Wednesday, January 13, 2010

An Unexpected Discovery

Recently, I read The Art of War upon reading that it was tremendously applicable to many areas of life beyond its intended purpose of teaching military tactics. I had heard especially that this book can teach a business major more than many textbooks have in the past. Therefore, while on winter vacation and dying for an excuse to use my new Kindle as much as possible, I downloaded this classic for $.95 and was simply blown away.

Before we begin our tour of my top five favorite quotes from this book which is only approximately 50 pages long, I will give you a little background on Sun Tzu himself based on information I found on and Wikipedia. Sun Tzu was a Chinese general who lived around 500 BC. His work only reached Europe around the French Revolution when they were translated by a Jesuit priest. Since then, the Western world has loved his rules of warfare and the conduct of warfare. So without further ado, my top five favorite quotes in no particular order:

1) "Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him."

This quote automatically drew me to an image of a half court trap in basketball. The team on defense will allow the offensive player to drive up the sideline unimpeded, hence the bait. However, once that player crosses the half-court line, he gets crushed by a double teaming half court trap. Although it might seem that the offensive player had a free drive down the sideline, this false disorder led the player to get crushed and ultimately turn over the ball.

This happened in business as well. I am reminded of a story about the original land acquisition to build Walt Disney World. Walt Disney had several different agents purchased the land in Lake Buena Vista that would eventually hold his amusement park. He did this because he knew that as soon as word got out that Walt Disney was going to build a theme park in Florida, the land prices would skyrocket. Therefore, all of this disorderly buying through a variety of agents allowed Walt Disney to then step in and crush all other amusement parks. The businessman cannot tip his hand too early, or his competitors will sweep in and eliminate any first move advantage that man had.

2) "Hence, though an obstinate fight may be made by a small force, in the end it must be captured by the larger force."

I realize this quote is not what people want to hear. Many people like to believe that through hard work, anything is possible. However, sometimes the fights cannot be won. If I decided to start a small soft drink business in my basement, I could not compete with the likes of Coca-Cola and Pepsi. While my product may be superior, which I guess is entirely a matter of taste, these companies' immense resources, brand recognition, and diverse offerings would never allow me to compete in the market on a large scale. In order to compete, I would need to become a large force. How does one become a large force you might ask? Namely, by acquiring more capital. A small independent soft drink company would never be able to output anywhere near the same volume of Coca-Cola. Therefore, I believe that this point emphasizes the need for small businesses to realize that they are small businesses. There is nothing wrong with a small business; it will just have a hard time competing blow for blow with an industry giant like Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, or any other company that has a large market share in their segment.

3) "One may know how to conquer without being able to do it."

This applies to many areas of life along with business. For example, if I am the CEO of a major company, I may know how to dominate the market. However, if my company does not have the means at that moment to allow me the flexibility to overrun that market, it will not happen. I might know how to create a new product, market it perfectly, and distribute it effectively, but I may not be able to do it due to cost, environment, or several other areas of red tape that seem to plague many businesses. This emphasizes again the need for a large amount of capital. There is nothing more frustrating than having a great idea but not being able to explore it because of financial hazards. As was said in my freshman business class, a company should have twice as much money as it needs when it starts up simply to make sure that this situation does not occur. Granted, funding is not easy to come by. Therefore, make sure before you set out to conquer a new project, market, or venture that you are able to do it or else frustration will ensue.

4) "To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself."

Many people fail to realize that no matter how good a business gets, the competition will always be there. Google has a large market share of Internet searches; however, Google could sit back and do nothing, content for the moment. However, eventually Google would defeat itself once new companies with fresh ideas and better technology would overcome it. Assuming Google is the enemy here, the only way Google can fall from its platform is by failing to innovate and advance with the market. Google has become a verb for crying out loud! Instead of saying, "Search for that on the Internet," we say, "Google it." That is market domination when even the use of a product in that market is known by a brand name. It truly is amazing how insurmountable Google's market share is. Therefore, the only one who can make Google fall is itself. Being a technology driven company, Google must maintain a higher standard and a higher quality product as it continues to attempt to secure itself against defeat.

5) "What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease."

I would like to end with this quote because it defined the need to give full effort to any project. The point here is that it is not enough to beat someone on a final exam when I got a 50 and my opponent got a 49. I did win, but I did not win well or easily. Great businesses become great because they pour endless energy and passion into their products. After reading the book First in Thirst, I discovered that if anyone is going to create a product, he or she better be willing to put in overtime that is most likely unpaid. In this book, the reader sees that the development of Gatorade was by no means simple. University of Florida doctors spent hours in the laboratory to develop a beverage that would lower the incredibly high fatality rate on southern football teams at all levels due to dehydration. They did not need to do this; it did not appear to be profitable at the time. However, they went the extra mile to turn this product into the industry giant that it is today even when it met head-to-head with Coca-Cola and Pepsi in the sports drink market. (Note: Pepsi eventually did buy Gatorade, but not before it tried to run its own line of sports drinks.)

So, I hope I have convinced you, regardless of the discipline you study, to go to your library or a local bookstore and get this book. I applied these principles to business because that is what I know; I would not even know how to begin to apply this book to music, art, or medicine. However, I bet those ties are in the book as there always can be ways to make yourself more competitive. By competitive, I don't always mean when you win; making a hospital more competitive would mean a higher recovery for example. I never thought military tactics could combine with business, but I was wrong. I said in my initial post that my topics would be diverse; I guess I'm living up to that so far.


  1. Love it--some juicy quotes for sure! And now I am going to have to order the text!

  2. Zak that was amazing! I loved how you were able to apply all your quotes to something very relevant to business and how you were able to break down and really explain what those quotes meant. I haven't started reading the actual text of the Art of War yet (I'm still reading the historical background in China). I can't wait to actually start it.

  3. Oh and It's Upasna if you were wondering who I was