I am continuing with my interpretation of the book. Everything in italic is a direct quote from the book.
1. Sun Tzu said: The art of war recognizes nine varieties of ground: (1) Dispersive ground; (2) facile ground; (3) contentious ground; (4) open ground; (5) ground of intersecting highways; (6) serious ground; (7) difficult ground; (8) hemmed-in ground; (9) desperate ground.
2. When a chieftain is fighting in his own territory, it is dispersive ground. 3. When he has penetrated into hostile territory, but to no great distance, it is facile ground. 4. Ground the possession of which imports great advantage to either side, is contentious ground. 5. Ground on which each side has liberty of movement is open ground. 6. Ground which forms the key to three contiguous states, so that he who occupies it first has most of the Empire at his command, is a ground of intersecting highways. 7. When an army has penetrated into the heart of a hostile country, leaving a number of fortified cities in its rear, it is serious ground. 8. Mountain forests, rugged steeps, marshes and fens — all country that is hard to traverse: this is difficult ground. 9. Ground which is reached through narrow gorges, and from which we can only retire by tortuous paths, so that a small number of the enemy would suffice to crush a large body of our men: this is hemmed in ground. 10. Ground on which we can only be saved from destruction by fighting without delay, is desperate ground.
competition or any mission, there are 9 types of environments: 1) home base
dispersive); 2) threshold territory (facile); 3) disputed territory
(contentious); 4) neutral territory (open); 5) control junction (intersecting
highways)s; 6) the lion’s den territory (serious); 7) grueling environments
(difficult); 8) narrowest-path environment (hemmed-in); 9) cornered situations
- When we are in our comfort zone, it is a home base;
- When we make a few incursions into the opponents’ territory with an easy retreat to home base available, that is a threshold territory;
- A territory or a situation that both sides desire in order to have an advantage it is a disputed ground
- Environment in which either side could maneuver without coming into a direct conflict is a neutral ground
- A situation where several different governance domains interconnect is a control junction. Whoever controls this environment is the dominant force and controls vast resources against his opponent
- When we have breached into the heart of the opponent’s home territory, with no backup in resources and no easy retreat to home base, that is the lion’s den territory
- When we have to burn through lots of time, energy, and resources just to make slow but steady progress toward the goal, that is grueling environment
- When the only way to reach some target or to make an exit is through some high-risk bets with significant possibility of being easily pushed into a corner with no clear solution, that is a narrowest-path environment
- Whenever we are confronted with the situation when the only way out of a sure-loss corner is through knife-fight type of confrontation, that is a cornered environment
11. On dispersive ground, therefore, fight not. On facile ground, halt not. On contentious ground, attack not. 12. On open ground, do not try to block the enemy’s way. On the ground of intersecting highways, join hands with your allies. 13. On serious ground, gather in plunder. In difficult ground, keep steadily on the march. 14. On hemmed-in ground, resort to stratagem. On desperate ground, fight.
Do not engage the opponent from your home base. In the threshold territory, do not feel at leisure, do not set up camp; in the disputed territory, do not attack directly. In the neutral ground, avoid getting in their way. In the control junction, try to join forces with your allies. In the lion’s den look to take possession of all the available resources that the situation offers. In the grueling environment, do not retreat, keep a steady pace, do not let your spirits down. In the narrowest-path environment, use strategies to avoid being cornered. In the cornered situation, fight with all the resources you have.
15. Those who were called skillful leaders of old knew how to drive a wedge between the enemy’s front and rear; to prevent cooperation between his large and small divisions; to hinder the good troops from rescuing the bad, the officers from rallying their men. 16. When the enemy’s men were scattered, they prevented them from concentrating; even when their forces were united, they managed to keep them in disorder. 17. When it was to their advantage, they made a forward move; when otherwise, they stopped still.
A skillful strategist knows how to drive the wedge between the members of the opposition, between their rank members and leadership, and between their allies. He will know how to prevent cooperation between allies, and how to prevent one project from rescuing another. When the opponent’s resources are scattered, he knows how to prevent them from being concentrated; if their teams or allies are united, he knows how to saw confusion and separate them. When the situation to his advantage, he makes a move. When it is not, he is holding his ground.
