Lessons from “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu
This article is written for UC Berkeley’s IEOR 171: Technology Firm Leadership (Fall 2020) class.
Although “The Art of War” is a piece of text written in ancient Chinese history (~2500 years ago), some of its key ideas and lessons can still be applied to our day-to-day lives. “The Art of War” is an ancient Chinese military treatise attribute to being written by the military strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu. The book is composed of 13 chapters, and each focuses on a particular aspect of warfare and military strategies. Even though our modern lives are much different than Sun Tzu’s, I found that “The Art of War” carries timeless messages that can help us with our everyday battles and battles within ourselves. In its modern interpretation, the book can be used as an essential guide to ultimately win the battle of life. In this article, I hope to share some of my key takeaways from “The Art of Way” by Sun Tzu.
1. Preparation begets victory
“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” — Sun Tzu (The Art of War)
In “The Art of War,” Sun Tzu emphasizes the importance of good preparation. He claims the winner of a battle can be determined by the side that prepares the most. In most aspects of regular life, this is true; the team that practices the most wins the championship, the student who studies well gets a high score, and the applicant who prepares for the interview gets the job.
While many of our daily battles are not life or death, the importance of proper preparation can make the difference between success and failure. In order to achieve a goal or dream, we must be willing to put in the countless hours to prepare and practice. Eventually, your preparation will find opportunity resulting in success.
2. Take advantages of opportunities
“Opportunities multiply as they are seized” — Sun Tzu (The Art of War)
In war, Sun Tzu claims that momentum is essential to stay ahead of the enemy. If you can land a proper blow on your enemy, it is important to keep that advantage over that enemy. In order to keep that advantage, you have to stay vigilant and make decisive actions such that the enemy is still under your control.
In life, this can be seen as people deciding to settle and not take advantage of the opportunities in front of us. Rather than an external enemy, we face our own inner demons like laziness, self-doubt, and fear. Many of us are afraid to take on opportunities because we fear the challenges that may lie ahead. It is those who take are willing to take opportunities and work through the challenges that often see the light of more opportunities and good fortune in the future. So, it is imperative to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves to you, and with hard work and determination, you can generate more great opportunities that come your way.
3. Know yourself
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” — Sun Tzu
Although he explains the importance of knowing your enemy, Sun Tzu emphasizes the importance of yourself. Only by analyzing yourself and understanding your strengths and weakness, can you adequately prepare yourself for battle.
In life, only you can truly assess your own strengths and weakness. By accepting your weakness, you can either work to become better or completely stray away from that weakness and focus your efforts on something else. Often times, people, like myself, stick to something we are clearly not good at and still expect great results. It is important to be rational with yourself and either fix your shortcomings or focus on improving your strengths.
4. Win without fighting
“Ultimate excellence lies not in winning every battle, but in defeating the enemy without ever fighting”— Sun Tzu, (The Art of War)
Sun Tzu claims that the ultimate way of winning is to defeat the enemy without ever laying hands on them. While this might not be so easy to accomplish in traditional warfare, I think it can be applied to modern-day life.
Essentially, in our life, we can minimize our struggles, hardships, and inner-battles by understanding ourselves, being prepared, and setting up ourself for success. By more or less implementing the 3 points mentioned above, we can set up our lives to minimize the regrets and shortcomings we might face.
Ultimately, by following some of the key principles in “The Art of War,” we can do the best to set up our lives to minimize regret and maximize success. By always putting ourselves in the best possible position, we can prevent some of the uphill battles we might have to face in life.
While I’ve only mentioned some of the main takeaways that I found important, I think “The Art of War” can be used to ultimately navigate and win in the battle of life.