The Art of War (Sun Tzu)
The Art of War (Sun Tzu)? Meaning.
Sun Tzu wrote the book The Art of War (孙子兵法 - Sun Zi Bing Fa) in 490 BC, more than 2,600 years ago.
The title by which it is known in the west is “The Art of War”, but actually this is an unfortunate mistranslation. It is better translated as Sun Tzu’s “Competitive Mastery”. Because it was first translated in 1782 in France, it was compared with and given the same name as a contemporary tactical treatise written by Niccolo Machiavelli “Art de la guerre”. This was later translated into English as the “Art of War”.
The west would probably never be exposed to this powerful book, if it hadn’t fallen into the hands of a minor officer in the French revolutionary army by the name of Napolean Bonaparte. He reportedly carried the Jesuit missionary Father Amiot’s translation of the Bing Fa with him everywhere, but kept its contents secret.
It is reported that when another great strategist, Carl Von Clausewitz, was captured by Napoleon’s army he learned their methods. Clausewitz went on to write arguably the greatest treatise of western military strategy “On War” in which he stated a very Sun Tzu-like axiom defining military strategy as “the employment of battles to gain the end of war”.
The Meaning of The Art of War for Contemporary Leadership and Strategy
So, how does this apparent military officer’s manual relate to modern management and leadership? Simple, despite the book’s name, there is very little in the way of specifically outlining the conduct of fighting battles. The aim of the Bing Fa was not to teach men how to fight; it was to “Make Victory Pay” by teaching his leaders to become strategic thinkers. The goal of the Bing Fa wasn’t to pass along doctrine; it was intended to develop the greatest asset in any competitive system, the human mind. Sun Tzu wanted his men’s minds to be a fine sharp edge where decision making for victory became a reflex. It has become a business best-seller with adaptations for specific audiences ranging from “The Art of War for Sales” to “The Art of War for Finding a Mate”. This speaks to the versatility and power of mastering and deploying the strategic mindset found in Sun Tzu’s Art of War (Bing Fa).
Specific Lessons for Modern Managers
More About the Book The Art of War
Sun Tzu's Bing Fa. Is composed of 13 chapters, each of which is devoted to one aspect of warfare or competition. It was deliberately concise and written in poetic language simulating mathematical equations. This Chinese military treatise still stands today as the pre-eminent work on military strategy, the most brilliant exposition of strategic thinking in armed conflict ever composed.
About the Life of Sun Tzu. Biography
Sun Tzu (Mandarin: Sun Zi) was a Chinese general and philosopher who lived between 544 and 496 BC. He wrote the book The Art of War (孙子兵法 - Sun Zi Bing Fa) around 510 BC. This was during the tumultuous “Spring and Autumn” period of China’s history when it was composed of over 100 warring city states. He was hired by the King of Wu, a minor city state, to lead his army of 30,000 against a nearby enemy ten times as large. This ability to decimate a larger and stronger opponent was the first in a long line of victories using the ideas and strategic concepts outlined in Sun Tzu’s Art of War to bring peace and prosperity to the kingdom of Wu.
Little is known about his life after serving the King Ho Lu and his death. The only record following the war is contained in Yueh Chueh Shu “The end of Yueh” which indicates that “Outside the city gate of Wu lies a large tomb. – The tomb of the King of Wu’s foreign official, Sun Tzu. He was an expert of military strategy.”
Because the Greek root of the English word Strategy is “Strategos”, which means “the thinking and actions of Generals”, it is safe to say that General Sun Tzu was the greatest strategist ever to live. His Bing Fa held secrets that would become great “discoveries” in the fields of western organizational psychology and strategic management 2,500 years later. From his grave, Sun Tzu would go on to influence every field of endeavor from sport to stock trading through his masterpiece, the Art of War / Bing Fa.
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