18. If asked how to cope with a great host of the enemy in orderly array and on the point of marching to the attack, I should say: “Begin by seizing something which your opponent holds dear; then he will be amenable to your will.” 19. Rapidity is the essence of war: take advantage of the enemy’s unreadiness, make your way by unexpected routes, and attack unguarded spots.
If you are in a situation, where you are faced with the most formidable opponent who is about to make a move that will devastate your position, begin your response by seizing something that you opponent hold very dear. After that, he will follow the movement of your hand like the orchestra follows the conductor. Speed is the essence of success in a confrontation. Take advantage of those parts of your opponent’s plan that lack coordination and readiness for action. Approach him from unexpected directions, looking for unguarded moments to take advantage of.
20. The following are the principles to be observed by an invading force: The further you penetrate into a country, the greater will be the solidarity of your troops, and thus the defenders will not prevail against you. 21. Make forays in fertile country in order to supply your army with food. 22. Carefully study the well-being of your men, and do not overtax them. Concentrate your energy and hoard your strength. Keep your army continually on the move, and devise unfathomable plans. 23. Throw your soldiers into positions whence there is no escape, and they will prefer death to flight. If they will face death, there is nothing they may not achieve. Officers and men alike will put forth their uttermost strength. 24. Soldiers when in desperate straits lose the sense of fear. If there is no place of refuge, they will stand firm. If they are in hostile country, they will show a stubborn front. If there is no help for it, they will fight hard.
If you are trying to penetrate or to attack, observe the following principles:
- The further you penetrate into a hostile territory, the greater will be your team solidarity, making it more difficult for the defending force to wear them out
- Find fertile opportunities in the hostile ground, and make regular efforts to transfer some of those opportunities into your own resources
- Take regular measurements of the morale of your teams or allies. Do not overtax them with unnecessary expenditures or confrontations. Preserve your energy and strength. Do not set roots or weight yourself down with unnecessary luxuries, be constantly on the move from one target to the next, each time striking from a surprise angle. Keep your plans of the next move completely obscure from everyone.
- Put your team in do-or-die situations, and they will find a creative way to break through. Whenever the situation is completely hopeless, they will rise up to unprecedented resistance to pressure. Both the management and the lower ranks will come together to break through the strongest headwinds
- When people feel desperate, they become fearless. If there is no safety to retreat to, they can’t be tempted to retreat. When faced with hostility, their own hostile spirit will become stubborn and grow strong. If there is no relief or help in sight, they will find their own resources to achieve their goal.
25. Thus, without waiting to be marshaled, the soldiers will be constantly on the qui vive; without waiting to be asked, they will do your will; without restrictions, they will be faithful; without giving orders, they can be trusted. 26. Prohibit the taking of omens, and do away with superstitious doubts. Then, until death itself comes, no calamity need be feared.
This is how you make your teams or allies alert and ready without having to remind them, ready to execute your plan without the need for much convincing, faithful without conditions, reliable without having to manage them. If you also manage to keep them from believing in superstitions and bad omens, they will stand firm in every confrontation.
27. If our soldiers are not overburdened with money, it is not because they have a distaste for riches; if their lives are not unduly long, it is not because they are disinclined to longevity. 28. On the day they are ordered out to battle, your soldiers may weep, those sitting up bedewing their garments, and those lying down letting the tears run down their cheeks. But let them once be brought to bay, and they will display the courage of a Chu or a Kuei.
If your team or your allies do not have many resources, it is not because they have a distaste for resources; if they do not stay on your team very long, it is not because they enjoy changing teams or jobs. On the day when the upcoming confrontation looms over your daily routine, you will see many of your team members or allies’ confidence shaken, spirits low, and fearful projections being passed around abundant. Do not worry. The moment the real confrontation is in front of them, their stubborn resistance to hostility will leap forward in front of their fears.
29. The skillful tactician may be likened to the shuaijan. Now the shuaijan is a snake that is found in the Ch’ang mountains. Strike at its head, and you will be attacked by its tail; strike at its tail, and you will be attacked by its head; strike at its middle, and you will be attacked by head and tail both.
