Rearranging Elements

Sun Tzu's strategy takes complex situations and quickly identifies their key elements. The human mind is limited and we cannot deal with a million moving parts. Sun Tzu's strategy teaches us to focus on a handful of key elements and creating something new simply by rearranging those elements.

Given a perspective of sympathy and a knowledge of how systems work, using strategy's approach to innovation, you simply reorganize the parts of the system and see what happens. The most common elements that you experiment with are not the physical parts of a machine, but the steps in a process. You experiment by rearranging the steps or changing them slightly to see what happens.

The Power of Experimentation

Sun Tzu's approach to creativity is simple and has been around for 2,500 years. Still, it is surprising how seldom people try simply rearranging things. Most people think that it is easier to create everything new from scratch. That almost never works because there is too much involved.

Everyone hears the story of Thomas Edison's experiments when inventing the light bulb. All he did was try different filaments to create the light. Eventually he got it to work. Despite this simple example, how many people are willingly to methodically try new things while changing one element at a time?

Creativity is Human

The defining aspect of being human is our ability to create. We could all be experimenting every day to create our own innovations. We can all rearrange what we do to try the steps in a different order. We can make small changes in procedures to see what happens. If we did so in an intelligent manner, we could improve every aspect of our lives.

The Fear of Mistakes

If innovation is as easy as that—and it is—the big question is: why don't people experiment more?

The answer is that people are afraid of making mistakes. Part of this is training. While meaningless forms of creativity are encouraged in school as "self-expression," the real creativity of trial and error in changing working systems is neither taught nor encouraged. When it comes to areas of hard information and solid knowledge, people are consistently punished for their mistakes. They are never taught the joy of using wrong answers to find the path to the right answer. The result is that people never learn how to experiment except when they play video games. This is why video games are so popular and school is not.

Experimenting Safely

Traditional strategy offers a number of other rules for experimentation, but the need to try slightly different approaches to see what happens is at the heart of the entire system. Specific elements of both opportunity development and situation response are built on it. Learning these two systems provides both a method and a guidebook for strategic innovation. You never know where the resulting innovation will take you.