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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 2.2-7 Brevity)


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II. Waging War


Sun Tzu said: Commentary
2. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength. War should be short and sharp for several reasons, an important one being that soldiers are not machines.

War is won with troops who are fired up and ready for battle. Prolonged campaigns simply wear them out. This is one reason why siege is a poor strategy that should be avoided if at all possible.

In business, your people likewise can only work at high levels for short bursts and need their breaks and holidays to refresh and reinvigorate.

3. Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain. War also costs. When a country goes to war it is not just the soldiers who are affected. They have families who fret whilst they must be put to work to support the war effort.

And the state's coffers may be depleted of money as the endless cost of weapons, logistics, wages and so on continues to mount.

In business, competitive campaigns can likewise be costly. It is one thing to say 'we will fight' and it is another to stump up, day after day, for endless warring.

4. Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue. When troops are exhausted and weapons used up, and supporting resources gone you are in a position of great weakness and may be easily defeated. Such situations should be seen long before they happen and in time to be actively avoided.

In reverse, if you can catch your enemy at a low point, you may snatch victory at relatively little cost.

It is one of the strategies of defense to hunker down and let the enemy deplete their resources before springing out to take advantage of their exhaustion.

In business, beware of throwing everything into campaigns if you do not know that you will win in this way. Steadiness often beats exuberance.

5. Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays. 'More haste, less speed' is a common saying. Yet delay also has its costs. You need time to think and prepare, but you must also be aware that delay has costs as your resources are being spent whatever you do.

In business as in war, if you delay you give space for your opponents to take the initiative. Whilst planning and preparation is important, action is where value is finally created.

6. There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare. Prolonged battle, even if it finally exhausts the enemy, is not a smart way to fight. A war of attrition is simply expensive and its costs will be felt long after the fighting has finished.

A smarter way is use cunning and strategy that give a quick win. 

7. It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on. It is possible to profit from war, for example by plundering as you go, although this can still have a cost in the guerilla and other subtle revenges.

Evil generally means taking pleasure in harming others. Evil people do find their way into armies as this provides a means to their ends. Beware those who fight for their own pleasure rather than for the love of their country and colleagues.

In business predators can be found who buy up ailing companies in order to greedily strip their assets without care for the people they throw out onto the streets. This is bad for business, which is its own brand.



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