The skillful strategist should be like the legendary shuajuan snake that is rumored to live in the Chinese mountains. If you try to attack its head, it will spear you with its tail. If you try to attack it’s tail, it will tear into you with it’s head. If you try to attack it in the middle, both the tail and the head will be ready to repel your attack. Train to imitate shuajuan strategy.
32. The principle on which to manage an army is to set up one standard of courage which all must reach. 33. How to make the best of both strong and weak — that is a question involving the proper use of ground. 34. Thus the skillful general conducts his army just as though he were leading a single man, willy-nilly, by the hand.
Manage the spirit of your team by setting up a single standard of courage, which all, both managers and foot-soldiers of your team much demonstrate. However, some members of your team will be weak and some will be strong. Some elements of your environment will be a strength for you, and some might be a weakness. How to make the best use of both strong and weak elements should be dictated by the conditions on the ground. Lead your entire team or organization as you would guide a blind person, gently toward your goal.
47. On contentious ground, I would hurry up my rear. 48. On open ground, I would keep a vigilant eye on my defences. On ground of intersecting highways, I would consolidate my alliances. 49. On serious ground, I would try to ensure a continuous stream of supplies. On difficult ground, I would keep pushing on along the road. 50. On hemmed-in ground, I would block any way of retreat. On desperate ground, I would proclaim to my soldiers the hopelessness of saving their lives. 51. For it is the soldier’s disposition to offer an obstinate resistance when surrounded, to fight hard when he cannot help himself, and to obey promptly when he has fallen into danger.
- On the disputed territory, make sure your team does not get separated. Keep your supplies and allies close to you.
- In the neutral territory, keep a keen eye on your defenses against a sudden attack.
- In the control junctions, consolidate your allies, make them join as one unit.
- In the lion’s den, ensure a continuous flow of resources.
- In grueling environments, keep close to the beaten path not to get too delayed.
- In the narrowest-path environment I would make sure any retreat options appear to be blocked to my team.
- In the cornered situation, I would announce that our positions are without any hope of escaping a complete annihilation. It is people’s natural instinct to turn entirely ruthless and obstinate when their hopes of escape are blocked. When faced with the destruction of their dreams, they obey without hesitation.
35. It is the business of a general to be quiet and thus ensure secrecy; upright and just, and thus maintain order. 36. He must be able to mystify his officers and men by false reports and appearances, and thus keep them in total ignorance. 37. By altering his arrangements and changing his plans, he keeps the enemy without definite knowledge. By shifting his camp and taking circuitous routes, he prevents the enemy from anticipating his purpose. 38. At the critical moment, the leader of an army acts like one who has climbed up a height and then kicks away the ladder behind him. He carries his men deep into hostile territory before he shows his hand. 39. He burns his boats and breaks his cooking-pots; like a shepherd driving a flock of sheep, he drives his men this way and that, and nothing knows whither he is going. 40. To muster his host and bring it into danger: — this may be termed the business of the general
The leader should be so reserved, that secrecy for all his plans and calculations is ensured. He must be so disciplined, as to instill immediate order. He must mystify his followers and his critics by maintaining misleading appearances in everything. He must be able to constantly change directions and routines, no one will know exact knowledge of the organization to manipulate it, but him. By constantly misleading goals he will prevent his competition from knowing the true ones. When a critical confrontation is necessary, he makes his team think that all options of retreating in safety are closed to them. He uses stealth to bring his team as close to the doors of the lion’s den as possible before their presence becomes known to the opponent. In order to take the castle, he burns the boats and takes away their common routines. Like the guide of a blind man, he takes his team by the hand, and only he has any knowledge, where he is leading them. To be in full control of his team before he bring them to face a decisive confrontation – that is the obligation of the leader.
41. The different measures suited to the nine varieties of ground; the expediency of aggressive or defensive tactics; and the fundamental laws of human nature: these are things that must most certainly be studied.
Define your plans for all nine situations, taking into account the needed and urgency of the defensive and offensive movements, and the fundamental laws of human behavior. Study those in order to be successful in your plans.
42. When invading hostile territory, the general principle is, that penetrating deeply brings cohesion; penetrating but a short way means dispersion…. 46. Therefore, on dispersive ground, I would inspire my men with unity of purpose. On facile ground, I would see that there is close connection between all parts of my army.
