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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 10.14-20: Six Calamities)


Disciplines > Warfare > The Annotated Art of War > Parts 10.14-20: Six Calamities

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X. Terrain


Sun Tzu said: Commentary
14. Now an army is exposed to six several calamities, not arising from natural causes, but from faults for which the general is responsible. These are: (1) Flight; (2) insubordination; (3) collapse; (4) ruin; (5) disorganization; (6) rout.

The general of an army has many responsibilities, not only to win the war but also avoid failures and ignominy. The general represents the ruler on the battlefield and any loss and shame is felt directly by the ruler.
15. Other conditions being equal, if one force is hurled against another ten times its size, the result will be the flight of the former. There are many variables and tactics in war that a general can use. The most primitive approach is for the two armies to meet on a battlefield and just throw themselves at each other.

When it is simple force against simple force like this, then the laws of physics say that the greater force will win.

This can seem like a strong and honorable approach yet vanity in war is more like foolishness. It is foolish even for the stronger force, as they could avoid many deaths by using superior tactics.

In business, it is often tempting for large companies spend their way out a competitive situation, for example with pricey advertising campaigns. This is not the only way.

16. When the common soldiers are too strong and their officers too weak, the result is insubordination. When the officers are too strong and the common soldiers too weak, the result is collapse. Weak command is always bad, but when soldiers who are allowed to disobey it leads to damaging disorder.

It is bad enough in business when people do not obey commands, but in war it is far worse, where concerted and precise action is critical.

17. When the higher officers are angry and insubordinate, and on meeting the enemy give battle on their own account from a feeling of resentment, before the commander-in-chief can tell whether or no he is in a position to fight, the result is ruin. Armies succeed through coordinated command and action. When individual commanders do not respect the general, when they reject higher orders, or when they act on their own initiative without coordination, then the whole mission is in danger.

This effect appears in business where individual business departments and units act as independent 'silos', seeking individual success, often at the expense of other internal groups. With this wasteful inner division, customers and shareholders lose out.

18. When the general is weak and without authority; when his orders are not clear and distinct; when there are no fixes duties assigned to officers and men, and the ranks are formed in a slovenly haphazard manner, the result is utter disorganization. The higher the officer, the clearer and stronger must be the command, with distinct responsibilities at the next level down the hierarchy. Any failure in this system leads to problems propagating down the tree.

The modern British army uses something called 'the commander's intent'. Much attention is paid to understanding this, so even if units get separated, they can still use their initiative towards the single goal.

In business, senior strategy often flops as varying management and local interpretation leads to a misaligned and uncoordinated set of tactics.

19. When a general, unable to estimate the enemy's strength, allows an inferior force to engage a larger one, or hurls a weak detachment against a powerful one, and neglects to place picked soldiers in the front rank, the result must be rout. In war, intelligence is key, and knowing your enemy's strength is a critical part of this.

The troops on the front line act as a shield for the rest of the army. If the front line is penetrated then further problems ensue. It hence is important to have strong front-line troops.

In business, the customer surface, where people touch customers on a regular basis, is an important part of the brand. It is strange how many big-name companies outsource sales and service calls to companies who do the brand a daily disservice.

20. These are six ways of courting defeat, which must be carefully noted by the general who has attained a responsible post. There are many ways of failing. These are important ones.

Note how many of these are about leadership. Without good leadership and good management, both war and business will fail. You are as good as your worst officer or manager.



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