The Art of War, Chapter 1: Estimates

It may seem random and out of the blue, but as I work my way through my MBA, I will do my best to summarise and analyse my class readings on this blog. This will force me to be more invested and critical as there are more pairs looking on. This reading is the first chapter from The Art of War, by Sun Tzu.

The following points are a couple of things I learnt:

  1. War is a resource drainer, think through it carefully before committing to it.
  2. Before getting into war, analyse the following 5 fundamental factors and compare them to the 7 elements. Only general that intimately understands the below will succeed.
    1. Moral influence: how committed your army is (i.e. will day die for you without fear?).
    2. Weather: Conduct your military operations according to the weather.
    3. Terrain: Are you travelling up a hill? are you travelling into a restricted path through a mountain?
    4. Command: the commander’s leadership traits (i.e. wisdom, sincerity, courage, strictness, etc.)
    5. Doctrine: how well suited are leaders for their role? regulations of supply use and how supplies are provided to your army
  3. Tzu says if I know the five factors above about any two armies I can predict who will win.

  1. Warfare is based on deception, see below.
    1. When strong, act weak,
    2. When weak, act strong,
    3. Upset his generals,
    4. Pretend to be inferior and encourage his arrogance,
    5. Upset him and grind him down, etc.
  2. Deception is the key to success!
  3. Lastly, you must make the calculations listed above in your head prior to engaging in hostilities. You must think a lot to have a chance. You are doomed if you don’t.

At its core, Chapter 1 gives us a lens that we can use to “Estimate” any sort of engagement/conflict/hostility. The 5 fundamental factors may not be so relevant in today’s workplace and home life, but it certainly does speak volumes about when and where we should “attack”. This makes me think of a very similar idea that was discussed at length in: Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. In this book, Burnett and Evans call problems that are out of control “gravity” problems because it’s a force we cannot challenge. This chapter could be hinting at the same idea: reflect carefully on whether or not you can win before you engage!


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Hadi is Honours civil of engineering graduate with solid project management experience in the construction industry. Solutions-focused, results-oriented with strong business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit. Currently, he is working as an assistant site-superintendant with Darcon Inc. at one of Vaughan's biggest developments, Centro Square.

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