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27 May 2013

Top Seven Sun Tzu Quotes: #5 Speed in Decision Making

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series Sun Tzu Top 7

1982 Reprint Oxford University Press 1963

1982 Reprint
Oxford University Press 1963

At number five in my list of top seven Sun Tzu quotes from The Art of War, I have:

Speed is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy’s unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions.

Many acknowledge the need for speed in business. Yes, we often execute a task quickly, but when we add in our decision-making time, we will likely find that we didn’t execute quickly. For instance, consider a task that took five days to decide and only one to execute versus another that took one day of deciding and two to do. We are likely to claim the second task took twice as long to do when in reality the first did.

Yes, there is a need to make good decisions, but there are costs. Organizational decision making is like water flowing through pipes. If our organization can only handle one decision per day (pipe) and problems arise at a rate of two per day (water flow), then our pipe clogs quickly. Moreover, this poor decision-making flow raises the cost of wrong decisions because we can’t adapt quickly.

Many times we rationalize delay in the form of planning and research, but here again we experience costs. Yes, costs exist with quick decisions too, but often we can overcome them if we can adapt quickly if we’re wrong. Ironically, this only further supports a quick decision-making process. Yet, the need for consensual decision making in many large organizations runs counter to this; thus, the ideal time to enact their decisions has usually passed.

So, again, when we consider how long it took to do something, factor in our decision-making time. We might be amazed at how long tasks actually took.


Note: Versions of this quote usually appear in the 29th paragraph of the eleventh chapter, Nine Varieties of Ground.

Series Navigation<< Top Seven Sun Tzu Quotes: #6 Seeking VictoryTop Seven Sun Tzu Quotes: #4 Change >>

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