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The Art of War

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War may be one of the most clichéd books in existence. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a historical treasure but it is quoted and misquoted so often that it may have lost its use.

The quotes are, for the most part, banal. take for example, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but know not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.  If you know not the enemy or yourself, you will succumb in every battle”

We don’t need to read The Art of War to know this – it’s sort of common sense. Sadly, a thousand overpaid business consultants walk around quoting Sun Tzu as though you or I do not know that we need to know things to be effective business people.

The book I would really like for you to read is Vom Kriege (On War) by Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian army officer. On War is a very detailed account of strategic and tactical maneuvers to be considered in battle, and yes, business. Consider Sun Tzu’s quote above with the following from On War, “Great part of the information obtained in war is contradictory, a still greater part is false, and by far the greatest part is of a doubtful character. What is required of an officer is a certain power of discrimination, which only knowledge of men and things and good judgment can give. The law of probability must be his guide. This is not a trifling difficulty even in respect of the first plans, which can be formed in the chamber outside the real sphere of war; but it is enormously increased when in the thick of war itself one report follows hard upon the heels of another; it is then fortunate if these reports in contradicting each other, show a certain balance of probability, and thus themselves call forth a scrutiny.”