On the other hand, a military commander, and their forces, that fail to achieve battlefield successes, or a nation that fails to develop a comprehensive strategy for national security, may suffer much worse. Nations may lose their prestige they hold within the world. Military personnel and the citizens they protect may lose their lives and their freedoms. The nation and its people may lose their sovereignty. The society may be forced to change the way of life to which they have defined themselves. Even the most competent military organization given the most advantageous of battlefield conditions expects to suffer some form of loss of life from its combat operations.
Because the consequences of military endeavors are so great for human societies; they, therefore, weigh heavily on the minds of the leadership of states and nations. This translates into the expectations we place on military leadership, their staff, and the nation that supports them to develop courses of action that achieve greater results for the lowest of costs. The ways and means they determine how to achieve success therefore can literally mean the life and death of nations and their people. When we study the battles that were fought, the campaigns that were waged, and the writings they left behind, we can see how success and failure were shaped by how they perceived the world around them. If we could ascertain the elements of military principles and tenets that lead to battlefield success, then arguably you could apply those elements to other human endeavors to achieve a combat-tested edge against your competition.
Imagine if you will, that you had a startup business which, at the global level, was competing against mega-corporations, like Apple and Amazon, as well as numerous regional powerhouses in your own backyard. In this scenario you are obviously the underdog, trying to find an edge in on the competition; make a name for yourself, your business, and your brand. You seek inspiration and strategy to compete and succeed in your new endeavor. You look towards Sun Tzu’s Art of War for guidance like so many other successful companies have done in the past. You read about how to employ deception, attack where they are weak while avoiding where they are strong, you try to fathom their plans while making yours unfathomable. You take the guidance to heart through your own interpretation of the writings, but failed to succeed, not in the long term, but in the short term. Did you fail to comprehend Sun Tzu’s guidance? Maybe military theory doesn't translate over into non-military endeavors, and everyone is just deluding themselves that it does.
We will delve deeper into Sun Tzu and writings associated with him later, but one common tenet accredited to him involves knowing oneself and one’s enemies. He said that if one could fathom this, then they needn’t worry about the outcome of future battles. Later on we will discuss the validity of this concept, but for now we will simply reference this in regards to the scenario above.
You attempted to challenge your competitor by using the guidance found within the Art of War. You assessed that your opposition has significant strength in many areas that you lack, and that what few weaknesses you were able to identify you tried to develop an overarching strategy and take advantage of that weakness to strengthen yourself. It is a very direct approach to defeating a competitor’s course of action, to derail their operations, to which provide you opportunities for success. Indeed, deceiving the enemy and defeating their plans was more important in Sun Tzu’s mind than defeating their forces in direct confrontation. You did this, however, you failed… Why is that?