Chinese Philosophy

War, Diplomacy, Aggression, and Defense

There is a difference between the controlled spaces within organizations and the chaotic regions between them. For both businesses and states, systems that work within do not work without. Living within a society of laws, we mistakenly think that people can always come to agreements without the use of force. But Sun Tzu's strategy teaches that agreement is impossible outside of a framework of shared values and goals. At the very least, opponents must share our fear of loss. This is why Fredrick the Great said, "Diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments."

Problems into Opportunities: Obama's Opportunity

Sun Tzu's strategy teaches that all problems are secretly opportunities in disguise. Converting a problem to an opportunity requires the process of "reversal," which means turning a situation upside down and backwards, looking for the opportunity. This is a confusing idea for most people, but we have a good example. Let us look at Obama's problem with Rev. Wright. Since the problem is about Obama's past beliefs and associations, Obama needs to reverse it and make it about his future actions and associations.

Leadership, Climate, and Ground: Super Delegates

In my last post, I discussed the need to get internal methods in sync with external competition. However, this comes from leadership. In classically strategy, the job of a leader is to make the tough decisions about winning by judging the nature of the ground and the changes in the climate. Someone who makes popular or easy decisions while ignoring the ground and climate is a no leader at all.

Avoiding Dangerous Position

We all know the old adage, "Look before you leap." When looking at new potential strategic positions, Sun Tzu's strategy evaluates three dimensions called distances, obstacles, and dangers. The "dangers" dimension consists of positions that get you stuck. This means that getting out of them is difficult or dangerous. The only time to avoid a dangerous position is before you get into it, but danger is often difficult to foresee.

Mission and Ground: Obama Mispoke?

Mission is the core of a strategic position and defines the other four elements: climate, ground, leadership, and methods. The connection between mission and ground is especially important. Recently, we discussed how unity from a shared mission creates strength and how spread-out ground positions are inherently weak. There is a strong connection between these two issues. This is illustrated by the Obama statements about small-town PA people to contributors in San Francisco.

Unforced Errors: Typical White People

Sun Tzu's strategy teaches that we cannot create opportunity, only use what the environment gives us. The secret is in seeing and seizing the opening. As usual, the Presidential race gives us a great example. In our discussion of Obama's minister problem in the context of Sun Tzu's fire attacks (notice how everyone now describes it as a "firestorm"?), we said that Hillary needed to stay away until Obama panicked and left her an opening. Obama has now left that opening. Let us see if Hillary notices.

Cooperation, Competition, and Conflict

A reader writes (condensed from a much longer message):
"I don't consider Sun Tzu to be a particularly useful model for modern business practice...In business we have a choice of looking in two directions: either towards our competitors...or towards our customers. My first thought would be to establish a co-operative relationship with my customers rather than concentrate on competition..."

The Illusion of Control

Occasionally I get email from those who express the firm belief that the world is controlled by some menacing force, but Sun Tzu’s work was suppressed in China to maintain the illusion that life is or can be controlled in this sense. The Chinese emperors and many governments today don’t want their people to realize that, no matter what our position, we can rise or fall in the world by our own actions. Sun Tzu's strategy teaches that we have no control over the larger environment but that we can adapt to it and use it to reach our personal goals.


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