Where Sun Tzu's Rules Work


Are you a warrior or a worker? Since we all grow up and are educated in controlled environments dominated by non-competive relationships, we develop unrealistic expectations about our world. We are taught to think like workers: that situations are predictable and our responsibilities clear. Increasingly, however, more and more of us live in the creative, competitive world, where the situations and our responsibilities are unclear. We must take the initiative and make decision. This is the work for warriors.

 Situations and positions on the front lines of competition are unpredictable and dynamic, changing from moment to moment. Sun Tzu teaches us the basic skills for working within this environment.

What Works In Competition

If you are an information worker, a scientist, a sales person, a legal or medical profession, you know you cannot depend on plans. Your life consists of adapting to dynamic situations. Even 2,500 years ago, Sun Tzu saw that losers clung to their plans like an excuse while winners responded to the dynamics of their situation. Instead of the pre-planned steps we using in working with objects and routines as workers, Sun Tzu's rules adapt to the unpredictable behavior of people in their interactions as warriors. His rules teach us three areas of adaptive skill, called position awareness, opportunity development, and situation response.

The Competitive and Productive Realms

Peter Drucker, the dean of modern management, fought strongly against the idea that "strategic planning" was about planning tomorrow's responses to future events today. Preplanned processes are great for working with objects, but competitive strategy in working with people is different As our world grows more competitive, fewer and fewer of us are working with objects on an assembly line and more and more of us are working with people on the front-lines of competition.

In the arena of human competition, Sun Tzu's warrior skills win the resources needed to be productive with objects, and that productivity creates the resources need to be more competitive in the world of people. Both productive planning and competitive skills are necessary. Together, they create the resources and need for each other in a cycle. The control of advanced planning and the adjustments of strategic positioning both require human creativity, but they require different methods to apply that creativity. The problem is that our knowledge of planned production has overshadowed our understanding of competitive strategy.

Sun Tzu's strategy focuses on positions. Positions are affected be conditions in the environment, but that effect is determined by our decisions. Conditions affect positions through decisions. Warrior methods are a feedback loop. We can cling to our past patterns of behavior whether they work or not, or we can learn how to adapt our decisions to fit the changing conditions.