SunZi’s Art of War – The Misquotes and Keys that are missed even by the Experts

A famous book like SunZi’s Art of War is likely to be quoted partially. Even so, there are already much wisdom to be gained. But, having the full quotation will lead us to greater success. We look at the famous quote, or misquote, of “知己知彼,百战百胜  know self, know others, win every time”. Yet, the best strategy is to win without a war. Having peace in the world is not about just building more powerful weapons and larger military, but more importantly, it is to build better well being and sharing for more people so that there is no reason for war. That’s the heart of Sun Zi.
What has Sun Zi’s Art of War to do with Christmas that have me to write about in this season of peace and joy? Much, if you know the heart and purpose of Sun Zi’s Art of War.
Let begin with the famous quotation, or mis-quotation.
The source of Know-Self-Know-Others can be found in two places in Sun Zi’s Art of War book. They are shown below in the mind-map:
There are 3 key errors: 
  1. Order.
    • Know our enemy first, and then we can compare ours against the enemy.
    • Most people look at themselves first to claim their strengths and weaknesses. That is incorrect.  Typical SWOT analysis begins with listing your own strengths and weaknesses. That is an error. We should look at the external Opportunities and Threats first and then back to your strengths and weaknesses to address those opportunities and threats.
    • Furthermore, our strengths or weaknesses can only be determined in comparison with the enemies that we are going to fight with and with respect to the theatre and timing of our operations.
    • Strengths and weaknesses should be determined from the external. In a business, the external are competitors and customers, the markets, industries, and locations that we operate in.
  2. Not Win every time but Not Loose every time.
    • It is a secured position but need another two factors to ensure a win every time.
  3. The Two More Factors: Know the Heaven & Earth – i.e. The Right Timing and the Right Terrain to take advantage of.

There are Four Factor

  1. Know-Other,
  2. Know-Self,
  3. Know-Heaven: the Time & Seasons,
  4. Know-Earth: the terrains and the positioning. or the market and industries, the PESTEL factors
How do we know others and our strengths or weaknesses. Sun Zi proposed 7 measures. See Sun Zi Art of War-3: Health Check with 7 Measures.

Sun Zi however tells us that knowing something is better than knowing nothing. Knowing self and not knowing other bring us 50% success rate at times. The worst case is, not knowing anything which will result in 100% failure.

We need the two additional factors of knowing Heaven and Earth to ensure completeness.
How to appraise a situation is given in Sun Zi Art of War-4: Appraisal & Prediction.

Even Better is Not to Go to War – How to Win without a Fight .
Another misunderstanding about Sun Zi’s Art of War is the purpose. It is not a book that teach us to win every war. It is in fact book that teaches us how we need not go to war! Sun Zi say the best strategy is to win without a fight! Fighting will result in destruction and deaths that both sides will suffer. The better way is to build oneself up such that others will not dare to take us to a war. They surrender voluntarily. Other better strategies will be to defeat their plans before execution, negotiate for win-win for all, and war is only the very last resort. Even if have to, win it quickly without much losses of lives.

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

How to Build a High Performance Organization that others will respect and follow.
The heart then of Sun Zi’s Art of War is about building an organization or nation that other will respect and follow rather than trying to dethrone you.
See Sun Zi Art of War-6: Leadership Skills and Creating HPO

Having peace in the world is not about just building more powerful weapons and larger military, but more importantly, it is to build better well being and sharing for more people so that there is no reason for war.

Hope this post encourages you to look deeper into Sun Zi’s Art of War.

Lim Liat (c) 25 Dec 2013

“Rule for Success” – A Case Study for Multi-Brain Whole-Man Mindset

Success is the desire of everyone. Having a Multi-Brain Whole-Man(MBWM) mindset is a key for people to know how to achieve it.  So, I use this “Rule for Success” as a case study to help introduce the MBWM mindset that will hopefully help you to attain the success that you want.

