The Best Management Advice From ‘The Art Of War’

The Best Management Advice From ‘The Art Of War’


JAN. 3, 2014, 8:30 AM 2,777 2

The Art Of War” is one of the most famous books of all time, said to be written by the legendary Chinese general Sun Tzu around the fifth century B.C. Some of the advice is pretty narrowly focused and dated (for instance, what generals should do when confronted with different types of terrain). But a lot of it is applicable to leadership and management today despite being thousands of years old. We’ve broken out a few of the best pieces of business advice from the timeless classic.“A wise general makes a point of foraging on the enemy. One cartload of the enemy’s provisions is equivalent to twenty of one’s own, and likewise a single picul of his provender is equivalent to twenty from one’s own store.”

This sentiment is pretty much universally applicable to business. Something obtained cheaply or for free is vastly more valuable than drawing from company cash or savings to buy it. In practice, that means both looking for things that are underpriced and having funds available when demand and prices are low.

“When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.”

This is a concept that’s repeated several times. When a project or initiative takes too long, people get tired or bored, the competition knows too much about it, it gets outdated, and other companies or people take advantage.

“To see victory only when it is within the ken of the common herd is not the acme of excellence.”

A strategy, product, or concept that is obvious has probably already been done. Those that are the best are the ones that succeed without people really noticing. They not only become part of the fabric of people’s lives, they’re also not as easily replicated.

“The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and does not require too much from individuals. Hence his ability to pick out the right men and utilize combined energy.”

Another axiom in the book compares using combined energy to rolling logs or stones. People moving together with momentum go dramatically faster. Depending on individuals alone means they’ll wear out, accomplish less, and leave other people behind.

“If you order your men to roll up their buff-coats, and make forced marches without halting day or night, covering double the usual distance at a stretch, doing a hundred LI in order to wrest an advantage, the leaders of all your three divisions will fall into the hands of the enemy.”

Here, a “Li” equals 500 meters. Tzu goes on to say that if you do something like this, the strongest men will be in front, the less motivated will fall behind, and a tiny fraction will reach their destination. Pushing incredibly hard to get ahead of a competitor might gain temporary advantage, but it will be very short-lived.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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