Sun Tzu Was a Sissy
Conquer Your Enemies, Promote Your Friends, and Wage the Real Art of War.
(FORTUNE Magazine) – SEVERAL THOUSAND YEARS AGO IN CHINA, or what was destined to be China, there lived a guy named Sun Tzu. Like Niccolò Machiavelli and Walt Rostow and Paul Wolfowitz, he didn't run the world, he just advised those who did. His legend grew from one generation of murderous warlords to the next, until he became more famous than they did, possibly because his name was easier to remember, but also because writers have the last word.
Sun Tzu wrote about War. How to make it. How to win it. How to get others to die in it instead of you. This last was particularly popular with warlords back then and remains so to this day with their contemporary counterparts in both the military and the executive suites.
Sun Tzu wrote a bunch of extremely poetic and deep stuff that somebody must have understood, because it was handed lovingly down over the years to those who kill people for a living and is now taught at West Point and sold, in one form or another, in airport bookstores to people in charge of marketing and advertising and even human resources. Why Sun Tzu is appealing to people is a mystery, because his stuff is about as easy to understand as one of those instruction manuals they give you when you buy any product from Eastern Europe. Let me give you an example:
"When the enemy is near and still, he is relying on the steep. When the enemy is far and provokes battle, he wishes the other to advance--he is occupying the level and advantageous."
There's a lot of stuff like this throughout the book that's come to be known as The Art of War, but it all adds up to the fact that, whatever emperor Sun Tzu worked for, it's quite likely he had no clothes. It isn't that Sun Tzu was wrong, exactly. But there's no business like Tzu business, not today. His approach might have been darned good when the job was to tramp a bunch of guys in bamboo ponchos up and down the mountainside, waiting for the optimal time to swoop down and acquire the most advantageous position for the next round of fighting. I don't know about you, but I haven't come up against that situation since the late 1990s.
I fight in the real world, as I'm sure do you. We don't really have armies, per se. Like, we have people we fight with, but armies? Sadly, no. We don't have terrain as such, either, unless you define terrain quite differently. We can do that, but Sun Tzu didn't, not really. Because he was a sissy.
I know that sounds a bit harsh. I don't mean it to be. It's quite possible that all of the Tztuff he talks about, the mincing dependence on hyperstrategy and deep philosophical musings, used to work. But when I'm thinking about war, I don't want to prance around the Maypole. I want to be rolling up my sleeves and wrapping my tie around my head. Those who want to prevail in these perilous times had better know how to wage war to win, getting deep down into the field of battle with the stink of sweat and Diet Coke in your nostrils and the tears of big, bald men all over your shoes.
But what is war? When your boss yells at you because he's in a swivet about something, is that war? Nah. If you were at war every time some butthead yelled at you, you'd be dead by now. Of stupidity.
When you and a peer argue about the best way to do something, are you at war with that person simply because he disagrees with you, even in public?
Maybe, if you're at GE. But as a rule, that would be unfortunate.
Is it war when that same peer goes behind your back and secures the agreement of the executive you both serve, making you look like a lump of spoiled meat in the process?
Now we're getting closer.
And when the boss is so pleased he takes that other guy out to lunch and allows him to pick up the check? And you're not invited?
Yes. That's war, all right. The pig must die. Not the senior pig, though. That senior pig is your commander. The junior pig, yes--that porker must be bound, trussed, and broiled, served up in public with an apple in his mouth. Here's how it's done.
1. CLARIFY YOUR GOALS AND FIGURE OUT HOW YOU PLAN TO ATTAIN THEM, assuming that the preservation of enemy life is not an issue, at least at first.
2. WHAT IS IT YOU WANT? TERRITORY? THE DEATH OF THOUSANDS? GOLD? DREAM BIG. There is no point in going to war for insubstantial or silly aims.
