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18 Feb 2013

Best Sun Tzu Quote: Pinnacle of Skill

SunTzu - Art of War

1982 Reprint
Oxford University Press 1963

Before his writings became a business management guide, I had read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War back in the early eighties. Yes, it can be almost psychopathic to view any business competitors as the “enemy.” Yet, if we view the enemy as inertia, ignorance, uncertainty and fear, I have found Sun Tzu’s writings reflecting a way of life, especially when it comes to attacking problems and determining approaches.

Of his writings, this quote has helped me the most:

For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles, is not the pinnacle of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the pinnacle of skill.

Now, imagine your favorite athletes performing feats not only easily but also with fun and a smile. It’s similar to delivering an extensively practiced presentation without coming across rehearsed. In other words, to do something really well means almost doing the antithesis of that skill. For instance:

  • To do your best work, have fun
  • To help someone learn, don’t teach
  • To have someone buy from you, don’t sell
  • To have others follow, don’t lead
  • To win, don’t compete
  • To influence others, don’t control
  • To change others, don’t approach

Management by walking around is the best business example of this quote’s spirit. By circulating among employees, opportunities arise for them to approach managers. Learning, coaching, teaching and managing are always more effective when employees approach managers. This is similar to warfare in which the attacker has the disadvantage. In our example, consider resistance to change the enemy: it’s much lower when the employee approaches the manager than the reverse.

Indirectly, this quote also implies that we are doing our best work when no one notices. After all, we don’t think those athletes are working. They’re just having fun.

 

Note: Versions of this quote usually appear in the third paragraph of the third chapter, “Offensive Strategy”, of The Art of War.

 

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