The Entangling Terrain: No Way Back

One of the advantages of learning Sun Tzu's strategy is that it allows you to see some situations with a certain clarity. For example, Sun Tzu maps the competitive terrain in a way that defines six different extemes of positions in a three dimensional matrix of ground characteristics or, in the case of business, market characteristics. One of the most interesting of these extremes is called Entangling Terrain. This is defined as a position which, once you move out of it, you cannot return.

Contested Ground: China

Sun Tzu defines nine types of competitive, which define the most common relationships among competitors. Each type of ground is best handled in one way. Contested ground is defined as rich ground, to which a number of competitors are attracted and over which they can easily get into battles.

Creativity: Mixing Standard Components in a New Way

Sun Tzu taught a simple formula for creativity. You look at the existing pieces of "best practices." You then take those pieces apart and put them together in a new way. Sun Tzu specifically teaches three views of best practices: how processes look, how they sound, and how they "taste," that is, changing the result they create. As I point out in several of my books, "rearranging" these parts is often a matter of changing their order in time, but those rearrangements are often made possible by advances in other areas usually very remote from the target area.

The Search for Empty Ground

Sun Tzu's strategy is non-intuitive because it is a contrarian philosophy. It teaches people that they must avoid their natural instict to follow the crowd. You cannot be successful if you do what everyone else does. Good strategy rewards creativity. In this sense, it is a constant search for empty ground. The empty ground is the opportunity that everyone always overlooks. We can never know if the empty ground is fertile or not until we explore it. Many empty grounds prove to be empty for a good reason: they are barren.


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