Standard Terms in Sun Tzu's Strategy

Term Definition

1) the five key components of a strategic position: mission, climate, ground, command, and methods; 2) the basic components of a strategic situations, especially when they reflect the five key elements of a position


1. Any lack, or vacuum; 2. Any state of need or desire, 3. The opposite of fullness, 4. The source of openings and opportunities, 5. An unoccupied position


1. An action by any agent on the competitive landscape.
2. An unexpected condition arising from the interaction of actions of agents in competition.


1) A set of belief about what is likely to happen in the future;
2) The state of mind which makes surprise possible;
3) A point of leverage where the expected result is different from the most likely result,

External environment

1) the combination of a competitive ground and its related climate; 2) the combination of stable, fixed features of a competitive landscape and its temporary, changing resources; 3) the elements of an competitive position outside of the control of any competing agents; 4) any area of interaction among competing agents


1. The form of territory in which we can leverage the direction of change; 2. Spaces are dominated by the flow of change that Sun Tzu describes as rivers; 3. Any fast-changing situation when the direction of change creates an advantage; 4. A characteristic where the direction of change favors some positions over others


1. Any characteristic of a competitive territory that creates an advantage; 2. The characteristics used to separate the four types of territories: tilted (mountains), fluid (rivers),, soft (marshes), and idea (plateaus); 3. Any shape of a situation that advantages one position is superior to another.


1. The absence of a specific lack; 2. A particular need or desire after it is satisfied; 3. The opposite of emptiness; 4. A position that is occupied.


1) generally, the place where positions are located by competitive comparison to determine rewards; 2) objectively, the stable features and resources of the external competitive environment that can be occupied or controlled; 3) subjectively, the psychological mental map of the relationships of control authority within a given competitive arena; 4) the place where competitors meet and what they seek to win; 5) the key element of place that defines a strategic position.

Holding power

1. The relative stickiness or slipperiness of a position; 2. The characteristics that make a position difficult to leave or hold over time;


1. New responses to address a specific set of conditions.
2. The opposite of standard methods.
3. Methods that work outside of current practice.

Intersecting Situation

The class of situation where competitors know what is necessary to establish a winning position but individually lack all the resources necessary to create it.

Limited Situation

A class of situations with a transition point when we depend on a narrow set of resources.


1. Actions focused on improving market positioning among groups of people.
2. Actions focused on promoting awareness of a market position among groups of people.


1) generally, the skills, procedures, and systems used to execute decisions rather than make them; 2) the know-how required to undertake a given action; 3) the realm of tactics focused on properly executing a given action; 4) the key element of a position defining the internal capacities for execution; 5) the sets of knowledge required for competition and/or production


1. Any distortion of the conditions of a situation; 2 Exaggerating or minimizing aspects of the situation intentionally or accidentally; 3. Any "missing information."


The psychological force that increases people's expectations of our continued success.


1. Any deliberate action that seeks to advance a position; 2. Any investment in time and effort exploring an opportunity; 3. The exploration of an opening that has the potential return rewards; 4. Generally, any activity pursuing a goal; 5. One of the four parts of the Listen-Aim-Move-Claim Progress cycle;


1. A forms for ground that offers few opportunities for leverage; 2. An area in which the three characteristics that can be leveraged to create an advantage--gravity, current, and dependability--are unimportant. 3. Any area in which the shape of the territory offers few advantages that can be leveraged for or against us.

Open Situation

The race among competitors when the best route to success in a given opportunity is unclear.


1. An emptiness or need that creates an opportunity; 2. More generally, any opportunity; 3. A lack of resources required to maintain or defend a position; 4. The area of weakness that creates an opportunity


1. An opening that allows us to move to a new position; 2. The least expensive path to a rewarding position; 3. An area that can be explored for potential rewards; 4. An area of weakness that creates an opportunity


1. An emotional over-reaction to a crisis; 2. A destructive, fearful reaction to the unknown.


1. The combination of characteristics that define our area of control that returns rewards; 2. Our standing within a competitive arena; 3. A place in a group defined by relationships others; 4. Our objective resources as viewed through the subjective judgments of others;


1)Generally, the ability to develop a superior position especially in the face of challenges; 2) The force that arises from a narrow focus on a clear goal by a united force


Success in advancing our position in the direction of our mission.


1. A lack of distance between two positions; 2. Both intellectual and physical nearness; 3. The characteristic of having to invest few resources in a move


1. The ability to change directions easily; 2. The ability to make a decision and act on it a minimum of time;


1. The means we need to defend or advance a position; 2. Our assets of time, materials, and skill; 3. The rewards offered by controlling a given position;

Serious Situation

This class of situations arises when our exploration of a new opportunity cuts us off from the support of our original position.