Most of us know this quote from Sun Tzu's seminal work, "The Art of War", but is it true that EVERY battle is won or lost before it's ever fought?
Well, in context, Sun Tzu was speaking of the great set-piece battles fought at the time, where huge armies would line up and then be sent into the fray to fight. The battle would go to whoever had prepared best, who brought the best supplies, who had the best planning, who garnered the best intelligence, who held the best control of the ground, whose warriors had the best training, and so on....
But in modern conflicts, this view is over-simplified. Today, many battles are closely balanced, and tiny changes can have big effects.
Good planning is crucial but battles, or supplier negotiations, today are more like poker than chess. You make your moves, often times in ignorance not only of your opponent's moves, but there are myriad ways chance can intervene and turn the odds against you. A good hand can lose, or a bad hand win, even despite optimal play scenarios.
Another element that has changed substantially since Sun Tzu's day is communications. Today, a battle consists of active engagement. The battle plan may not survive first contact with the enemy, but the General formulates a new plan instantly. The ‘evolving plan’ is an integral part of the overall strategy, and is not meant to be set before the battle begins.
However, you must still heed Sun Tzu's advice. Everything must be set up for that strategy to be realized. Reserves must be where they’re most likely to have maximum impact. Communications must be set up so that they are reliable in the din of combat. The old necessities of holding some grounds and ceding others hold true. And you must still have intelligence so that you know your enemy better than he knows himself.
The Art of War is a good place to start, but it is not the only book you must read.
Click here to see Part II - with real world example...
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