Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Books on Strategy

I've been asked the question, "how do I learn strategy." Before I answer, the next question might be “why learn strategy?” The answer is simple. At the very least so you can recognize when someone is trying to manipulate you, or events to your disadvantage.

Here is my recommendation:

Mark McNeilly's books on Sun Tzu are an excellent, (IMO) introduction to the subject. I suggest starting by reading one of them. I think the one on Sun Tzu and Business, is easier to grasp because business dealings are closer to most of us than warfare.

McNeilly breaks ST down to six principles, which is a tool to embrace the topic.
Then I would recommend reading any of the fine translations that are available. In fact, I would suggest, over time acquiring several different translations, and not being shy about making notes and annotations in margins. Ralph Sawyer’s translation is especially good.

At this point, one has a overview of the topic. Now it's time to see some applications. At this point I would introduce The 48 Laws of Power, and the 36 Strategies.

What I like about the 48 laws book is two things: it overlaps Sun Tzu, the 36 strategies, Machiavelli, East and West, modern and ancient; you name it - and each law is thoroughly explored and illustrated with numerous examples from history and literature. There are counter examples as well. It is a very well put together book.

A fairly new translation of the 36 strategies is called The Art of the Advantage. It is another very well done book.

After studying these books, one should get an idea of how strategy is applied.

I drill myself, by looking at the events that unfold around me, and try to identify the specific law or strategy that is being used. I begin first by being able to identify them, then apply them.
I believe that a would be strategist could learn a lot from improving his chess (or go) game, and playing poker. These games use a lot of strategy, but different aspects.

I would also suggest becoming a student of a sport. I like hockey. Watch the strategies that the teams are using to win; the strategies that the owners and players are using on each other; the strategies that the teams' marketing organizations are using on the fans. Think of it as an ongoing case study.

After establishing a core library - branch out. Other favorites of mine are The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and the Book of Five Rings. Don't stop with just pure "strategy" books. Read widely and think about what you've read. Classics, science fiction, thrillers, every genre. Wisdom can be found nearly anywhere if you care to look.

Musashi urges the strategist to be acquainted with all things. The more you know about many things, the more creative you'll be. To succeed as a strategist, you should strive to be a polymath.

Becoming a strategist has been key to my job in marketing. Strategy applies to all aspects of your life. It's all about moving pieces around on a board. It's not enough to just read about strategy, but being able to apply it.

Thanks for your time.

Best Regards,


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