AoW: Ch 1 Laying Plans

Here is the original text:

Sun Tzu said: The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.

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. 4. These are: (1) the Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth; (4) the Commander; (5) method and discipline. 5. 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. 6. Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons. 7. Earth comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death. 8. The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness. 9. 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. 10. These five heads should be familiar to every general: he who knows them will be victorious; he who knows them not will fail.

While heeding the profit of my counsel, avail yourself also of any helpful circumstances over and beyond the ordinary rules. 16. According as circumstances are favourable, one should modify one’s plans.

My translation:

The art of strategy of obtaining victories is of the supreme importance to individuals and organizations. This art is the difference between continued success and failure.

The strategy is governed by five invariable areas of interest:

  1. The big WHY, which is values and ideology
  2. The Divinity/Air element: Time, timing, seasons, natural rhythms, exterior climate or circumstances, the balance between the rest of the activity, etc
  3. The Earth Element: The terrains and distances, risk and rewards, security and danger, survival and prosperity
  4. The capability and character of the leader
  5. Methodology and discipline, which include proper handling of operational issues like proper division of labor, control of logistics, budgets, staff, etc

The strategies hold in most predictable circumstances. However, if some unexpected favorable circumstances take place that do not fit into your strategy, do not hesitate to deviate from the strategy to take advantage of unexpected gifts.


Further, Sun Tzu said: 

17. All warfare is based on deception. 18. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. 19. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him. 20. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. 21. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. 22. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. 23. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.

26. The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose

My interpretation:

The art of war is the art of deception.

  • When you are close to the goal, pretend to be far away, and vice versa
  • When you have plenty of power or resources that you preparing to use against your¬†opponent, pretend to be weakened, and vice versa
  • When you are in the middle of trying to seize some opportunity or to strike against the opponent, pretend like you are distracted with something else, that he is not your focus
  • If the opponent is secure in his current position, come up with a bait to lure him out if his security. If he is irritable and impatient, keep irritating him. If he is strong and arrogant, appear weak and insecure, it will trigger his desire for a quick victory.
  • Be prepared to defend yourself once he comes out. Start by appearing helpless and retracting. Then, quickly trap him from several directions and crush him.
  • See where the obvious attack points are and do not attack there (but pretend that you would). Instead, look at the least likely attack angles and attack there. Make an entry from the angle that no one is thinking about.

Strategy is like playing chess. Calculate your opponents moves before the game starts. The more combinations you can foresee and prepare for in advance, the more likely you are to win the battle.


From the text above, I derive several questions that I could use to brainstorm my own strategy. An opponent in this case is some kind of a rival force that prevents me from obtaining my goals. Can be a rival team, a rival organization, a rival in a competition, etc

  • Who is the opponent? What goals do I have? What goals does he have?
  • Which are the most likely entry points into those parts of his territory which I want for myself? Which are least likely?
  • How could I make an entry from any of the less likely points?
  • Is my opponent pretty secure in their position? If so, how can I lure him out in the open? What kind of bait would lure him out into a less certain territory?
  • If he is not in a hurry, how can he be hurried?
  • If he is holding some ideas that help him now to be strong, how could those be ideas be forced to change?

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