I finally got to The Art of War. I had been intrigued by this book for a while. Tony Soprano praised it in one of the first seasons of the Sopranos. Someone else recommended it to me as a book for people interested in management.
Maybe I’m just unimaginative, but most of The Art of War really is about war, about strategy, spies, misleading your enemy, and obtaining a military advantage. It’s not so much a management primer.
Sun Tzu advocates burning the boats, breaking the cooking pots, and setting fire to the stores of grain to motivate the troops (Chapter XI, aphorism 23). While effective, these options are typically unavailable to me. He also advocates hiding information from the team (Chapter XI, aphorism 35-36), and using spies (Chapter XIII). Perhaps the opponent’s spies make hiding info from the team a necessity, but I’m hoping I can skip both of those instructions.
In many places, Sun Tzu counsels the reader not to make a move except when certain of victory.
“Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical.” Chapter XII, aphorism 17
While I understand that this level of care is crucial in battle, again, I’m not sure about this one for management. Given that much of what we do at a web company isn’t life or death, I prefer “make mistakes faster” as a guiding principle. Get things out where they can be tested, rather than lurk until the perfect conditions appear.
He does talk about leadership, about bonding your team and about how crucial clear direction, defined roles, discipline, and organization are. Hmmm, agreed, though I think I got more out of First Break All the Rules.
Maybe I’m just not sufficiently strategically minded to appreciate or apply this book, or maybe the book really is more about war than anything else.