The Art of War – 5. Five Essential Elements for Success

The Art of War

Series 5 – Five Essential Elements for Success


“Sun Tzu said: The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one’s deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field.  These are:

      (1) The Moral Law; causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger

      (2) Heaven; signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons.

      (3) Earth; comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death.

      (4) The Commander; stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness

     (5) Method and discipline. are to be understood the marshaling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the graduations of rank among the officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military expenditure.”  (The Art of War, Section 1 – Laying Plans, Sun Tzu 5th Century BC)

Sun Tzu, as a practical soldier, will have none of the “bookish theoric.” He cautions us here not to pin our faith to abstract principles; “for,” as Chang Yu puts it, “while the main laws of strategy can be stated clearly enough for the benefit of all and sundry, you must be guided by the actions of the enemy in attempting to secure a favourable position in actual warfare.

For example: “On the eve of the battle of Waterloo, Lord Uxbridge, commanding the cavalry, went to the Duke of Wellington in order to learn what his plans and calculations were for the morrow, because, as he explained, he might suddenly find himself Commander-in-chief and would be unable to frame new plans in a critical moment. The Duke listened quietly and then said: “Who will attack the first tomorrow—I or Bonaparte?” “Bonaparte,” replied Lord Uxbridge. “Well,” continued the Duke, “Bonaparte has not given me any idea of his projects; and as my plans will depend upon his, how can you expect me to tell you what mine are?”

Application to business:

Preparing your business in a competitive environment is not unlike Sun Tzu’s ideals for preparing for war. Thinking about these 5 elements can only add value to your business and below these 5 elements are explained in business terms:

  • Moral Law: In today’s liberal world we have to be seen to be doing the right thing, for our employees, the environment and for our customers. If we do not our customers will leave, our employees will be unproductive and we good receive environmental fines.  These challenges should be part of your strategic plan
  • Heaven: This could be related to the cycles in which your business exists. We have to be in a position to capitalise on the busy periods when business is good, to help you through the quiet periods where sales are difficult to come by.  When you create your annual budgets, these cycles should be considered
  • Earth; This could be viewed as the risks that businesses are exposed, such as your competitors, the economy and government regulation for example. Each business should create a robust plan and be prepared for a change in these circumstances at any time
  • Commander: This is all about the leadership of your business. A strong wise and compassionate leader will excel at goal setting, they will be sincere, benevolent, courageous, strict and will drive a culture of discipline
  • Method and Discipline: This is how a business should execute their business plan. The leadership must ensure that the best people are in the right job. Every person in the business should know the business vision and held accountable for their part in its success.  They should be supported by management and set up to succeed.

As consultants it is our job to make sure the businesses that we deal with are fit for purpose and ready for any eventuality.  As Lord Uxbridge’s discussion with the Duke of Wellington identified, know-one knew what was going to happen as they were not privy to Napoleons battle plans.

In the same way, when market forces affect the way businesses need to operate, they generally do so without any pre-warning.  So business owners have to build strong flexible organisations which can react to any eventuality and if they follow these 5 elements, they will be somewhat prepared.

Written by Steve Dodd | 19/12/2018  | Sun Tzu text from :

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