Everyone reveres The Art of War.
1500 years old, this ancient Chinese text is still utilized by both militaries and business schools around the world.
And it should be — research shows those unconventional tactics work.
When Davids don’t fight by Goliaths’ rules they win 63% of battles.
If the US and Canada went to war and Canada chose to fight Sun Tzu style, what would happen? The smart money would bet on Canada.
What do I think? I go a step further:
I believe Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is the essential strategy guide of our time. Why?
We are relentlessly reminded this is the “information age.”
Well, one of the primary themes of Sun Tzu’s classic strategy guide is:the power of information.
I know: you’re not a general or a CEO. But we all wage metaphorical “wars” all day long.
“Fighting” to get that promotion or new job? Waging a pitched “battle” with your significant other over a delicate issue?
Sun Tzu can help you claim victory in all those skirmishes. And scientific research agrees with him. Let’s dive in.
Knowledge Is Power
The crucial theme throughout the The Art of War is the power of accurate information.
Re-reading the book I was struck by how Sun Tzu hits this one idea again and again from so many angles.
He really doesn’t beat around the bush: knowledge wins wars.
Via The Art of War:
Do you need infantry? Maybe. Snipers? Perhaps. Pilots? Could be.
What do you definitely need? Spies to get you information.
Via The Art of War:
Sun Tzu does not believe in fighting fair. He feels deception is at the very heart of war. But what is deception?
All it means is making sure your information is accurate and your enemy’s is not.
Via The Art of War:
And when you look at military history, Sun Tzu’s emphasis on information-based strategy has guided most every great general since.
You might argue that back then information was so important because it wasscarce.
We’re drowning in information now. So maybe it’s no longer a problem…
But research actually shows nothing has changed since Sun Tzu’s era. In fact, the problem may have gotten worse.
Sun Tzu For The 21st Century
Google brings us a library full of data with a keystroke. Our bursting inboxes scream “information overload.”
But that doesn’t mean it’s relevant or accurate info. What do the best leaders of the modern era still spend much of their time doing?
Trying to get the information they need to make good decisions.
The primary challenge of a leader has not changed much since Sun Tzu’s era.
Getting accurate, relevant information can be difficult because you’re never on the front lines and there is too much data.
You might think that with enough money you can leverage surveys, focus groups and manpower and arrive at useful info.
Probably — but you’re still not out of the woods because we’re all still prone to the same biases humans always have been.
What does research show is the biggest error leaders make?
And what’s an essential part of hubris? Thinking you know everything.
Leaders can get great information these days. But as former Harvard professor Richard Tedlow explains, they often just don’t want to hear it.
So how can you avoid the eternal problems of getting and using good information?
How To Wage A Sun Tzu War From Your Cubicle
So Sun Tzu was right — and still is. What does that mean for you and me?
Before that job interview, research the company. Before that meeting, find out who they are. Before that negotiation, research their previous deals.
I’ll distill it down to four core, actionable ideas:
- Do your homework. Information is easy to get but good information can still be elusive. Spend the time.
- Talk to people. Maybe you don’t have Sun Tzu’s “spies” but lots of info you need is not online; it’s in people’s heads. Call them.
- Don’t get cocky. Hubris is the enemy. Confidence is great but never fall into the trap of thinking you know it all. Question yourself or, better yet, have a friend do it for you.
- Don’t give up easy. You may lack for money or manpower but who knows what crazy information the opposition might be working from? As Sun Tzu said, great leaders don’t just gather information, they actively exploit and manipulate the assumptions of the other side.
Lawrence of Arabia didn’t have better info than the Turks. In fact, he didn’t objectively have anything better than the Turks.
But he knew one thing the Turks absolutely assumed was true: Nobody would attack Aqaba from the desert. It was suicide. It was insane.
Knowing that assumption, Lawrence had all the information he needed to surprise the enemy — and devastate them.
History’s greatest minds have always been accused of being crazy.
But you’re not crazy if you know something that they don’t.
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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.