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Productivity and “The Art of War”: Applying Sun Tzu’s Teachings to Business

Productivity and “The Art of War”: Applying Sun Tzu’s Teachings to Business

    Sun Tzu’s seminal work “The Art of War” has been referenced for millennia by historians, military tacticians, and world leaders. In fact, the book is still recommended reading for the US Marine Corps. With such timeless advice, I found myself asking one simple question: How can we apply Sun Tzu’s principles of warfare to our modern goals for productivity?

    1. Personal Accountability

    Sun Tzu said: “If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, then the general is to blame.”

    The Bottom Line: If you communicate ineffectively, then any problems caused by unclear communication are your fault. Make sure that every email and conversation you have is clear and distinct.

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    The important corollary to this aphorism is important to keep in mind as well: “But if his orders ARE clear, and the soldiers nevertheless disobey, then it is the fault of their officers.” If other people are hampering your productivity, take decisive action.

    2. Keeping Your Cool

    Sun Tzu said: “Disciplined and calm, to await the appearance of disorder and hubbub amongst the enemy:–this is the art of retaining self-possession.”

    The Bottom Line: The fastest way to lose productivity is to lose your cool. Take a deep breath, and think before acting rashly. If you can keep your wits about you in the midst of a crisis, it will serve you well.

    An important quote that relates to this concept is: “Do not swallow bait offered by the enemy. Do not interfere with an army that is returning home.” Staying productive and staying professional are one in the same. Never lose your cool with co-workers or bosses. At least, not where it can get back to them.

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    3. Be Prepared

    Sun Tzu said: “The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.”

    The Bottom Line: Do everything in your power to be prepared, because it’s only a matter of time until something goes wrong. If you have daily deadlines, work two days ahead to give yourself a buffer. Take initiative to track trends in your division, so that when your boss asks you to compile a report, the work is already done. Think of all the possible complications that you might have to contend with, and work out a plan to be ready for when the inevitable happens.

    4. Do Work to Get Work

    Sun Tzu said: “Opportunities multiply as they are seized.”

    The Bottom Line: The boss needs volunteers to stay late and work on a project? Do it. Your company needs a speaker to represent them at a conference? Do it. The more experience you gain, the better your resume will look, and the higher the quality of your contacts will be. Just be careful of spreading yourself too thin.

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    5. Grow Your Social Network

    Sun Tzu said: “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.”

    The Bottom Line: Stay in touch with former co-workers, colleagues, and yes, even bosses. You never know when a former business contact may recommend you for a new position. But it’s not enough to just stay in touch. You need to have a plan for how you can leverage your connections.

    Note: This quote, while attributed to Sun Tzu, is likely apocryphal. Nonetheless, it is good advice.

    6. Be Selfless

    Sun Tzu said: “The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.”

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    The Bottom Line: No one likes a manipulative ladder-climber. Just do what is best for the company, and ultimately, you’ll be doing what’s best for you, too. Stay humble, even after winning awards and accolades, and you’ll make more friends (read: allies.)

    7. Play to Your Strengths

    Sun Tzu said: “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”

    The Bottom Line: If you always play to your personal strengths, and understand any potential problems that could cause a decline in your productivity, you will always be successful in your industry. Stay abreast of industry trends, and always keep honing your skill set.

    Conclusion

    Sun Tzu may have been the master of wartime strategies, but his advice still resonates with us today because it can be so readily applied to politics, business, and our personal lives. Follow his precepts, and everything will go your way.

    Resources and Further Reading

    http://classics.mit.edu/Tzu/artwar.html
    http://www.history-of-china.com/three-kingdoms/sun-tzu.htm
    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/The_Art_of_War (Contains original Chinese and variant translations.)
    http://shop.history.com/detail.php?p=104545&v=history

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    Tucker Cummings

    Writer and social media professional sharing productivity tips on Lifehack.

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    Last Updated on October 16, 2019

    Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

    Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

    Do you like making mistakes?

    I certainly don’t.

    Making mistakes is inevitable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be at ease with them?

    Perhaps there is a way to think of them differently and see their benefits.

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    Why Mistakes Feel Dangerous

    Mistakes often feel dangerous. Throughout human history, our errors have often been treated as dangerous for a variety of reasons:

    • Our vulnerability. We have limited and fragile support systems. When those systems fail, people often lose their lives.
    • Real dangers. Nature can be dangerous, and making mistakes can put us at the mercy of nature and its animal residents seeking a meal.
    • Ignorance. Many cultures scapegoats someone whenever there is a failure of some kind. Scapegoating can be serious and deadly.
    • Order. Many societies punish those who do not conform to the prevailing orthodoxy and treat difference and non-conformity as a mistake. Even our brains flash an error message whenever we go against prevailing social norms.

