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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 1.3-12: Five Constant Factors)


Disciplines > Warfare > The Annotated Art of War > Parts 1.3-12: Five Constant Factors)

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I. Laying Plans


Sun Tzu said: Commentary
3. The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one's deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field. Here are five things to think about. Maybe not everything, but a very useful set.
4. These are: (1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth; (4) The Commander; (5) Method and discipline. ...and here they are (with descriptions below).
5,6. The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger. When a ruler acts in a moral way, showing fairness in all dealings and caring for the subjects, then the subjects will reciprocate, caring in return even to the point of death. Love begets love.

Moral law is also related to harmony and ensuring alignment in all things.

In business, a perform-or-perish, hire-and-fire attitude may seem good for business but does not lead to loyal employees. If you clearly care about your people they will care about you and care about the business. Leadership begets followership.

7. Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons. The world is made up of opposing pairs, yin and yang. Seeing and understanding these can give you advantage, for example understanding the real impact of high and low ground, or fighting in summer or winter. This is embedded in the contrast principle.

Heaven is the opposite of the hard earth, indicating light, rain, temperature and so on.

In business, when you are doing well, know that doing badly is never far away. If you have enemies then you may also have friends. Do not be trapped by single-track thinking.

8. Earth comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death. War is fought on the surface of the earth, which has attributes such as height, hardness, distance and so on. Factor geographic factors into your planning.

Even and especially with the global economy, geography is an important business variable. Transport costs. Being near your customers helps you be more responsive. And so on.

We think in three-dimensional metaphors which can also be useful. We talk about taking the high ground, being in trouble, getting over things and so on. Understand how 3D thinking helps and hinders you.

9. The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness. As with the Moral Law, how you lead dictates whether and how people follow.

And how you lead depends on who you are, inside. Your beliefs, values, models and so on is how you win and lose wars.

Wisdom is knowing the right thing to do. Sincerity is believing in what you do. Benevolence is helping those you could harm. Courage is overcoming personal fears. Strictness is ensuring others do as they should.

These may be combined as integrity. Leaders with integrity create passionate, dedicated followers.

If you are in business, can you say these are true of you? If you would manage others or lead the charge, consider how you can develop these qualities.

10. By method and discipline are to be understood the marshaling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the graduations of rank among the officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military expenditure. When you have a vast swathe of troops, it is important that each knows where they should be and what they should do. Strict hierarchical organization is a powerful way of achieving this.

An army travels far, and roads are important both for rapid movement and steady supplies. Wars are won by far more than fighting.

In business, sloppy organization is often mistaken as a way of motivating people. Clear roles and goals works wherever you are.

Armies and businesses spend money and both can run out if it is not managed carefully. Whatever your raison d'etre, cash is still key.

11. These five heads should be familiar to every general: he who knows them will be victorious; he who knows them not will fail. Armies and businesses thrive and die based on what leaders truly understand or misunderstand.
12. Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to determine the military conditions, let them be made the basis of a comparison, in this wise:-- Take time to understand what you understand, and especially what the leaders understand and how they will think and act based on this understanding.



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