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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 8.3-11: Advantages)


Disciplines > Warfare > The Annotated Art of War > Parts 8.3-11: Advantages

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VII. Variation in Tactics


Sun Tzu said: Commentary
4. The general who thoroughly understands the advantages that accompany variation of tactics knows how to handle his troops.

Knowing tactics is not enough. You need to know when to use them. In particular there is skill in matching the tactics to both the situation and to one another.

In this way, a sequence of simple tactics can be as varied and powerful as DNA, which is a simple sequence of only four elements.

In business, you can have a great strategy but if you cannot translate it into a solid yet adaptive execution then it will all be for naught.

5. The general who does not understand these, may be well acquainted with the configuration of the country, yet he will not be able to turn his knowledge to practical account. Knowing the terrain is not enough. Knowing the weather is not enough. Knowing your troops is not enough. Knowing the enemy is not enough.

You must also know what tactics will be effective in the specific situation you face.

6. So, the student of war who is unversed in the art of war of varying his plans, even though he be acquainted with the Five Advantages, will fail to make the best use of his men. You can learn tactics by two methods. First, you can learn from experience. A cheaper way is to learn what has worked and what has not worked in the past for others.

The best generals are both continuous students and experienced practitioners. Through this combination they can learn what will work even before they have used it.

It is easy in business to speak with certainty. It is harder to have the humility to learn.

7. Hence in the wise leader's plans, considerations of advantage and of disadvantage will be blended together. Advantage is a two-sided coin. When you do not have advantage, the other side has advantage and you have disadvantage.

At any one time, you have both advantage and disadvantage. Plans and actions need to take heed of both.

8. If our expectation of advantage be tempered in this way, we may succeed in accomplishing the essential part of our schemes. Above all, a commander must be realistic. It is easy to be gung-ho and it is easy to be overly cautious. It takes skill to walk the best line between.
9. If, on the other hand, in the midst of difficulties we are always ready to seize an advantage, we may extricate ourselves from misfortune. Ahead always lies paths of advantage and disadvantage and these constantly change in the maneuvers of war and the ebbs and flows of battle.

If you pay close attention to these, you have the opportunity to shore up disadvantage and grasp the moments of advantage.

Likewise in business, companies go through times of advantage and disadvantage. It is easy in both times to assume this will continue. Better is to plan with knowledge of real advantage and the locus ahead.

10. Reduce the hostile chiefs by inflicting damage on them; and make trouble for them, and keep them constantly engaged; hold out specious allurements, and make them rush to any given point.

Here are three ways of gaining advantage.

1. Inflicting damage that reduces their ability to fight and throws their plans into disarray.

2. Making trouble for them that keeps them busy and steadily exhausts them.

3. Proffering bait, especially when they are oppressed and will grasp at straws, which can lure them into ambush.

11. The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy's not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable. Any war can be won if you can always defend successfully. The best strategy is hence to always ready to take on the enemy at any time.



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