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Book Theme: The Art of War

I try to answer reflection questions on Sun Tzu’s “Art of War.”

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I have always been curious about what Sun Tzu teaches using the “Art of War”.

To satisfy my curiosity, I read a modern Chinese interpretation by General Tao Hanzhang, (translated by Yuan Shibing).

The book provides space for reflection for modern applications of timeless strategies for war. I answer these reflection questions!

Chapter List

  1. Estimates
  2. Waging War
  3. Offensive Strategy
  4. Dispositions
  5. Posture of the Army
  6. Void and Actuality

Chapter 1: Estimates

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Summary

Chapter 1 featured the five fundamental factors in appraising war conditions and the seven elements in comparing opposing parties.

The chapter focused on the importance of forecasting the results of war based on calculations considering circumstances. In conclusion, “all war is based on deception,” and one can predict victory or defeat in war.

Further thought

Question

List possible circumstances in the professional or personal environment that can be taken advantage of in pursuit of victory.

Reflection

The exercise urges the application of war calculations to the modern battlefield: workplace and life. Advantageous circumstances must be identified to calculate the possibility of winning everyday.

Some advantageous circumstances in the workplace are:

  • a good manager or supervisor
  • flexible work schedule
  • supportive family and friends
  • automation and delegation of tasks
  • short and comfortable commute

A short and comfortable commute may be the most relevant in the Filipino context.

A typical job does not pay for the hours spent travelling to and from the office (which is illegal according to a European court).

A great commute is particularly advantageous in the morning, when a wonderful perspective of the day may diminish because of hours falling in line, sitting in crowded public transport, and dealing with fellow commuters.

The start of the day sets the mood for the vital first two office hours, so a bad start provides a bad precedent for the rest of the day.

Chapter 2: Waging War

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Summary

Chapter 2 highlights the importance of a speedy victory in war, as lengthy confrontation exhausts resources. Soldiers must also be rewarded to encourage better action – men respond to incentives. One must take advantage of the enemy in even the smallest possible way: feeding troops on the enemy’s fodder.

Further thought

Question

Reflect upon previous personal or professional battles that have overextended your resources.

Refletion

The first that comes to mind is completing my Master’s thesis. Its completion was the primary reason for quitting a full-time job, yet there were personal hindrances to finishing it (read: procrastination).

A learning point is to focus on one aspect and persist; a reward and accountability system must also be established.

Currently, I am brewing a piece for the Asian Scientist Writing Prize, but I must overcome the fear of rejection and impostor syndrome to complete it.

Chapter 3: Offensive Strategy

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Summary

The supreme excellence is to subdue the enemy without fighting; however, in case of offense, the relationship among the sovereign, the general, and the army are essential to be well-founded. “A confused army leads to another’s victory.” The chapter also presents the five predictors of victory.

Further thought

Question

Reflect upon previous conflicts in which your approach left you vulnerable solely as a result of participation.

Reflection

I do not know how to answer the question, as I rarely join in confrontations that make me vulnerable to offensive attacks. My strategy for offense is less aggressive than ideal. I wait and see while analyzing the data and statistics repeatedly.

Chapter 4: Dispositions

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Summary

Disposition is the reason that a victorious general is able to command his soldiers. The chapter also instructs defense when one cannot defeat the enemy and to attack when one can.

Chapter 4 details the five elements of the art of war:

  • space measurements
  • estimation of quantities
  • calculations
  • comparisons, and
  • chances of victory

Further thought

Question

Analyze the role played by those who have led you through an arduous task.

Reflection

A person that immediately comes to mind is Dr. Moya, my graduate program and thesis adviser.

From the beginning, his disposition was clear: the research is my study.

It was evident in how rarely he initiated consultation meetings until I submit some parts of the research or scheduled a consultation.

Whenever I schedule meetings, however, he is ready for discussion points and revision points. His role as a mentor led me to write the thesis with as little supervision and gave me independence in the research.

All his comments built up on the existing work I have, not new ideas that he could force to the study. He asked me what I really wanted to do before providing the next steps I can take.

Update: Download a journal paper from my thesis research!

Chapter 5: Posture of the Army

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Summary

Detailed descriptions required of the army were expressed. In any size of the army are two truths: management is a matter of organization and direction is a matter of formation and signals.

Victory is sought by a skilled commander from the situation and not his subordinates.

Further thought

Question

List your strengths, and reflect as to how they are being used, and what might be done to take fuller advantage of them.

Reflection

I tend to be able to rest whenever I want to schedule it. This may not be as productive to a war as mastery of the sword or the bow, but resting in the fast-paced world we live in is a learned skill too.

Particularly during weekends, my mindfulness that I have toiled for the past five days stops me whenever I think of work or writing at a time when I must be letting my mind simmer with thoughts.

Chapter 6: Void and Actuality

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Summary

“One should always respond to circumstances in an infinite variety of ways.”

Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu likens a great army to water – avoiding strength, striking weakness, adjusts to the enemy, and able to adapt to inconsistent conditions.

The army is strong when it forces the enemy to make preparations against possible attacks, not vice versa.

Further thought

Question

Reflect upon an adversary, his strengths and weaknesses, his methods.

Reflection

My biggest adversary may be time! The hours I live on everyday that limit the activities I can do.

Time strongly affects my motivation. More time gives less motivation leading to procrastination.

Being bound by my deadlines, even self-imposed ones, elevate productivity.

Conclusion

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