    We have a history of handling mistakes and failure in an unpleasant way. Since each of us carries our human history with us, it can be a challenge to overcome the fear of making mistakes.

    If we can embrace the reality of mistakes, we can free ourselves to be more creative in our lives and dig up some interesting insights.

    Why We Can’t Avoid Making Mistakes

    Many people operate under the notion that making mistakes is an aberration, a mistake if you will. You can call it perfectionism but it is a more substantial problem. It is really a demand for order and continuity.

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    When we think we can eliminate mistakes, we are often working from a perspective that sees the world as a fixed place. The world, however, is not so obliging. Like it or not, the world, and everything in it, is constantly changing.

    Change is more constant and pervasive than we can see with our own eyes which is why we often miss it. Our bodies are constantly changing. The natural conditions of the earth change constantly as well. Everything, including economic and cultural systems have life cycles. Everything is in a constant state of flux.

    We cannot see all of the changes going on around us since rates of change vary. Unfortunately, when we try to create a feeling of certainty and solidity in our lives or operate from the illusion of stability and order, we are fighting reality and our natural evolution which is built on adapting to change.

    It is better to continually bend into this reality rather than fight every change we experience. Fighting it can cause us to make more mistakes. Finding the benefits in change can be useful and help us minimize unnecessary mistakes.

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    Lessons Learned from Making Mistakes

    Life has so many uncertainties and variables that mistakes are inevitable. Fortunately, there are many things you can learn from making mistakes.

    Here is a list of ways to harness the mistakes you make for your benefit.

    1. Point us to something we did not know.
    2. Reveal a nuance we missed.
    3. Deepen our knowledge.
    4. Tell us something about our skill levels.
    5. Help us see what matters and what does not.
    6. Inform us more about our values.
    7. Teach us more about others.
    8. Let us recognize changing circumstances.
    9. Show us when someone else has changed.
    10. Keep us connected to what works and what doesn’t work.
    11. Remind us of our humanity.
    12. Spur us to want to better work which helps us all.
    13. Promote compassion for ourselves and others.
    14. Teach us to value forgiveness.
    15. Help us to pace ourselves better.
    16. Invite us to better choices.
    17. Can teach us how to experiment.
    18. Can reveal a new insight.
    19. Can suggest new options we had not considered.
    20. Can serve as a warning.
    21. Show us hidden fault lines in our lives which can lead us to more productive arrangements.
    22. Point out structural problems in our lives.
    23. Prompt us to learn more about ourselves.
    24. Remind us how we are like others.
    25. Make us more humble.
    26. Help us rectify injustices in our lives.
    27. Show us where to create more balance in our lives.
    28. Tell us when the time to move on has occurred.
    29. Reveal where our passion is and where it is not.
    30. Expose our true feelings.
    31. Bring out problems in a relationship.
    32. Can be a red flag for our misjudgments.
    33. Point us in a more creative direction.
    34. Show us when we are not listening.
    35. Wake us up to our authentic selves.
    36. Can create distance with someone else.
    37. Slow us down when we need to.
    38. Can hasten change.
    39. Reveal our blind spots.
    40. Are the invisible made visible.

    Reframe Reality to Handle Mistakes More Easily

    The secret to handling mistakes is to:

    • Expect them as part of the process of growth and development.
    • Have an experimental mindset.
    • Think in evolutional rather than fixed terms.

    When we accept change as the natural structure of the world, our vulnerability and humanness lets us work with the ebb and flow of life.

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    When we recognize the inevitability of mistakes as part of the ongoing experiment which life is, then we can relax more. In doing so we may make fewer of them.

    It also helps to keep in mind that trial and error is an organic natural way of living. It is how we have evolved over time. It is better to be with our natural evolution than to fight it and make life harder.

    When we adopt an evolutional mindset and see ourselves as part of the ongoing human experiment, we can appreciate that all that has been built up over time which includes the many mistakes our ancestors have made over thousands of years. Each one of us today is a part of that human tradition of learning and experimenting,

    Mistakes are part of the trial and error, experimental nature of life. The more you adopt the experimental, evolutional frame, the easier it becomes to handle mistakes.

    Handling mistakes well can help you relax and enjoy all aspects of life more.

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    Featured photo credit: Sarah Kilian via unsplash.com

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