Sun Tzu in everyday life: The Ground can be near or far.

In a hurry to get where I was going I had two choices, take the known path or the unknown path. What should I do? I quickly assessed the situation and knew that if I took the unknown path, it would almost certainly get me to my destination quicker. On the other hand, if I took the known path it would take longer but I wouldn't get lost. I chose the known path. By taking the familiar path I had an advantage of knowing where I was, where I was going, and how long it would take me to get there. The familiar terrain had no surprises (climate).

How many times in our lives are we presented with taking the familiar or the unfamiliar path? Ordinarily, I like the unfamiliar path. I like the adventure. On this day I chose the familiar path based on Sun Tzu's advice. The ground can be "far or near." This phrase implies familiar and unfamiliar terrain. The competitor on familiar terrain has the advantage (all else equal). We often call this the "home team" advantage. It's competing on ground that is familiar. Although Sun Tzu uses the terms far and near, the implication is that far terrain is unfamiliar while near terrain is familiar.

When you are familiar with the terrain you will also be familiar with its climate. You've been around, you can predict the rain, the snow, the cold and hot days. You know when to reap and when to sow. Your timing is more precise. It's easier to choose and time your next move. When you move, you can move quickly because you know the obstacles.

In business, facing the enemy familiar ground will give us the advantage. The business ground includes our customers. We need to choose customers that are familiar. We know them better than the competition. We already understand their emotions and attitudes (climate). We can time our advances better than the competition. We know how fast to move and when to wait. Winning is a time of celebration.

When we advance into unfamiliar terrain everything reverses. We must take the time to listen and learn which slows our response. Our lack of familiarity with the changing climate makes it hard to time our next move. When we move our steps are measured and unsure. The joy of winning is tempered by our exhaustion.

In business, when we seek out new customers that we don't understand we must take the time to listen and learn. Meanwhile our competitor is making progress. The temptation is to hurry. Our unfamiliarity with the customer makes it hard to pick the right time sell our products. We sell when we should be waiting and wait when we should be selling.The unknown obstacles before us making moving difficult. When we make the sale our excitment is dampened by the time invested. But, if we have learned more about the customer in the process, we have done more than make a sale - we have advanced our position.

Before advancing we must take the time to listen and learn new ground and its climate or our steps will be labored and our timing will be poor. It's easy to get lost and caught in the storm. Competing on familiar ground is not always a choice. As we advance our position we eventually encounter unfamiliar terrain and face new challenges. When this happens - LISTEN.