The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Written during the 6th century BC, The Art of War is a definitive Chinese military strategy treatise that has proven relevant centuries later, not only to modern-day warfare, but also to politics, business, and managerial and even relationship strategies.

Best summarized in his quote “all warfare is based on deception”, Sun Tzu’s teachings include the importance of positioning in strategy, having taken into account the objective conditions in the physical environment and the subjective opinions of your opponent in that environment. He also teaches on the importance of speed and versatility in responding to changing conditions, seeing as even the best laid plans in life more often than not do fall apart. Sun Tzu’s emphasis however is on how to fight wars without actually going into battle i.e. by outsmarting your opponent. For Sun Tzu, the key is to first know yourself, then know your opponent, thus limiting the costs of competition/ conflict. He talks of the need to recognize opportunities in the weaknesses of your opponent, without trying to create them; tactical maneuvering and the importance of developing information sources.

The Art of War became increasingly popular in the 19th and 20th centuries, with Sun Tzu’s teachings being applied in politics and culture of both western and Asian cultures. The book is regarded as a primary example of Taoist thinking, which proved influential to both ancient Chinese and Asian culture and history. Sun Tzu is thought to have been a general of King of Wu, who lived in the Spring and Autumn Period of China (722 -481 BC). This was a period of constant war in China, which saw the seven nations of Zhao, Qin, Qi, Han, Chu, Yan and Wei, battle over control of the whole of China. On this basis, some scholars believe that The Art of War is based on the descriptions of warfare in the Warring States Period (476-221 BC).

Known to have influenced the strategies of Napoleon and Mao, The Art of War has taken prominence in strategies outside military applications. It has proved a bible of sorts on corporate strategy for Japanese businessmen, well respected today for their business savvy. This must-read has also found its way in the legal fraternity for tactics on outsmarting opposing counsel; as well as in the sports world, for defense/offense tactics, political campaign trails, office politics and – believe it or not – getting and holding onto romantic partners.