12 Success Principles from Chinese 36-Strategies

The Chinese 36-Strategies, some called it, 36-Tactics are well known and gainfully employed in military, business and politics. They usually have a bad connotation associated with it – dirty tricks. But if we examine them carefully, they are powerful strategies that can be used for good or evil.  Good as building a successful businesses and bad as destroying the competitions or enemies through deception and lies.  In a just and legal society, lies are bad and could be liable and criminal acts are not be done. In other words, we can use the 36 Strategies in a right, truthful and legal ways.

The 36-Strategies have the following interesting points (Please refer to the mind map attached):

  1. The Name of the Strategy is just 3-4 Chinese Words that gives a vivid picture of what to do for that strategy.
  2. There is a commentary on what the strategy means. The 2nd part of the commentary is a quote from a hexagram in  i-Ching.  This shows that the authorship comes after i-Ching and it is an extension of i-Ching teaching.
  3. From Form to Concept. The picture while vivid, may actually trapped our thinking. Hence, we need to abstract the form to the original concept of the strategy. The picture is just one form, an implementation of the concept. There could be other forms that we should adapt to our present situation.

36 Strategies are too many to grasp and apply. The original text divided them into 6 segments with 6 strategies each  I find them not too clear, and at best may be can be divided into winning (covering winning, engaging and advancement), confusing and lost 3 main segments. I prefer to regroup them into 12 principles and place them in order of starting a new and/or growing a business. It begins with probing (situational analysis), watch for the opportunities, exploiting the opportunities and so forth as shown in the mind map below. I will explain the individual strategies in clearer terms in the future. But I think the mind map speaks volume already. Hope you can benefit from it.

36 Strategies by Types

Lim Liat copyrighted April 2011

Sun Zi Art of War-6: Leadership Skills and Creating HPO

I thought I have covered Sun Tzu (Sun Zi) Art of War well with just 5 postings. But I felt I needed to cover one more important area, Leadership Skills or Leadership Principles to bring out the point that the ‘Art of War’ is more than just strategies for war. It is first about the building of High Performance Force or Organization(HPO) if I have not made it clear enough in the first 3 posts.

Leaders hold the greatest responsibility for creating the mission and culture for a High Performance Organization. Hence, let me cover the leadership skills from Sun Zi with the following mind-map:

Five Qualities of a Leader

  1. Wisdom – knowledge, skills, capability, competence
  2. Integrity – walk the talk, deliver promises, trust worthy, ethical.
  3. Compassion – love and care of staff and even of their families.
  4. Bravery – Boldness. Bravery is not recklessness. Bravery is acting on calculated risks.
  5. Strict-Discipline.
    Let me emphasize that the set of values listed above are counter balancing one another (as mentioned in Sun Zi Art of War-2: How to Manage the Five Factor). Compassion must be moderated with strict discipline and vice versa. So it with wisdom and integrity, bravery and wisdom, wisdom with discipline (be flexible when needed) etc. See Complementary Values from Chinese Zodiac Signs for a longer list.

What are Stronger than Number?
To a good leader, strength in number is not something to count on. Big market leading companies are dethroned by start-ups. Here are the Five things that are stronger.

  1. Alignment – shared mission and values provide concentration and focus of laser sharp cutting strength. Read my posts on Corporation Performance Management (CPM). Kaplan & Norton’s Strategic Map Driven Balanced Scorecard method is a great framework to follow to create focused and aligned corporation.
  2. Foreseeing Enemy’s actions or reactions – In the business world, I will translate to mean the ability to understand and foresee the trends in the market, customers preferences, industry, technology, social, environmental, economic and political situations.
  3. Getting Commitment of Staff – Highly engaged and motivated staff are key to corporate growth and performance. Happy employees creates happy customers who in turn rewards the corporation with money and loyalty.
  4. Detailed & Careful Planning with Agility – As covered in previous posts, Sun Zi believed in planning on real data, of weather, terrain, staff and enemy’s intelligence. Sun Zi also teaches about agility and flexibility to adapt and exploit changes.
  5. Humility – Never Under-estimate the Enemy – Our customers and our competitors are no fools. They can tell our ‘lies’ and ‘spins’. With social media, one ‘small’ customers can create great impact. Don’t assume our competitors are dump or dead that will not react or pro-act against us. Continued learning and innovation is the key to long term survival and growth.