Here is the mind-map that summarize the whole story:

Multi-Brain Whole-Man(MBWM) mindset

   We all know that “exercise is good”, but many are still not exercising regularly. Why? Because the fact (‘Exercise is good”) only enters our mind and not our heart.  We don’t feel it is important enough for us to do something about it. Our heart is not fully persuaded. We make excuses like “I don’t feel like it now”, “I’m too busy now”, etc and the best excuse of all, “I’ll do it tomorrow”.  So we know that any behavior change or improvement, must address at least two parts of our “Whole-Man”, namely the mind and the heart. If we have friends, the relationship part, then perhaps our friends can encourage us and even force us to join them in their exercises. So now we have our mind, heart and relationship that trigger us to get our body to go out and exercise. This is the concept of Whole-Man mindset.

   One of the key part of the Whole-Man mindset is the MIND. To help us develop our MIND, I introduce the Multi-Brain model making up of rational Left-Brain, creative and intuitive Right-Brain, the Digital-Brain of the computer, software and knowledge bases and the internet collaborative Cloud-Brain of the millions of people of the world. Left and Right Brains are well covered in the literature or in the internet Cloud, and I shall not cover anymore except to remind us that we should not be fooled into thinking that we are either a Left or a Right Brain person. We have both and should develop and use both Left and Right Brains.
   I have intentionally show the mind-map to above to show that we can use computer and software to extend our biological brains. The digital brain serves as our brain or mind extender. We must develop our extended brain —- our Digitial Brain.  For more information on how to develop our digital brain, please see Thinking Frameworks, or at least the series on mind-mapping starting with Brain Storming with Mind Mapping – Illustrated with Future of Singapore.

“Rule for Success” Small Business Ideas and Resources for Entrepreneurs is a good site for reference. So if I do a search “Rule for Success”, I will get back a list of quotes and short articles from the successful people. Here is the screen capture of the 1st page (as shown in the mindmap above):

These are the great wisdom from the crowd of successful people available in the internet Cloud Brain. It will be too much to digest, remember and to recall.

Making the Cloud Brain into Personal Digital Brain
For us to benefit from the Cloud Brain, we must do a little bit of processing and organization of knowledge. That’s where mind-mapping comes in. I did the following:

1. Copy & Paste or Retype the Key Words into the Mind-map.

2. Read the articles refered and try to make the article title more meaningful.
For example, the first article title by Evan is just “Do Less”. If we read the article, we get to know more. He is talking about doing less so that we can focus on the key thing (something that Steve Jobs also said in “Say No to a 1000 thing”). Furthermore, he said to follow our gut! His success in Blogger and Tweeter are subsets of his main thought that he felt have great potential. These keys are important. So I change the title from “Do Less” into “Do Less – Importance of Focus & Follow Your Gut”. Of coure, you are free to shorten it to whatever that help you understand and remember better. So a shorter title might be “Focus & Follow Your Gut”. But I prefer ‘Do Less’ because that is what focus means and ‘do less’ is a great reminder for us who naturally want to ‘Do More’.

I spent the time to read all the articles and rephrase the titles shown in the mind-map above.

3. Beautify the Map.
You can then color, number and format the map in whatever way you like to make it appeal and easier to understand.

4. Link it with Existing Mind-maps.
This is not the first time we look for the secrets of success. Most likely, we have read many quotes and stories of the rich, famous and successful people like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Stephen Covey etc. That was what I did and have shared it in Integrated Success Principles – Adding the 5 Secrets of Richard Branson. So I put link in this mind-map to the “Integrated Success Principles”.

In fact, I have go one-step further to integrate this one into the larger “Integrated Success Principles” mind-map. When I do that, I will discover there are many duplicates and there will be some new thoughts. This is how an existing mind-map of knowledge grows with time.

Study the Rule for Success:
I have went to the mechanics of building a mind-map for success principles. Don’t forget to read the content of the “Rule for Success” and see if you can learn something from them. All the very best to your success.

