I’ve been re-reading Sun Tzu’s The Art of War lately. Even having read it multiple times before, I always get something out of it. There are just so many pearls of wisdom to be gleaned.
This time I came across the following passage which particularly stood out to me:
Invincibility lies in one’s own hands, but the enemy’s vulnerability is of his own making. Thus, those skilled in war can make themselves invincible but the enemy’s vulnerability is provided only by the enemy himself…
He wins by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes means already having established the certainty of victory; conquering an enemy who is already defeated.
Sun Tzu — The Art of War
I’ve been pondering those words a lot lately.
What did Sun Tzu have in mind when he wrote those words over two thousand years ago?
Here are some of my thoughts.
#1 Stop focusing on the people around you.
You can spend most of your time being preoccupied with the people around you, whether they be your rival, enemy or opponent. But that’s putting the cart before the horse.
The first step to victory is actually an internal step that lies fully within your control. It’s making yourself invincible. It’s taking an objective inventory / assessment of yourself and removing that “plank” out of your own eye before focusing on the “speck of sawdust” in your opponent’s.
Naturally this requires a healthy dose of self-awareness.
#2 Victory is comprised of two parts.
The first part is about dealing with your position unassailable. The second is about going for the win.
There’s many ways to say this. Victory is about winning and not losing.
Offence and defence. Internal and external. Things within your control and things without. Micro and macro. Yin and yang.
You can often prevent your own defeat by digging an unassailable moat but often you need your enemy to slip up even if just a little to provide you with an opening to decisively strike for victory. Do not hesitate when that opportunity arises or it may be gone in the blink of an eye.
#3 Don’t shoot yourself in the foot and fail by default…
To borrow some tennis terms, there are forced errors and there are unforced errors.
A quick Google search and you will find Wikipedia’s Glossary of Tennis Terms. A quick Ctrl + F and here’s the definitions:
unforced error: Error in a service or return shot that cannot be attributed to any factor other than poor judgement and execution by the player; contrasted with a forced error.
forced error: Error caused by an opponent’s good play; contrasted with anunforced error. Counting forced errors as well as unforced errors is partly subjective.
Forced errors are kind of inevitable sometimes. Your opponent has made such a good move that you were forced into that error. They can often be a source of growth as well. Having seen such moves you might be better equipped to deal with it in the future.
Unforced errors on the other hand are really just shooting yourself in the foot. You are essentially defeating yourself. You are failing by default.
Your opponent could just stand there and do nothing and win.
Success is already a road paved with so many obstacles and so many things can go wrong that are out of your control. So do yourself a failure and not fail by default in the things that are under your control.
I will add that there are times you are taking calculated risks which might go pear-shaped and that’s okay. That’s the bit that says “Counting forced errors as well as unforced errors is partly subjective.”
Sometimes an error is not that clear cut. That’s sometimes necessary (i.e. to take calculated risks) and is part of the Game of Success. In these cases as long as you gain some form of validated learning from the failure then it’s fine.
#4 Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.
Lastly, if you are fortunate enough to come across an opponent who does not pay heed to Sun Tzu’s advice and is in the midst of failing by default, just sit back, relax and thank your lucky stars 😄
So I’m done sharing my thoughts. What do you think? I would love to hear your take on this.