3. HERE ARE SOME GOALS THAT WERE ESTABLISHED IN FAMOUS WARS you may or may not have heard of:
4. DECLARE WAR. It's best to do this immediately, as you launch your first major offensive. War is generally begun by a simultaneous act and declaration. They go together. Both show that you mean business. So think about what your first shot is going to be.
5. NOW SEIZE THE OFFENSIVE. Both enemies and friends have been informed that the horrors and exhilarations of war are upon them, so it's time for everybody to get energized and excited. This is the time, before too much blood has been shed and everybody has forgotten what the whole thing was supposed to be about, when the greatest gains can be made by an aggressor.
6. A WORD ABOUT THAT. If you have to choose between the two roles--aggressor or defender--it's way better to be the former. Aggressors can win. Defenders' best hope is to not lose. You can see the difference. Strike early each day, and strike often. The war is to the swift and the mean.
7. ACCUMULATE ALLIES. Once you have demonstrated aggression and the willingness to hurt other people, you will begin to attract people who want to join you for their own benefit. They are called allies. They're not as good as friends on the one hand or subordinates willing to die for you on the other, but they're worth something.
8. YOUR POOL OF ALLIES is made up of several groups:
Individuals with common interests to yours •Enemies of your enemy •Troublemakers •Mercentaries •Spies •Stalkers
9. A WORD ABOUT SPIES. Aside from consultants, they are the most obvious expression of a diseased social environment. In many cases, in fact, the spy is a consultant.
10. SPIES ARE GOOD for the getting of data and the planting of false information in the enemy camp. The assumption you should make during wartime is that spies are always working for both sides of the conflict and, in the end, for themselves. This makes them perhaps the most consistent and trustworthy entities with which you, as a leader and warrior, are likely to deal. You can always depend on a spy to do what spies do, whereas friends, enemies, and subordinates can sometimes do unexpected things. And the unexpected, in a war, is to be avoided at almost any cost.
11. SEIZE THE MEDIA. You'd be amazed to truly grasp how important propaganda is to your purpose. Think about the way Kim Jong Il, the demented, egomaniacal martinet who runs North Korea, has manipulated the gigantic cultural images that are poured into the understimulated brains of his worried subjects. Streets and flowers are named after him. Operas are written about him. If they had more electricity, just think what they could do.
12. LET'S TAKE A MINUTE to talk about your PR effort. Jesus himself had the four Evangelists, plus, at a later date, Mel Gibson. Samuel Johnson, a fat, witty guy who illuminated the 18th century, had a talented scribe named Boswell who followed him around and captured his every fatuity. Trump has himself. Every war master controls the story while the whole thing is going on. You always know that a side has lost a war when they lose control of the press.
The thing you need to know about the press, if you have any dealings with the nice, smart people who do that grubby job, is that the thing they want most is a story. If there is no story, still they want a story. Stories they like:
√ Fiduciary irresponsibility √ Sex stuff √ Cultural dissonance √ Celebrity gossip/factoids
The most important thing for them, without fail, is the need to feed the beast every day. Think about it. They have 100 pages of content to frame around their advertising each time they show up at work. Imagine that. It's tough. So if you give them a story, no matter how gooshy, fractile, or brain damaged, they will listen. This is terrific for you in your war, because if you are as aggressive in this sphere as you are on the battlefield, you will define the way the war is perceived, and that, my friends, is the whole deal.
13. NOW START KILLING PEOPLE. Didn't you know that was what this was all about?
14. IT'S ALWAYS SURPRISING to me that people are grossed out or shocked that war involves the killing of people. You're lucky. You're in business, not in the actual business of war. War--real war--truly sucks. Even one human life is precious. And what have millions been lost pursuing? What stupidity? And always in the name of right and justice?
15. BUT YOU? YOU'RE LUCKY. You're conducting a sissy war, because nobody is going to die, not really. And you're at a huge advantage because, thanks to me, you are not a total goddamned sissy.
16. PEOPLE AT WAR have been required to justify an enormous Tzunami of horrible things they have done to their adversaries. The business universe pales by comparison.