Lim Liat (c) 7 Oct 2013

See also: Map Your Way to Greater Success from the Keys of the Super-Rich.

Strategic Planning – How To Read a Situation with Fusion of East & West

The most important step in any strategic planning is to read or study the situation first. But before we can read, we must know what are the important factors to consider first. Presented in the mind-map is the methodology integrated from the teachings of East (Chinese) and West. You may follow it to get a better strategic plan.

Sun Zi’s Art of War is a famous Ancient Chinese Book in the west. It is much less know fact that Sun Zi’s wisdom has an earlier and higher source. It is the book of i-Ching (see I-Ching in One Minute), the Bible for Change, the foundation of all Chinese wisdom and philosophies. But such great wisdom will be of no use if we cannot put them into good use in this present world. With a view from building successful and long lasting businesses, instead of wars, here is an attempt to bring the East and West wisdom into strategic planning for business. 
Only a very little part of the Ancient Chinese Wisdom is cited here due to limited space of a blog post. But I hope it serves the purpose of helping you to do a better strategic plan.  More practical Chinese wisdom can be found at Ancient Chinese Wisdom.

Lim Liat (c) 25 Apr 2013

Branding, Innovation and Productivity for SME (SMB)

For SME (Small, Medium Scale Enterprises) to scale up and be successful, they must understand that innovation is about creating value and differentiating from others in shibumi (elegant simplicity), the multi-dimensions of customer value, the power of branding, systematic innovative methods BVITS, and the steps to take. Read on for the details….

Invited by NUS Extension to participate in a Emerging Enterprise Round-table that resulted in the publication in Business Times Business Times 2 April 2013. on the topic “Getting a Boost from Branding”. Only the essence of my views was published but still left out many important points that I wish to present below for the benefits of all.

Branding and its Power

A brand is the summation of customers’ experience over time of what it means to them. It is more than what the company says. It is what people say about the company, products or services. These sayings are the impressions formed the customers in their encounters with the company products, services and ways of doing business.

A brand is then the trusted statement of company’s identity and values in the market by the public.

A good brand is like a flower that draws customers. Whereas for no brand companies, they have to seek out and push its offerings like the busy bees.

A good brand creates the awareness and short-cut the decision making process.

The whole marketing process of AIDA (Attention or Awareness, Interest, Decision and Action) is shortened. For unknown brand, most people may not find it, and even if they do, they will want to test and evaluate it, ask others about it, carefully consider all other options, before, if ever, arrive at the purchasing decision. It is also likely to be very a price sensitive decision reducing the profits for the company.

In addition, a good brand creates a differentiation that command higher value.

Consider the purchase of smart-phone, the typical preferences and recommendations by people are Apple and Samsung and the prices reflect that. A relative similar feature sets of Android phones to the Samsung are available in the 2nd tier brands like HTC, Sony and LG and they are priced lower. Technically, HuaWei, the China leading telecom network and phone company also produces Android phones that are similar to the Samsung but does not enjoy the same branding of Samsung so that its phones are priced much lower and yet lag in market share in Singapore.

Branding for the SME’s

  1. A Unique and Differentiated Value Proposition – Clarity Needed
    Unless one is clear on its unique value proposition, it is hard to create a brand that stands out from the pack of  similar offerings. To understand this value proposition better, we need to understand the following:

    1. Customer don’t buy products or services but the outcome of a wow experience.
    2. The Value of the experience has the following three dimensions of:
      1.  Rational, Economic or Utility such as cheaper, faster, better, safer, easier, longer lasting. People are happy when they have a good deal.
      2. Emotional (look good, feel good, trustworthy) & Social (lifestyle of class and trendiness and status of wealth and honour) .
      3. Significance of meaningfulness for a good social, environmental, health and long life causes.
    3. Need to address all contact points with customer that creates the wow experience. From awareness, interests, decision making, purchase, installation, use, enhanced usage, repair, upgrade and retirement.
    4. Shibumi (MiniMax) – Simplicity in Elegance and Depth.
      Most people equate more features as better not realizing that more choices actually create stress and errors besides adding production and quality costs. The success of Apple teaches us that ease of use and depth of use are more important. SME’s must know how to minimize the big set of features into a few key features that customers desire and implement those features well and in depth. The branding can then be more effectively done.
    5. Consider companies like Starbuck or Breadtalk, are they just selling coffee or bread only? The answer is no. Their value proposition is higher. Breadtalk said they are selling innovative and trendy lifestyles.
  2. Gap between Claim and Delivery – Alignment Needed
    1. The claim of the Unique Value Proposition must be delivered consistently across all locations, by all staff and all the time. It is in the delivery of such claims that create the customer experience. Many fail because either they lack clarity of their value proposition, or their policies and deliveries are not aligned with the value proposition. There may also be lack of training and monitoring of staff especially when there are multiple locations.
    2. It is important to note that everything, the locations, deco and layout of shops, brochures, policies, procedures, attitudes and behaviour of staff, the delivery trucks etc all contribute to creating a brand and the experience.
    3. Consider Breadtalk, its beautiful shop deco, the innovative bread products, opened kitchen, its locations at high end shopping malls, friendly staff and others are all aligned to its vision of creating the trendy and innovate lifestyles.
  3. Handing of Complains or Defects – Be Positive
    1. Most typical reactions to customers complains are to blame others and pass the bugs.
    2. Instead, one needs to have a positive attitudes towards customers’ complains. Customer’s complain is actually customer giving us a second chance to make good. If we can recover well then we will gain a loyal customer.  He or she will also tell others about your good service too.
    3. We need to understand the multiplying effect of customers complains or praise. A unhappy customer will tell many others. A happy customer may tell others too. Why not make his/her praise of telling others easy too?

Steps for the Branding

  1. Put in a Branding Process to be led by the CEO and involving other key staff. The objective is to create their unique brand and work out the tasks, staff, budgets and timelines with monitoring of the progress. Branding is not a one off exercise. The brand is the company’s identity and value statement to the world and should be a prime concern for top to bottom.
  2. Work out the Unique & Differentiated value proposition and communicate it throughout the company.  Sessions with the key customers should be arranged to ensure the value proposition is also welcome and experience by the customers. A common error is to think what the customers would like rather than finding out from the customers. The Value Proposition should be viewed from the customers’ eyes.
  3. Ensure all staff understand that branding is more than just marketing but more importantly, it is the delivery of the value proposition at all contact points with the customers.  Every staff has a role to play. Find and show the right behaviour for that role. A common error is to state the objective. like serve the customer well, without telling the how, resulting in every staff having their own interpretation of what ‘serve well’ means and creating inconsistency of service.
  4. List out all the potential contact points with customers and work out how should the delivery be done such that customers can have a wow experience. The delivery could be the key product features, service levels, the ways business are done, the environment of the engagement, the right behaviour and attitudes of staff.
  5. Beside training the staff, managers should lead by examples, showing staff what are the right behaviour. Managers should also praise staff when staff exhibit the right behaviours so that other staff may know too. Correction should not be just saying what were wrong but also what are the right way. Managers should also show staff how to behave towards nasty customers. Managers should also celebrate successes.
  6. Engage the very satisfied customers and involve them in coming out with reference-able case studies and suggestions for new innovations. Engaging the very dissatisfied  and former customers also give us valuable information on how to improve our offering.
  7. Have a Social Network Presence with dedicated team  to engage with the wider audience base. Carefully monitor its content, activities and response positively to criticisms and complains. Make the work of customers giving feedback and recommendations easy for them.
  8. Collect and review customers feedbacks at all contact points regularly. It serves two purposes. Firstly is ensuring alignment to the company value proposition. Secondly is to detect if customers preferences and trends have changed.

Innovation for Higher Value and Profits

Innovation is the way to break free from the fierce commoditized competition of low margin and price cutting. However, one must understand ‘Innovation’ well in order to create the innovation that bring in the value and productivity.