Love & Discipline
The strongest motivating force for people is still LOVE – I Care about you. It must be demonstrated and not just spoken of. Yet love is not indulgence. Standards need to set and discipline need to be enforced.

The order is important – love first and then set standard. Discipline without love will produce temporary and on the surface following of commands. Deep down in the heart is the feeling of misused, abused, bitterness, anger and will create sabotaging whenever there is opportunity.

Lead by Example
Leaders must walk their talk. Best form of teaching is not by instruction but by example. This is the teaching of Lao Zi, teaching without talking! see The Tao Bible in One minute and Levels of Leadership – Which Level are Yours?.

Here is the Index of Sun Tzu’s Art of War:

  1. Sun Zi Art of War (Sun Tzu) in One Minute
  2. Sun Zi Art of War-2: How to Manage the Five Factors Well
  3. Sun Zi Art of War-3: Health Check with 7 Measures
  4. Sun Zi Art of War-4: Appraisal & Prediction
  5. Sun Zi Art of War-5: The Principles for Good Strategies
  6. Sun Zi Art of War-6: Leadership Skills and Creating HPO

BVOTECH copyrighted 2011

Sun Zi Art of War-5: The Principles for Good Strategies

This is the last post in the series of Sun Zi’s Art of War.  We summarize the teaching of Sun Zi’s strategies into the following 8 main principles or guidelines shown in the mind-map:

(Sun Zi in Chapter 1 said the main strategy of war is deception. But in going through the 13 chapters, I felt the starting or basic strategy is actually agility and flexibility in reading and exploiting the variations in time, terrain, and attributes encountered. So I put this mastering variation or change as the first and deception as the 2nd principle).

The Best Strategy is to Win without a Fight
Sun Zi in Chapter 3 ‘Planning to Attack’ says that winning every battle is not the best. The best is to subdue the enemy even without a fight! Every war will result in destruction even for the winning side. He explained further that it is better to take the whole country or the whole army in tact rather than destroy them. Hence, we begin the principles of good strategies with this foundation principle of win without a fight.  Here is the mind-map.



The Other Strategies for War

P1 Mastering Variation
There is no fixed strategy for war. Attack is not always right. Direct approach may be the wrong way. The best strategy is the ability to read the situation encountered, understand the variations and the advantages or disadvantages offered, determine the truth or false of intelligence gathered,  and then come out with the right strategies. This is the very basic teaching of i-Ching which is using unchanging principles to handle the changes encountered and obtaining the desired outcome.  There is so much richness in this principle that we need to expand it in the mind-map below:


P2 Deception – The Basic Strategy
How to deceive the enemy is given in the mind-map below. A typical operator is ‘Invert’ (see the BVITS Innovative Thinking Method for other 10 operators). We have covered in fact the Divide and Combine operators in the P1-Mastering Variations mind-map.

P3 Key Factors for Attacks
The keys for attack are: The key of a force is speed, attack when he is not ready,
take the unexpected route, attack the defended.

P4 Divide the Enemy
To weaken the enemy, a key operator Divide is used …cause the enemy force to be divided, front from back, small from large, power and weak, top from bottom, so that the enemy cannot combine and cannot be in mutual support of each other.

P5 Combine and Move only when there is an advantage else stop.
This is reminder that no guideline is always right for all situations. Reading the situation and apply the right guideline is the Arts of War.

P6 When we are relative lesser in size Capture the Enemy’s Love(or nightmare)
We don’t always need to rely on bigger forces to win. When we are lesser in number, we can still win the war. We do not attack the enemy at the its strength but focus our forces and attention in attacking the enemy’s love – it could be their King (this is one of the 36 tactics to destroy the thieves capture their chief first), but it could be other things. The things that keep the Enemy sleepless at night.  Find out this key resource or concern of the enemy and possess this key resource.

