The School of Sun Tzu – Winning Empires without War
David G. Jones
Before there was a “China,” an industrious and clever entrepreneur by the name of Lü Pu-wei was able to engineer the rise of his protégé to King of Qin at the age of thirteen. If that bit of history were not remarkable enough, what follows must meet anyone’s requirements for the truly extraordinary. In a few short years, the King transforms his small but strong state into a major force in the ancient, pre-Chinese “Middle Kingdom.” Then, in only a decade, he brings an end to the terrible times known as the Warring States period. From an agglomeration of free states, he built an empire that we know today as China.
The King named himself Emperor Qin Shih Huangdi. He brought about a time of planning and management probably as profound and beneficial as anything the world has ever seen. His “Legalist” government disenfranchised the Confucians, gentry and military and banned them from court. He established national standards in language, commerce and transportation. He designed and implemented a national administration based on competence. He ended feudalism 1500 years before that would happen in Europe.
Qin’s achievements were grand, realized because Qin scoured the known world for the brightest and best – and as word of their quest spread – enticed scholars and philosophers to voluntarily come thousands of miles to study, lecture and write. Learned academies were built to house this talent, and these academies developed a structure and process for national and international governance that we now know as the Tao Te Ching and Ping-fa. These classic works were not the products of individuals but of schools of learning, schools that were called “Sun Tzu” and “Lao Tzu.” What these schools generated were truly extraordinary structures and processes solidly constructed on applied philosophy, and brilliantly carried out with quite amazing results. Empire was achieved by a high competent, but low profile diplomatic corps, all under the direction of an inspired leadership bent on greatness. With that done, the empire had all weapons cast into statues, and the images of soldiers and war cast into terracotta as a silent reminder.
When the first empire fell due to the untimely death of the emperor, chaos erupted. The Confucians returned to power and re-wrote the history of China’s founding. Now, despite his globally significant inventions and innovations, the first emperor is considered by popular and academic commentators to have been nothing more than a bloodthirsty despot, and the first empire a mere interregnum. The Han dynasty that replaced him remains the pretender to the founding of China. The history of China’s founding is a brilliant drama. An inkling of that drama became evident only with the discovery of Qin Shih Huangdi’s terra cotta army in 1974. Now an archaeological and economic resource of extraordinary value, this very minor part of his tomb has drawn serious attention – as one of the world’s top tourist sites.
2. Sun Tzu: The art of peace
The process by which the Warring States period was ended, and the first empire founded, can be found in the Tao Te Ching of “Lao Tzu” and the Art of War of “Sun Tzu,” a book more appropriately called Ping-fa or “the art of diplomacy. These works were the creations of brilliant academics and theoreticians, all working under the leadership of a small kingdom focused on empire. Ping-fa gave us the essential methods for delivering a new world where harmony can reign. The Chinese nation owes its origins to the academies that created these brilliantly crafted works.
Today, most consider the Tao Te Ching ancient mysticism, and Art of War is deemed no more than superficial and simple tactics. The meaning of these works is found when one makes the Tao Te Ching less ethereal, and Ping-fa more so. Ping-fa is about managing without conflict, not about managing within a state of conflict. It is a guide for strategic management and planning. It is a manual for the management of inter-organizational relations using an unobtrusive process I call “sensitive intervention.” In succinct form, it provides a host of preliminary and supportive processes concerning intelligence gathering, planning and relationship management.
The School of Sun Tzu is a cross-disciplinary analysis. It casts a dramatic new light on “Lao Tzu” and “Sun Tzu,” and offers up a new, plain language, integrated version of the so-called Art of War. It shows how organizational relations really should be managed: productively and to mutual benefit without the waste of conflict. Art of War is now provided in a plain language version called Ping-fa. It is free of the military trappings that were intended to clarify, but have come to confuse. This demystified Art of War introduces new insights into (personal) strength management, vision and values, strategies and tactics and the use of teams in engagement. It articulates methods for intelligence gathering and management, managing change, and the critical ethics and principles that (successful) management must adhere to if its goal is to succeed rather than overcome, while achieving long term sustainability rather than short term gains at someone’s expense.
Having delivered an Art of War that finally makes sense, The School of Sun Tzu extrapolates from historical foundations to modern conditions and issues. As a book on management practice with an historical foundation, this book will find ready application in the fields ranging from international relations and trade to collective bargaining and conflict prevention and resolution. For managers, diplomats and negotiators who hope to avoid costly confrontations and potential relationship losses, and those who instead seek to maximize results from inter-organizational relations, this work offers not only the how-to, but the policies and principles that back up the methodology.
The School of Sun Tzu is written in a provocative, engaging tone intended to encourage, rather than dismiss further exploration and study. It is meant to be both accurate and stimulating. That mix is essential because this work will challenge deeply felt “truths” about conflict’s inevitability (and value) and perceived roadblocks to constructive management. The only thing really new in The School of Sun Tzu is a plain language retelling of the principles and practices that China developed 2300 years ago.
About the Author
David G. Jones is an experienced executive in both the public and private sectors. His areas of specialization over the last 15 years have been Knowledge Management, organizational governance and strategic planning. He has many published articles to his credit, primarily contributions to business publications and learned journals. David has been a lifelong student of the art of management, from his first job as a midnight shift stevedore where he was a shop steward with the United Steelworkers of America, to his final, pre-retirement full time job as an executive with Canada's Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In between these experiences he gained an army commission and served as a senior executive of several public and private organizations. David lives in Ottawa, Canada's capital. His "retirement" is shared equally between paid work, writing and recreation and community service. In the latter case, he serves on the Board of Directors of three organizations, two national, and one international.
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