Action Decisions

The Significance of the Annapolis Meeting

Sun Tzu taught that actions always speaking louder than words. In Sun Tzu's strategy, the value of informaiton is often more easily understood in terms of costs. Verbal statements cost little or nothing to make and are always open to a wide variety of interpretations. Physical actions, however, no matter how minor, always involve some cost. This is why the most tivial actions, such as crossing a little stream such as the Rubicon, can have such an large impact.

Negotiating with Iran

The basis of all agreements is shared goals, or what Sun Tzu called "tao," the way. A shared mission is what holds organizations together. Diplomacy is the art of finding shared goals by avoiding conflict. It assumes that a negotiated agreement can be better for both parties than the best alternative to a negotiated agreement (called the BATNA in negotiation talk. Negotiations can often work because, as Sun Tzu taught, conflict is inherently costly to both parties, even the winner. If there is no shared advantage to an agreement and no fear of the costs of conflict, agreements are impossible.

The Unseen Opportunity

Sun Tzu's strategy teaches that opportunities are both 1) right in front of you and 2) hard to see. Why is something that is right in front of you is hard to see? Because your perspective, which is subjective and not objective, blocks your view. As human beings, we get locked into certain views of our situations, which filter out information that doesn't fit our mindset. Sun Tzu's entire system for strategic analysis was developed to overcome this problem.

Two Strategies

Sun Tzu's strategy is the science of experimentation. All strategy depends on the "rules of the ground," but unlike a game, strategy teaches that each new ground has its own rules. For example, what works on the new ground of the Internet isn't the same as what works on the new ground of nanotech. The principles of strategy are a set of metarules that allow us to discover the rules of any particular new ground quickly, cheaply, and safely. However, when good strategy allows you to discover the rules of the ground you are on, you must act on that knowledge.

The Objective and Subjective Nature of Positions

Sun Tzu taught that strategic positions are both physical and psychological. Building a psychological position is easier than building a physical one because it is easier to manipulate information than it is to move real objects. For example, the war on terror has always been an information war. The main thesis of my adaptation of Sun Tzu to address the terror war, Strategy Against Terror, is that terrorism is best understood as a advertising campaign in which the terrorist leverage the systemic problems with mass media.

Value, Risk, and Reward

Sun Tzu taught that advancing in small, certain steps were always preferable to using larger, riskier steps. What science considers "illogical" choices are very logical when we factor in the difference between controlled environment, where planning works, and competitive environments, where strategy works. Good strategy seeks to exploit the mistakes people naturally make in calculating risk and reward. Planning assumes that the future is controllable and predictable.

Wars of Words

A war of words is a special type of positioning duel. It focuses only on the subjective part of a position, that is, what a position means in terms of the future. A war of words is a psychological war in which one party is trying to get someone else to physcially change their position based upon the information communicated. Generally, all wars of words can be broken down into two types: threats and promises. These are future punishments and rewards for acting or stopping acting in a certain way.

Scrubbing the Facts to Fit the Narrative

Good strategy is about good information. Once a person or an institution become impervious to certain types of new information, it is doomed because information that is so important that it MUST be filtered out is likely the information that poses the greatest threat. Running away from threatening information by refusing to hear it is perhaps the most self-destructive form of the "flight or fight" reflex.

The Need for Calculation

Sun Tzu teaches that you must calculate the balance of forces before a battle. Strategy usually looks for ways to winning by avoiding opposition, but, when meeting an opponent is necessary, you can know if you will win or lose given meeting beforehand if you compare the five key elements that determine the strength of a position. You can thereby avoid battles that are certain losers.

Attacking Positions: The Most Common Strategic Error

Sun Tzu goes into some detail in his work why attacking established positions is the worst strategy. He does this because it is the temptation is so appealing. This is why it is the most common strategic error. It also provides the clearest examples of people repeating the same mistake over and over without realizing their errors.


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