P7 Use Fire to Attack – Artillery or Air Raids in Modern Times
Don’t just think in 2D flat plain of operation. Think 3D, go by air, go wireless, go remote control. It could be a small impact to create confusion that the enemy will kill each other in panic or run away. In business world, what will be the equivalent of using fire legally?

P8 Espionage
We have stressed much in earlier post that planning must be based on facts and correct intelligence. We can collect intelligence in many ways. Sun Zi proposed five types of spies. We must reward them well, as some may die in the process. In this modern times, there are many equivalent to spies like customers, our sales and service staff, candidates seeking jobs, competitors’ public information, disgruntle staff, etc. etc.
We can also send out false intelligence to misled our enemy.
Here is the mind-map:

Hope you have benefited from reading of this series of posts on Sun Zi’s Art of War and apply them well in your business. Just to emphasize again that Business is a Love-affair rather than just a pure war. To the Sun Zi’s principles, we must map it to today business situations which I have tried to show and we need to add in the Customers factor – loving them (which Sun Zi only covered loving your own work-force. For that, please refer to my I-Ching Series and Ancient Chinese Wisdom).
BVOTECH Copyrighted 2011

Sun Zi Art of War-4: Appraisal & Prediction

We continue from our previous post Sun Zi Art of War-3: Health Check with 7 Measures.

Before we engage in a war, it is better to do a appraisal of the situation and make prediction as to the chance of winning and the associated costs and benefits. The mind-map below show the steps:

W E Deming, the Guru of Quality Control (actually, he is much more than that), says that management is about prediction (theory of knowledge). Management must be able to predict the outcomes accurately and hence showing his understanding of the working of the system. Then, management is also responsible for improving the performance of the system, not by meddling, but by understanding the profound knowledge of system, variation, psychology, and knowledge (ability to predict).
This is exactly what Sun Zi is teaching us – we must be able to predict the outcome before we decide. Prediction of outcome comes from careful analysis of facts from multiple factors and dimensions.
To Fight or NOT – How can You Tell?
Appraisal is done with comparison of relative strength. Recalling it is about knowing the enemy and knowing oneself.
It is also about the interests of the Country and its people and is NOT about the Commander’s ego or self benefits.  History tell a great number of stories of defeats due to Commander’s ego or anger. One of Sun Zi’s strategy is to anger the short temper commander and gain benefits against him. Hence, as a good commander, he must remain calm and objective and always have the interests of the nation at heart.
Appraisal does not end with a decision to fight or not but about improve one’s relative position and advantages.
Sun Zi gives the steps for Appraisal:

  1. It starts with identification of factors of competitions, besides the 5 general factors and 7 measures, we must study into the specifics of this situation. He used the term “Dimension” and I extend it to include the common dimensions of time, space and properties of the present situation.
  2. Once a factor(dimension) is identified, we need to decide a measure of it. Then we can measure its volume, or strength, in terms of how much or how many.
  3. Certain factor is the combination of several sub-factors, then we need to compute the result.
  4. Comparison with the Enemy’s Computed Result will give us the conclusion to be drawn on the next step.
  5. Will we win against the Enemy? I think with should read Sun Zi’s claim of Winning as a probabilistic measure, a measure of confidence level, rather than absolute. There are too much factors of variation to make a deterministic prediction for victory or defeat.

5 Principles of Victory

They are clearly depicted in the mind map below:

Exhortation from the Experts

I wish to quote one of China leading Chinese Classic Guru Zhai Hong Sen on Success & Failure. He said that the reason for failure was not lack of planning but lack of activities before the planning. What does he mean? He means that we need to do a lot of work to list our our assumptions and conduct surveys and experiments to find out. Planning cannot be based on luck, dreams, and unknown. This is exactly what Sun Zi is teaching.  Sun Zi is an advocate of data and intelligence collections before planning or planning must be based on facts. Sun Zi has a Chapter 13 dedicated to Espionage for Intelligence collection.

Successful Entrepreneurs are in fact not risks taker or gamblers as commonly perceived, but are in fact risks minimizer. They identify the key assumptions for their business to be successful first and then conduct survey or experiment to validate the assumptions before taking the plunge.

BVOTECH Copyrighted 2011