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In my book, being deceitful is no foundation for a win. Think how angry you feel when you have been deceived. So how can we reframe this? One way is to remember that Sun Tzu emphasised how important positioning is in any military campaign.

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For me, positioning means how we get ready for the negotiation. Why do we check and re-check our own offering before we begin? More importantly why do we do so? Strike at its head, and you will be attacked by its tail; strike at its tail, and you will be attacked by its head; strike at its middle, and you will be attacked by head and tail both. We cannot enter into alliance with neighbouring princes until we are acquainted with their designs. We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country — its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps.

We shall be unable to turn natural advantages to account unless we make use of local guides. Hence the saying: The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources.

No ruler should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen; no general should fight a battle simply out of pique. What enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge. Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any deductive calculation.

When a general, unable to estimate the enemy's strength, allows an inferior force to engage a larger one, or hurls a weak detachment against a powerful one, and neglects to place picked soldiers in the front rank, the result must be rout. He who knows things, and in fighting puts his knowledge into practice, will win his battles.

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‘The Art of War’: As relevant now as when it was written

He who knows them not, nor practices them, will surely be defeated. Carefully compare the opposing army with your own, so that you may know where strength is superabundant and where it is deficient. The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and does not require too much from individuals.

Hence his ability to pick out the right men and use combined energy.


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When he uses combined energy, his fighting men become as it were like unto rolling logs or stones. For it is the nature of a log or stone to remain motionless on level ground, and to move when on a slope; if four-cornered, to come to a standstill, but if round-shaped to go rolling down. Now a soldier's spirit is keenest in the morning; by noonday it has begun to flag; and in the evening, his mind is only on returning to camp.

The Annotated Art of War

If those who are sent to draw water begin by drinking themselves, the army is suffering from thirst. If there is disturbance in the camp, the general's authority is weak. If the banners and flags are shifted about, sedition is afoot. If the officers are angry, it means that the men are weary. Thus the skilful general conducts his army just as though he were leading a single man, willy-nilly, by the hand.

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It is the business of a general to be quiet and thus ensure secrecy; upright and just, and thus maintain order. He must be able to mystify his officers and men by false reports and appearances, and thus keep them in total ignorance. Bestow rewards without regard to rule, issue orders without regard to previous arrangements; and you will be able to handle a whole army as though you had to do with but a single man.

Sun Tzu - The Art of War Explained In 5 Minutes

More importantly why do we do so? An understanding of the environment of the battlefield, both physical layout hills, woodland etc.

The Art of War - HISTORY

Another analogy is the game of chess. Why are Grand Masters successful? It is because they have such a deep understanding of the game and all the possible strategies that they can quickly work out how their opponent is likely to play each game based on the first few moves. Many who view their world framed by The Art of War see business as being adversarial. But question them and they will tell you instantly that business is about relationships.