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

The Highest Form of Leadership – Leaderless

The best form of leadership, for this VUCAD world, one that is adaptive and sustainable over time, is leaderless. But you don’t get that kind of leadership overnight. It can only be built overtime with right people and a simple principle of remaining leaderless. Surprised? Read the details….

Who should Microsoft choose to be the next CEO? Some one that can compete with Google and Apple ? No says Ancient Chinese Wisdom Book I-Ching. An Invisible Leader says Lao Zi. Lou Gerstner who saved and transformed the ailing IBM says, “It is the culture only”. So, pick someone who can build the self-managed leaderless culture.

What is the highest form of leadership? 
According to I-Ching, the Book of Change, it is leaderless.

A key hexagram in leadership in I-Ching is #1 Heaven – The Creative Force. See Learning from “I-Ching” Part 04 1-乾 Heaven – Creative Force. In it, it lists out six stages of growth for a ‘dragon’, representing an able person, from learner,  to executive, to manager, to entrepreneur, to Chief Executive Officer (CEO), to retiring chairman. Then it adds a seven grand summary stage with description of “用九”:见群龙无首,吉。”. Translated as “Use Nine: Seeing a host of dragons without a chief. It is good fortune.” A group of dragons without a chief is a stage of good fortune! In the commentary added by Confucius or his disciples, we find the following:

  • 乾元“用九”,天下治也。Heaven/Creation is great. Use Nine and the world is ruled well.
  • 乾元“用九”,乃见天则。Heaven/Creation is great. Use Nine is the model of the rule of heaven.
So we can see that the best or the good fortune stage of an organization is leaderless.
The good fortune is seen in the following:
  1. a host or a group i.e. an organization or a community
  2. dragons : more accurately, mature dragons that went through the six stages of growth. They are independent persons with good virtue of character and ability.
  3. without a chief: There is no one designated as the chief or commander to direct others around. The people know what to do for the good of the organization. When face a crisis, may be the best person to handle it will take the lead and others will contribute according to their best abilities. When the situation changes, previous leader hand over to the next one who is most able to do the leading.  He that is able takes the lead is the leadership model of the Ancient China before formation of Dynasty when the kingship is handed to the son. Such leadership model ensures the organization always has the best person to run it. It is self-renewal.
Building the High Performance Self-Managed Leaderless Organization
Such a high performing self-managed and self-sustained organization does not come just like that. They must fulfill the 3 criteria listed above, namely, an organization, dragons, without a chief.
  1. Shared Mission & Values: An organization or a grouping of people must have common mission and values as the glue to bring and hold them together.
  2. Dragons – Talents Development. We need to hire and develop the talents and make sure they grow up in character and ability. In I-Ching, we can find the details those qualities and know-hows in the 64 Hexagrams and 386 stage lines of wisdom.
  3. Leaderless – The Best One Lead: The organization needs to have a simple rule on leadership. There is no fixed leader under normal operation. When there is a crisis or a need, then the most able one to address the need take over as the leader. When the issue is solved or resolved, the leader steps down and the group return to leaderless mode.
The important one to note is that such a flexible self-manage organization needs to be built over time. But we now have the guidelines to build such an organization. In the present commercial world, there are more and more organizations adopting such a self-management model. The most popular one is The MorningStar Tomato Company  http://morningstarco.com/index.cgi?Page=Self-Management.
See also Levels of Leadership – Can We Measure Leadership?, where Lao Zi tells us the highest level of leadership is the invisible leader. This also shows Lao Zi’s actionless principle in action. See The Tao Bible in One minute .
If you are still doubtful, consider the purpose of parenting. The job of parents is to develop their children from dependence to independent mature adults. The job of CEO is then about developing their staff to be capable and engaged staff so that they can be independent and yet co-operative staff to achieve the mission of the organization.
Lim Liat (c) 8 Nov 2013