Knowing to Rules of the Ground

Most people waste their imagination on flights of fancy. Competitive ingenuity doesn't come from daydreams. According to the principles of traditional strategy, only creativity based on knowledge can be transformed into competitive force. In using Sun Tzu's Rules, we teach that every competitive arena develops it own additional rules and its own standards by which awards are won. You must know those standard approaches before you can imagine the creative ones. Meet all challenges with a standard approach and win with surprising turn. While it takes time and training to master skills in any field, once you master any set of skills, you are in a position to start innovating. To rewrite the rules, we have to first know what they are.

Knowing the System

To work, an innovation cannot be used alone. It must work as part of a larger system. Too much of what people think of as creativity simply comes from ignorance. People imagine that other people are much simpler, both in the sense of a lack of complexity and a lack of brains, than they really are. People are, on the average, exactly as smart as we are. Every complex problem has a simple solution. Unfortunately, that solution doesn't work. The real world works using all the hard information in the minds of more than six billion people and their attendant machines. You cannot replace that information by waving a magic wand.

Look at the computer keyboard. Everyone knows that there is a better design for a keyboard. The QWERTY keyboard was designed to slow down typing on mechanical typewriters so they wouldn't jam. Coming up with a better design today is easy. Implementing that design is impossible. At least it is in a world where everyone knows QWERTY. The QWERTY design is embedded into society, so it is impossible to change.

Small Advances in the System

Sun Tzu taught that creativity could only come from knowledge of the complete system and could only be implemented as small, painless changes to that system. We must first know how things are done in a given area and why they are done that way. This is why organizations are advised in the various books on excellence to "stick to their knitting." You must know something well before you can make useful innovations to it.

The Leverage Points

Even then, before we can offer any useful innovation, we must identify what can be easily changed. And a lot of what can be easily changed depends on people's expectations. This brings us back to our first point about sympathy. We must know how these changes fit into people's thinking. If you think people are going to move to a non-QWERTY keyboard simply because they will type faster, you need to learn more about people.

Small, Powerful Changes

A great small, simple innovation to a strong working system can conquer the world, and has many times. Phillip of Macedonia changed the length of the spear in the Greek phalanx. The phalanx was a successful formation used by the Greeks for hundreds of years. However, Phillip was able to conquer all of Greece by making the simple change of lengthening the spear. Phillip's son, Alexander, coupled this more aggressive form of infantry with the use of the horse cavalry to conquer the known world. We know him, of course, as Alexander the Great. These relatively small changes are what take an existing standard method and push it over the tipping point into something great.