It is assumed that Sun Tzu was a Chinese general who lived between 776–471 BC, even though the exact place and years of his life are debated (McNeilly, Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare 1). He is also believed to have written the treatise The Art of War. This work, which must have been created roughly 2500 years ago, seems to be of use to modern strategists, including those in the military, business, and other spheres, due to its insights into the art of strategy and tactics (Rudd 9).
The work of Sun Tzu provides general principles as well as specific examples and practical advice on warfare, all of which are arranged into thirteen chapters. In the first chapter, the author starts his work by establishing the significance of the topic and considering the key factors that a strategist needs to take into account to create a plan. The factors include warfare circumstances, the morale and spirit of the army, and the qualities and skills of the commander. The second chapter discusses the economic challenges of war and gives adivice on reducing the costs. The third section suggests “the five essentials for victory” (Sun Tzu 12). In short, they include timely actions, high morale of the army, knowledge of the enemy, preparation (and interference with the preparation of the enemy), and military capacity.
The following chapters provide the information on the activities that a commander is likely to have to perform. The fourth chapter discusses the tactics of dispositions, which involves securing positions and making timely advances. It also examines the need to seize opportunities and avoid creating them for the enemy. The fifth chapter examines the army and its management and the types of attack (direct and indirect). The sixth chapter discusses the need to explot the weaknesses and avoid the strengths of the enemy. The seventh chapter is devoted to “tactical manœuvring, than which there is nothing more difficult” (Sun Tzu 25). The author states that it requires the knowledge of the enemy and the terrain, the ability to deceive the enemy through the use of parts of forces, and the need to plunder the conquered lands. The eighth and ninth chapters proceed to discuss the specifics of army management and disposition; the eighth also introduces five faults of a general, including reckless bravery as well as cowardice, hastiness, and excessive “delicacy of honor” as well as “over-solicitude for his men”(Sun Tzu 30).
The final chapters regard certain tools that a commander could use. The tenth chapter discusses the types of terrain and their “employment” in battle, and the eleventh one considers types of ground with a similar perspective. The twelfth chapter discusses weaponry, and the thirteen chapter examines intelligence collection. Thus, the work encompasses an overview of the traits, skills, and toolset of a commander and offers practical advice on their use.
Despite the endeavor to limit acts of violence, wars remain “a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin,” which implies that the work of Sun Tzu is still applicable to the modern world in its original meaning (3). McNeilly states that the US generals who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan used the book as one of their military strategy guides (Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare 1). Similarly, Rudd emphasizes that the strategical thinking, intelligence searches, the use of terrain, deception, and the army management that Sun Tzu promotes are the principles that are of obvious use to military people (13). Thus, the researchers in the field of military expertise seem to value the 2500-year-old advice.
Moreover, other spheres of activities can also benefit from the application of the mentioned principles. As pointed out by McNeilly, elements of military strategies were borrowed by modern business, which is logical since both are characterized by interest clashes (Sun Tzu and the Art of Business 5). As a result, it is not surprising that certain concepts and ideas of Sun Tzu can be applied to business strategies. For example, Sun Tzu’s discussion of strengths and weaknesses, which is mostly presented in chapter 6, can be connected to the strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats (SWOT) matrix. SWOT is often used by businesses for a brief evaluation of the situation and strategic planning, and it involves considering internal and external factors that can be exploited or have to be avoided (McNeilly, Sun Tzu and the Art of Business 193). Another example is the use of strategic thinking in the promotion of products or celebrities, which always requires getting to know the market (“terrain”) and competition (“enemy”) to take hold of a position in the market and advance at the right time (McNeilly, Sun Tzu and the Art of Business 119). In other words, the modern business and marketing specialists demonstrate an understanding of several key principles of Sun Tzu’s work, which might be expanded through the study of the arguments that Sun Tzu uses to explain it.
The Art of War by Sun Tzu is a set of principles and examples of military strategy, which was apparently completed by an experienced commander. It discusses the challenges, skills, traits, and toolsets that can be of interest even to a modern military specialist. However, the advice can also be transferred to another domain that can benefit from consistent strategic thinking. As a result, the work is still relevant nowadays for multiple spheres of human activity, including modern warfare, business, and marketing.
McNeilly, Mark. Sun Tzu and the Art of Business. Oxford University Press, 2012.
Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare. Oxford University Press, 2015.
Rudd, Kevin. “How Ancient Chinese Thought Applies Today”. New Perspectives Quarterly, vol 32, no. 2, 2015, pp. 8-23.
Tzu, Sun. The Art of War. 1910. Translated by Lionel Giles, Pax Librorum, 2009.