Sun Tzu’s The Art of War isn’t a book many people would announce to the world they are reading. This is because so many misinformed individuals view the book in a bad light simply because it has the word “war” in its title. Of course, as a well-read man or woman, you know better. You know that The Art of War is a must read because it provides logical and interesting approaches to conflict and competition.
The Art of War (“Ping Fa” in Chinese) is an old book. In fact, it’s ancient. Scholars believe it was written 2,500 years ago. That would make its author, Sun Tzu, even more ancient. Although he is now dead, his work is very much alive. When the former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates went before the Congress to explain how he would protect America, he quoted George Washington and Sun Tzu. Let’s just say Bob did an above average job, expressed in the humblest way. The next guy could do worse than to emulate his reading list.
I love to read, especially self-help nonfiction. When I was a kid, the words of Zig Ziglar helped me kick butt academically in school. It gave me confidence in myself as I skewed the grading curve time and again. Zig would have been proud. Soon after, my attention turned to more serious topics, namely war and accounting. And why not? I was studying about two sure things in life: death and taxes.
At the risk of putting you to sleep, I will first talk about accounting. On second thought, I won’t risk it. And that is exactly Sun Tzu’s first lesson. When something is important to you and you want to succeed, never take risks if you can help it. Only move when you’re sure. In this case, I decided not to move and thus your attention was salvaged. The image of the brave soul who goes out there without preparation is a bad one to try out in real life. It is paved with bad jobs with bad bosses all stemming from bad decisions. When you go to war with this same attitude, people die. That’s worse than bad.
Unlike Zig Ziglar, Sun Tzu can be negative. But when you’re negative, you also tend to plan. And planning is what everyone can do more of nowadays. Iraq and Afghanistan, anyone? Life can’t be edited like movies or music videos. Your life is unscripted and you have only one crack at any opportunity or dilemma. Therefore, you want to make sure the path in front of you is safe. You want to ask people you trust and who have been there what to expect. Sun Tzu’s last chapter on spies is all about this idea. Before you waste your time and energy, and before you experience a lot of heartache and disappointment, you’d be wise to proceed like Sun Tzu.
In summary, why read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War? Because Sun Tzu took his endeavors as seriously as I take mine. His purpose was not the destruction of the other side. It was about preservation, and protection, and making life better for others, and me, but not the bad guys. Doom to the bad guys. But all my best intentions won’t make a hill of beans until I am effective at what I do and I am able to go where I need to go. And the best tool to make this a reality today is a 2,500-year-old book called The Art of War.
Thomas Huynh is the founder of Sonshi.com, a web site that promotes the ideas and strategies found in The Art of War. Visit the site at www.sonshi.com.
(For more information on this book, visit its project page.)