When penetrating into a hostile situation, the general principle is that the deeper into the hostile territory you get, the more cohesive is the team. Being close to safety will allow your team to lose cohesiveness. Therefore, when in my own home base, inspire your team with the unity of purpose. In the threshold territory, ensure a need for close collaboration between all parts of the team or organization.
54. When a warlike prince attacks a powerful state, his generalship shows itself in preventing the concentration of the enemy’s forces. He overawes his opponents, and their allies are prevented from joining against him. 55. Hence he does not strive to ally himself with all and sundry, nor does he foster the power of other states. He carries out his own secret designs, keeping his antagonists in awe. Thus he is able to capture their cities and overthrow their kingdoms. 56. Bestow rewards without regard to rule, issue orders without regard to previous arrangements; and you will be able to handle a whole army as though you had to do with but a single man. 57. Confront your soldiers with the deed itself; never let them know your design. When the outlook is bright, bring it before their eyes; but tell them nothing when the situation is gloomy.
strategic leader attacks a powerful opponent, his mastery is shown in his
ability to prevent opposing allies from joining forces. He keeps his opposition
in constant awe and confusion, preventing them from forming a strategy for a
joined attack. He is not in a hurry to make alliances with everyone and
everything. His plans and goals are never clear to anyone but himself. With
sudden incursions, he is able to catch them off-guard and take control over
their resources, their ground, and their allies.
Reward your followers and allies without regard for hierarchy. Change your orders without regard for previous plans. If you do so successfully, you can command your team and your allies like a guide that is commanding a blind person to go wherever he wants to. Your team should find out about your moves after the fact. Do not let your team or allies know your real plans in advance. If the prospects of success are good, advertise those prospects. If the situation looks worrysome, make sure they do not obtain knowledge of it.
58. Place your army in deadly peril, and it will survive; plunge it into desperate straits, and it will come off in safety. 59. For it is precisely when a force has fallen into harm’s way that is capable of striking a blow for victory.
Place your team and allies in serious financial trouble, and they will overcome all difficulties and find a safe passage back. Usually, the team does not strike a decisive blow to the opponent until it is fallen into despair and hardship.
60. Success in warfare is gained by carefully accommodating ourselves to the enemy’s purpose. 61. By persistently hanging on the enemy’s flank, we shall succeed in the long run in killing the commander-in-chief. 62. This is called ability to accomplish a thing by sheer cunning.
63. On the day that you take up your command, block the frontier passes, destroy the official tallies, and stop the passage of all emissaries. 64. Be stern in the council-chamber, so that you may control the situation.
65. If the enemy leaves a door open, you must rush in. 66. Forestall your opponent by seizing what he holds dear, and subtly contrive to time his arrival on the ground. 67. Walk in the path defined by rule, and accommodate yourself to the enemy until you can fight a decisive battle. 68. At first, then, exhibit the coyness of a maiden, until the enemy gives you an opening; afterwards emulate the rapidity of a running hare, and it will be too late for the enemy to oppose you.
Success is conflict is obtained by carefully watching opposition and appearing to conform to its every wish, so he thinks that he controls the situation. But follow it constantly wherever it goes, so that the opportunity to eliminate its chief strategist would not be missed, if it occurs. This is called the ability to cease the goal through smart cunning.
the smart strategist is placed in charge, he should block all unofficial
communication between his team and the opponents’ team, prevent all official
exchange of information. During strategy meetings, be so stern and strong in
your opinions as to take control of the direction of the campaign.
Be mindful that the opponent may provide an
unexpected opening at the least expected time or angle, so be always prepared
to take advantage. By ceasing something that he holds dear, you can force him
into the battle at the time and place of your choice, rather than his. Obey by
established rules as long as there is no critical advantage to be gained by
breaking them. Accommodate yourself to the convenience of your opponent until
such time when a decisive attack can be launched. During most of the campaign,
be quiet but pleasant with him, like a shy girl. But once an opportunity
arises, deliver your swift strike like a swoop of falcon capturing the prey. At
that time, it will be too late for your opponent to start retreating.