The 6th Century BC Chinese General and military strategist Sun Tzu, best known today as the author and genius behind the classic text on strategy, The Art of War, penned a gem of a statement that has gained the status of proverbial wisdom.
“Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”
This book held profound influence over Asian military thinking and the Way of the Samurai. It was translated into French as early as 1772. Ultimately the book had an influence on leaders and generals from Napoleon, to General Douglas MacArthur, to Mao Zedong. It is studied at West Point Military Academy, and has been applied metaphorically in business and management strategy.
What is this powerful and apparently universal appeal behind Winning without Fighting, and more to the point, why is it that so few people throughout history have been able to master its lessons?
The Fisherman’s Quarrel
There are many variations on this wisdom in traditional Chinese culture, often told through profoundly simple and often humorous stories. One is that of The Fisherman’s Quarrel, in which two fisherman quarrel over their catch, during which time a bird makes off with the fish.
There is an inherent sense of the folly of fighting, and the wider perspective which seeks a way to win without fighting. There are many ways in fact of winning the battle but losing the war. We might say as well that the operation was a success, but the patient died. There are many ways of expressing the folly of the short-sighted solution.
We see it played out in our economy, where greed is good produces a massive win/lose scenario, eventually pitting Wall Street against Main Street. We see it in the nasty deception of going to war for the sake of peace. We see it in gross energy consumption that is altering the very climate of the planet we live on.
Sometimes we learn the hard way that fighting is not a way that works. Many conflicts erupt because someone had to talk back, stare back, fight back, rather than letting it go before it escalates. Even while studying the martial art of Aikido, which is fundamentally based on the art of winning without fighting, I have found myself drawn into conflicts that didn’t need to happen. Read Scene Three of my Manga Story, and see how easily this can happen. To have no enemies means to make no enemies.
Baker vs Taker
Guy Kawasaki tells of how he has found that by collaborating with what might have been his competition, both win and the pie gets bigger. He sums it up by saying that there is a fundamental difference in the mentality of the baker vs the taker. The baker makes pies and provides plenty to go around, whereas the taker gets his and leaves nothing for anyone else. The baker is creative and has an abundance mentality, whereas the take is destructive and has a scarcity mentality.
The Mandala Chart can help you develop an abundance mentality because it frees you from the one track mentality, and gives you 8 ways in which to view any particular situation. The power of the creative mind derives from flexible focus. If more people applied this in business, we would have the ability to generate solutions and preventions to problems, instead of constantly fighting to put out fires.
The Principle of Non-Dissension
There are many ways to think about winning without fighting. You can win by escaping, getting out of the fray in the first place. If you have a good understanding of all points of view, you can find a Win/Win solution, in which all sides benefit. You can win by passive resistance, the way of Mahatma Gandhi, in which you win by not fueling the conflict. Sun Tzu’s way is to win at the outset, through superior insight and perspective.
Instead of butting headlong into people and problems, develop a sense of pliancy and flexibility in your approach to life. Once you realize the folly of trying to enter the highway through the exit ramp in the face of oncoming traffic, you feel much better about following the good sense in the traffic signs that say, Yield or Merge.
An excellent way to cultivate this sense is to learn it with your body, by studying Asian martial arts which are based upon the principle of non-dissension, such as Aikido or Tai Chi Chuan. Learn to diffuse conflict by redirecting it, rather than fuel it by forcing the situation. You will avoid many of the problems that plague people, problems partly of their own making, and enjoy life more as you find the path of least resistance.
—William Reed specializes in applying practical wisdom from Japanese and Asian culture to solving the problems of modern business and living. He is the author of the Flexible Focus column on Active Garage, the syndicated column Creative Career Path and the book A Zoom Lens for Your life. William is also a Representative Director and Co-Founder of EMC QUEST Corporation, which provides Coaching for Communication and Change, World Class Speaking™, and Accelerated Action with GOALSCAPE™.