and 5) methods. Sun Tzu's nine formulas explain how positions are built by 1) understanding positions, 2) developing perspective, 3) seeing opportunities, 4) calculating probabilities, 5) foreseeing mistakes, 6) adapting to situations, 7) building momentum, 8) winning rewards and 9) defending vulnerabilities. Using this cycle of decision-making, you improve your position in people's minds, affecting their choices about you both consciously and unconsciously. 

You learn Sun Tzu's nine formulas yourself in order to easily make faster and better decisions. These decisions are those most likely to improve your position in the eyes of others. Even deciding which formula is important is a matter of comparison: 

  • Sometimes, we must compare “what we have heard” with “what we need to know” before we make a decision.
  • Sometimes, we must consciously compare “what we choose to do” with “what choose not to do,” a decision usually based on unconscious assumptions.
  • Sometimes, we must compare “using the best response to a common problem” with “using a creative approach to change people's perceptions.”
  • Sometimes, we must compare “our ability to claim more from what we do” with “our need to protect what we are currently getting.”

Choosing Success

As the world grows more competitive, people are being offered more and more choices. The result is that most people are having a much more difficult time making decisions. In a famous experiment, researchers tried two approaches to selling jam: offering samples from 24 flavors and samples from only 6 flavors. While the 24 choices won more interest from shoppers, the six choices won a lot more sales. Only 3% bought jam when faced with 24 choices, while 30% bought from the 6 choices. When faced with difficult decisions, people fail to choose at all. 

Sun Tzu's Golden Key Strategy of comparing alternatives simplifies choices. Its "golden key" is, in his own words, "balancing a coin of gold against a coin of silver." This reduces all of competition, including all warfare, into a simple weighing of alternatives against each other. For Sun Tzu, competition means a comparison of alternative choices, nothing more or less. He described those alternatives as "positions." Battles, that is, comparisons, are always won by positioning before they are fought. Good positions discourage others from challenging you and invite others to support you.  Sun Tzu's nine formulas teach us how to systematically build up our positions to win success in the easiest way possible.

Sun Tzu's genius was using that ideas positions and perspective to let us see that people are really comparing when they make choices. Without realizing it, people compare alternatives on the basis of only a handful of elements. Sun Tzu identifies these points of comparison and explains how to leverage them. Sun Tzu taught that fighting to "sort things out" is a foolish way to learn the strengths and weaknesses of a position. Conflict to tear down opposing positions is the most costly way to win competitive decisions. The easy way is seeing the opportunities that are all around us for improving our position. 

Today's More Competitive World

In the complex, chaotic world of today, we can easily get trapped into destructive rather than productive decisions. Even our smallest decisions can have huge impact on our future positions, but most of us make these decisions without any overall perspective on comparing position. The problem is that we are trained for yesterday's world of being told what to do, not today's world of making more and more decisions. We are trained in the linear thinking of planning not the adaptive world of strategy. This thinking applies less and less to today's networked, more competitive world.

Following a plan is the worker's skill of following orders in the pre-defined functions in an internal, stable, controlled environment. The competitive strategy of Sun Tzu is the warrior's skill of making good decisions about conditions in complex, fast-changing, competitive environments. Sun Tzu's Rules teach us to adapt to the unexpected events that are becoming more and more common in our lives. We live in a world where fewer and fewer key events are planned. Navigating our new world of external challenges requires a different set of skills.

Most of us make our decisions without any understanding of competition, that is, how alternative positions are compared. We don't understand how we should make choices because we cannot clearly see how others make their choices. The result is that most of us lose as many battles as we win, never making consistent progress. Events buffet us, turning us in one direction and then the other. Too often, we end up repeating our past patterns of mistakes.

The Science of Strategy Institute teaches you the warrior's skills of adaptive response. There are many organizations that teach planning and organization. The Institute offers unique training in competitive thinking, and the only place in the world, with a comprehensive Play Book.

Seeing Situations Differently

Sun Tzu taught that good decision-making was a matter of trained reflexes. As we develop our strategic decision-making skills, the critical conditions in a situation simply "pop" out at us. This isn't magic. The latest research on how decisions are made tells us a lot about why Sun Tzu's system works. We retrain minds to see situations and positions differently. The study of successful response arose from military confrontations, where every battle clearly demonstrated how hard it is to predict events in the real world. Sun Tzu saw that winners were always those who knew how to respond appropriately to the dynamic nature of their situation.

The List of Sun Tzu's Plays provides a complete structure  for organizing our knowledge of key conditions in complex dynamic environments. This model "files" each piece of data into the appropriate place in the big picture. As the picture of your situation fills in, you can identify the opportunities hidden within your situation.

Making Decisions about Conditions

Instead of focusing on a series of planned steps, Sun Tzu's rules are about making decisions regarding conditions. It concerns itself with: 1) identifying the relative strengths and weaknesses of competitive positions, 2) advancing positions leveraging opportunities, and 3) the types of responses to specific challenges that work the most frequently. Using Sun Tzu's rules, we call these three areas position awareness, opportunity development, and situation response. Each area that we master broadens our capabilities.
  1. Position awareness trains us to recognize that competitive situations are defined by the relationship among alternative positions. Developing this perspective never ends. It deepens throughout our lives.
  2. Opportunity development explores the ground, testing our perceptions. Only by testing our perspective through action can we learn what is true.
  3. Situation response trains us to recognize the key characteristics of the immediate situation and to respond appropriately. Only by practice, can we learn to trust the viewpoint we have developed.

Success in competitive environments comes from making better decisions every day. Sharp strategic reflexes flow from a clear understanding of where and when you use which competitive tools methods.