Innovation is about converting intangible ideas into tangible products (including information content) and/or services that are valued by certain group of users called customers that they pay money for. Innovation is essentially business value creation.

Business value is more than just rational utility or economic values of cheaper, faster, better, safer, easier and longer lasting. There is also value in the emotional trigger of look good feel good and social values of lifestyle and status. There is the significance or meaningful value of contributing to the social community, protecting the environment, making life healthier and longer. By looking at the various dimensions of this value, there are much an SME can do in improving the emotional, social and meaningful value of their offerings.

Furthermore, innovation is not just restricted to products or even services. Innovation can occur through out the entire supplier chain, to production and operation, management and the distribution chain to the final customers or users. There can be innovations, such as a better or cost saving production methods, or finding a better source of supply, or better organization of tasks and team.  Re-thinking about our offering and finding new meaning is also innovation. Consider lights as not just giving brightness but also creating the right ambient to create the right moods bring the lights into new markets.

By seeing innovation as creating a wow experience for customers, the company can workout and improve the engagement with customers at the various contact points to increase the delights of the customers resulting greater customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Innovation brings value and is easy. Have a right understanding of innovation and then workout the details will enable the SME’s to create differentiated offering of higher value and reduced costs.

Productivity, Higher Salary and Less Staff Turnover

With the right understanding on innovation (as in Q4),  SMEs have to construct and look at their business model in terms of value consumption(values used by customers), value delivery(the distribution to customers), value creation(the manufacturing or production model) and value capture (the financial model) and reallocate the manpower, skills, tools and automation costs.

Some very basic question have to be asked:

  1. What features are really important to customer and can we offer less to cut production costs or offer more to increase the price.
  2. What are easy for us and hard for others to do? We should do more of those.
  3. Who does it best? Is it better to automate or for the staff to do? Can we ask the customers to do it (e.g. self-serve or self assembly)? Can our suppliers do it for us (suppliers configure, pack, and ship directly to customers)? etc.

BVITS Creative Thinking for Breakthrough Ideas

Here is a list of ten BVITS (Bvotech’s Innovation Thinking System) operators to challenge us to think out of the box.  Apply the following operators to the 6M factors of Man, Machine, Materials, Methods, Measurements and Environment to re-engineer the Business Model to gain productivity:

  1. Take out
    • remove some features and offer lower end offerings
    • remove offerings that are not needed or valued by customers
    • do lean methodology or go JIT
  1. Divide
    • break down into sub-components and reassign features or jobs to get better productivity
    • specialize for greater productivity and skills
  1. Outsource
    • contract out work to someone who are better than us.
  1. Irregularize
    • From standardized one size fit all to custom-made or personalization.
    • As an example, a very successful start-up called Littlemissmatch of USA sells shocks in package of three in different colours and patterns instead of a pair of same colour and pattern.
    • Flexible working hours and locations for staff.
  1. Invert
    • reverse the roles e.g. customers self-serve, self-assembly.
    • staff pick their team leaders to lead them.
  1. Multiply
    • Make two or more copies of some key components like dual or quad core CPUs, triple or Quattro blades razor etc.
    • Staff acquired more skills to be more flexible and can work at different jobs at different times according to needs.
  1. Acquire
    • offer an offering that is better than the market.
    • hire staff from companies that are closing down.
  1. Combine
    • one product for multiple uses e.g. Smartphone
    • put diverge skills people into a team for general problem solving.
  1. Extremitify
    • serve the people at the edges e.g. baby, old age, odd sizes.
    • make product usable at extreme conditions e.g. ruggedized.
  1. Learn from others
    • practices in other industries and even from natural science e.g. Biomimicry.

Finally, increase the value of job so that the staff can enjoy higher pay and job satisfaction.  Staff turnover is a big cost not just of hiring but also lost of expertise, retraining, re-deployment and adaptation into productive teams.

Lim Liat (c) 4 April 2013