The 15-Second Art of War Summary

Written over 2,500 years ago in the late six century BC, The Art of War, is one of the greatest classics of military literature every written. Even with modern technology, many of the strategies described by Sun Tzu are still applicable today. These principals are not only valid for modern warfare but in business applications. The book is divided in to thirteen chapters that are each devoted to one specific aspect of military strategy.

My Notes: The Art Of War

I was first introduced to this book while listening to the Jocko Willing podcast. Jocko gives interesting takes on several of the same passages I reference. Below is my book summary of The Art of War. Since the passages are written so well, I have included direct quotes of the passages and a few of my interpretations.
  • The Art of war is of vital important to the state. If is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or ruin.
  • Without constant practice, the officers will be nervous and undecided when mustering for battle; without constant practice, the general will be wavering and irresolute when the crisis is at hand.
  • All warfare is based on deception.
  • Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make he enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.
  • Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.
  • If your opposite is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Preteens to be weak, that he may grow ignorant.
    • I personally have used this tactic during sports or competition. Find your opponents soft spot or weakness, something that gets them off their game and then go all in on attacking.
  • Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but a few calculations beforehand.
    • This is especially true in business. Think about the infamous quote, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
  • There is no instance of a country having benefited from a prolonged warfare.
    • The book doesn’t necessarily define what exactly prolonged warfare means. Many would argue the United States is currently in a prolonged war with no end in sight.
  • In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good.
    • We often hear stories of militaries slashing and burning the land as they make their way through a country. Sun Tzu seems to be saying that if you completely destroy a nation or land it is of no use to anyone, even the captors.
  • Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.
  • Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victor: (1) He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. (2) He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces. (3) He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks. (4) He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared. (5) He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.
  • Simulated disorder postulates perfect discipline, simulated fear postulates courage; simulated weakness postulates strength.
    • I love this passage. This reminds me of the line, “practice makes perfect”. Simulating disorder will help train your people to be able to handle anything under any circumstance. It will provide them the ability to adapt and make quick decisions. If drills are practiced without disorder, confusion will be widespread at the first sense of things not going according to plan.
  • Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted.
    • When I read this passage I immediately thought of the first mover competitive advantage in business. Those who move first in a specific market often time have an advantage to take up significant market share quickly. With that said, they must not rest on their laurels as others will quickly to take their share.
  • Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relations to the foe whose he is facing. Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare their are no constant conditions.
    • I take this as, just because you did something yesterday, you still need to be sharp and not cut corners in training and preparation.
  • He who can modify his tactics in relations to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain.
  • We shall be unable to turn natural advantage to account unless we make use of local guides.
    • You must put trust in others to help you succeed. It is important that a CEO ask for input and guidance from the employees on the ground floor.
  • If a general shows confidence in his men but always insists on his orders being obeyed, the gain will be mutual.
  • The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without freeing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good services for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.

Where to buy The Art of War

The Art of War is actually a free book and you can find it all over the internet. I simply downloaded it for free on the Amazon Kindle App. Click here to download.