Success does not come from defeating opponents but by advancing your strategic position. Strategic positions exist primarily in the human mind. They arise from everyone constantly comparing everyone else. From these comparisons, people decide who to support, who to oppose, and who to ignore. Since competition exists primarily in the human mind, the basis of all competition is really information. The neurochemical system by which animals compare each other are at least 350 million years old.
A strategic position consists of five elements, five types of information by which competitors are compared. These five elements reflect the competitive environment in which we evolved.
The core of a position is its Mission, that is, its goals. Without a Mission, “advancing your position” has no meaning. Mission is the source of strategic strength which comes from focus and unity. Focus means properly prioritizing activities. Unity is the ability to join individual missions into a shared Mission. Our mental dopamine reward system is triggered only by progress toward goals. This is why people without goals or with unrealistic goals become depressed.
The next two elements of a strategic position are environmental, the Climate and the Ground. Psychologically, they represent the physical environment, but strategically, they are more than that. The Climate is what changing. Climate consists of events that both degrade existing positions and create new opportunities for improving positions. The Ground is the stable, part of the competitive environment which is the source of resources. Competing positions control different pieces of the ground and seek to expand their ground or move it toward more rewarding positions.
The last two elements of a position are internal to each competitor. They can be called Methods and Character. Methods are to a competitor’s skills or an organizations area of expertise. Methods are the accumulation of learning. Character is personality and temperament. It is the psychological basis for how an individual or organization makes choices.
Sun Tzu’s strategy is a method for making better choices in an environment consists of people creating mental hierarchies based upon these five characteristics.
Sun Tzu’s method for advancing positions is a Progress Cycle of Listen, Aim, Move, Claim. Listen to identify openings. An opening is empty ground, a need that isn’t filled. Aim is the ability to choose the best opportunities that take you toward your goal. You must pick openings that you can fill with your resources, skills, and personality. Move is action based on Aim. Moves must be adapted to the specific circumstance under which a move take place. Claim is recognizing failed Moves and getting recognition for successful one. Without Claims, you repeat the same mistakes and never get rewarded for your successes. Each Progress Cycle leads to the next.
Since this strategy is based on information, the basic problem is the limits of information. Decisions must be made quickly in an environment of misinformation, self-delusion, and full of unknowns.