New Management Thinking and Sun Zi’s Art of War

PwC’s Strategy+Business website has an article titled “Creating a Strategy That Works” that came out with Five Key Practices after studying 14 leading companies in various countries and industries. It pointed out how these five unconventional acts differ from the conventional business wisdom. These five unconventional wisdom supports the teaching of Sun Zi’s Art of War. Furthermore, Sun Zi’s Art of War provides a better framework and additional wisdom that demands our study.

PwC’s Strategy+Business website has an article titled “Creating a Strategy That Works“. It compared the conventional business wisdom against the unconventional acts of the leaders in the various industries and countries.  I like to examine such business strategic articles and books, e.g.  Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works, or Managing in a Time of Great Change, against the teaching of Sun Zi’s Art of War to see if the Art of War is still applicable to business and whether there are additional wisdom to be gained from both, the modern Western management thinking and the ancient Chinese wisdom.

 Here the summary of the combined thinking presented in a mind-map format:

The main branches describe the unconventional acts with the conventional acts described under them. In the sub-branches, additional remarks are added to give greater clarity.  Related quotations from the Sun Zi’s Art of War Book are added.For Point 4 Cut Costs to Grow Stronger, Jesus used the illustration of the pruning of a vine to convey the concept better, see Secrets of Organizational Success – Growing Vines.Culture Eats Strategy for BreakfastThe Key Points of the Teaching is best summarized by a quote of Peter Drucker (at least commonly attributed to him) which is “Culture eats strategy for breakfast/lunch”. It is not about not to have a strategy but rather has a strategy based on your identity of unique value contribution driven by the right culture. Having the right culture adopted by all as the foundation, it can handle the storms of all changes and come out winning. The identity and the right culture, usually described in the business literature as the mission, visions, and values, is also what Sun Zi called it as Dao 道, the Way or the Philosophy of the company. Sun Zi’s put it as the #1 factor in his five factors of 道Way 天Heaven/Seasonal Trends, 地 Terrain/Markets 将Leadership 法 Methods. Using a solid unchanging foundation to handle all changes is a famous Chinese Stratagem of 以静制动 using the unmoved to manage the moving. This is also the famous Jim Collins Hedgedog concept. It reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the “Wise and Foolish Builders”

  • “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” –  Matthew 7:24-27

The two key words are Jesus’ Words and Doing them. They can be translated into modern business practices as the right Way (Sun Zi’s Dao 道) and then the adopting and execution of them, which means the right culture. Culture is the actual values and behavior adopted by the people.

The most successful example of the adoption of the right culture, the mission, and its practice, is Apple Inc. See What and Who has the Best Mission Statement?

As most management books only cover a subset of the total wisdom needed to run a business well, it is my recommendation that we study Sun Zi’s Art of war for a complete picture. My complete Sun Zi’s Art of War framework for developing business strategies taken from one of slide in my Sun Zi courses, is shown below:

I hope you can see that modern management books continue to support the teaching of Sun Zi’s Art of War.  The Art of War gives a more comprehensive and condensed teachings on not only developing the better-winning strategy but also the leadership skills to execute them.

For more on Sun Zi, see Sun Zi and Other Strategists(Gui Gu Zi)

Lim Liat (c) 6 Feb 2016

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