17. ABOUT KILLING PEOPLE: It's hard in the beginning, and then, if you are a decent person, it gets very slowly easier until it seems like business to you. If you are not a decent person, so much the better for you. This makes you valuable, up to a point. Ultimately, however, people will be disgusted with you, so be careful displaying the fact that you have no conscience about these things. You may think it's a business asset. It's not.
18. YOU MAY ASK, "Who am I supposed to kill?" It should be obvious to you, once you think about it. If it's not, you're not truly engaged in battle. What's the matter with you? Shape up!
19. NOW LET'S LOOK at a couple of ways you can hack through other people on your way to success:
> HUMILIATION. This is a more pointed and vicious weapon than you might guess. It's relatively easy to repair one's position after having been screamed at. Far more difficult is to stand tall when the ground under one's feet is infested with worms.
Remember that business warfare is rarely a Sun Tzu-style blitzkrieg that is over before the general's coffee gets cold. It's more like another Chinese contribution to world culture: the water torture. There is no more terrible thing to witness than two enemies locked in an endless death grip while one humiliates the other until that other can take it no longer. I've seen grown men and women sustain continued small, painful injury to their soft tissue over a period of months and months and then, eventually, unable to take any more, simply depart, leaving severance and options on the table worth quite a bit of green.
Corporate behavior is circumscribed. How a person is allowed to react to torture depends on one's rank, one's physical equipment, and the power of those above and below in their reporting structure. A vendor, for example, may never yell at a purchasing officer, no matter how insulting or damaging he might be. A campaign of humiliation, conducted correctly, will succeed in complete and total evisceration of the enemy with virtually no danger to the aggressor.
> LEISURE to enjoy each individual death or dismemberment. Business must be done. The battle must be concluded and other aspects of the war pursued. That's when we must smite our adversary's head from his shoulders with one masterful stroke.
The removal of the other fellow's head is usually pretty easy, since it is rarely securely attached to his shoulders these days.
Be careful. Some executives have been known to do extensive damage to others after they have lost their heads. Make sure both the head and the body are rendered inert before you move along to the next foe.
> DEFENESTRATION: This is the act of hurling another person out the window. It may be done to a humiliated enemy, when he or she is weak and almost wants to be hurled, or to the body of an antagonist whose head has long since ceased to work.
20. YOU'RE GETTING SOMEWHERE. Slicing through the small fry, one eventually reaches larger fish, and as all true mobsters know, the fish rots from the head. Cut off the head, the fins will die. That's if you're interested in dead fins. There may be other parts of the fish that you want to kill. A fish's liver, for instance, is disgusting, particularly if it has been drinking.
21. SOMETIMES, however, the leadership of your enemy may be boned and planked, and yet the war goes on. Now it becomes a battle for the hearts and minds of the people. At this point, once again your PR effort becomes ever more important. Look for powerful, high-profile acolytes to gain you credibility. Following are some famous campaigns and the endorsements that gave them the impetus they needed to get over the top.
22. NOW IT'S TIME to open up other fronts for conflict. But you have to be careful. A great new front can bring in new soldiers, new revenue streams, new meat for your grill. It can also overextend you and make your best-laid plans gang a-gley, as Robert Burns said. In English? Go too far, and you'll screw yourself up. But stay put, and you're not really conquering anything, are you?
23. NEW FRONTS: Back in the days of the Third Reich, Hitler was doing fine until he made the mistake of opening up an eastern front against Russia. After that, it was only a matter of time before Germany, with its resources spread thin over the entirety of Europe, began its slow fall into failure and escape to sunny South America.
Here are some other fronts that have been opened by warriors through the years, for better and in some cases for way, way worse. You, of course, will do better than they.
24. THE WAR IS NOW RAGING on a number of fronts. You have successes and failures every day. You are patient, because you know that life is war and that there will never be an end to the latter until you're pretty much done with the former.
25. SO FIGHT ON, warrior! And good luck!
26. FEAR NOT!
27. STAY IN TOUCH! ■