Chapter 5: Use of Energy

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

This is part of a series breaking down the book, chapter by chapter.

1. Sun Tzu said: The control of a large force is the same principle as the control of a few men: it is merely a question of dividing up their numbers.

WWI, 1914–1918

In World War I, the British Army grew in size to a peak of nearly four million men. To keep the troops fed, housed, trained and organised a system of structures and ranks were used.

By dividing and subdividing an army into units with officers in command of each, a large force can be controlled and directed regardless of size as the principals are the same.

Size management is also a problem in business. A strict hierarchy can ensure high level strategy reaches operational management.

2. Fighting with a large army under your command is nowise different from fighting with a small one: it is merely a question of instituting signs and signals.

Pheidippides ran between Marathon and Athens to give news of a military victory. The Romans dedicated entire units to military communication and had a state run courier service, Cursus publicus (The “Public Way”). Modern day communications are now instantaneous, regardless of distance.

The important common factor is that instructions reach the front line quickly. Hierarchies help as long as the information is not blocked or distorted. A well-managed communications network is vital to get information in both directions along the hierarchy, quickly and efficiently.

3. That the impact of your army may be like a grindstone dashed against an egg — this is effected by the science of weak points and strong.

In the biblical account of David and Goliath, David is victorious against his much stronger opponent by hitting him with a stone in the forehead.

A strong item, such as a grindstone can be ruined by something that appears weak, like an egg. What is required is for the physics to be understood.

4. Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible as Heaven and Earth, unending as the flow of rivers and streams; like the sun and moon, they end but to begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass away to return once more.

Battle of Salamis, Greece, 480BC

When the Persians tried to invade the Greeks for the second time, they fought in the Battle of Salamis. The Persians had four times as many ships but in the narrow stretches of water where the battle took place, their huge numbers became a hindrance. The Greeks were able to flank the disorganised Persian ships, resulting in a decisive Greek victory.

Fighting is a direct method, challenging soldier against soldier. There are also indirect alternative methods to fighting, attacking from the side or rear being two examples which cause surprise and reaction. By using numerous indirect assaults, you can compound the confusion of your opponent, yielding an easier victory.

5. There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.

In a game of chess, there are only six different types of pieces and 64 spaces on the board. However, the number of different possible positions after four moves each is over 288 billion.

In business, online ads can be tweaked endlessly to find the most successful combination of colours, fonts, wording, audience and so on.

Combinations begin with a few items that are combined into patterns. These simple items combine into many possibilities that may ultimately succeed or fail. Understand the elements. Design blends and patterns that suit the situation.

6. In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack — the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of manoeuvres.

Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, 1863

Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson used a classic indirect flanking attack to defeat Union General Joseph Hooker, on 2nd May 1863. By sweeping around the Union while Hooker concerned himself with a direct threat from another general, Jackson’s initial assault surprised the Union soldiers so much that Jackson’s battle line charged through camps where soldiers were still resting and cooking their meals.

Direct and indirect methods can be used in various arrangements to confuse an adversary. A series of indirect feints that cause troops to move can be followed by direct attacks into the gaps that were created.

You don’t need to always invent new ways of competing to succeed. Find new ways of combining existing methods. They can be just as successful.

7. The direct and the indirect lead on to each other in turn. It is like moving in a circle — you never come to an end. Who can exhaust the possibilities of their combination?

Battle of Bannockburn, Scotland, 1314

The overconfidence and lack of preparation led to the disastrous defeat of the English, led by Edward II, to the Scots, led by Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn.

Victory disease refers to when complacency or arrogance brought on by victory causes an encounter to end in disaster for a leader and his forces. A leader may employ strategies which were previously effective but prove disastrous against a new or smarter enemy.

As yin and yang, each entity creates its opposite. Attacking the enemy creates a counter-attack. Design your battles in terms of ebbs and flows, indirect and direct, defence and attack.

Winning can lead to losing by arrogance leading to sloppiness. Losing can lead to winning by turning sorrow into determination.

8. The onset of troops is like the rush of a torrent which will even roll stones along in its course.

Scotland, 1297

After Scotland was conquered in 1296, an uprising began the following year when William Wallace assassinated an English sheriff. This initial act led to a revolt spreading through Scotland. The uprising gained momentum as men joined Wallace to carry out raids and separate rebellions occurred elsewhere, liberating large parts of the country.

Water flows fast over and under stones, rolling them onwards. When warriors flow fast, they will bowl over anything in their way.

Flow occurs when a rapid sequence of blows leaves the enemy no time to recover or resist before the next attack arrives. A company can flow by releasing a superb new product then, even before competitors bring out a response, they advance again with another, even better replacement.

9. The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.

Battle of Trafalgar, Spain, 1805

When HMS Victory slowly went into action at the Battle of Trafalgar, she was exposed to a storm of shot and shell for several minutes before replying with a single gun. Admiral Lord Nelson calmly waited until he was within close range, then wrecked havoc on the enemy’s nearest ships.

Like a falcon, harness self restraint to keep from swooping on your target until the right moment. Timing is critical in many situations. The same effort will have very different effects at different times.

10. Energy may be likened to the bending of a crossbow; decision, to the releasing of a trigger.

Minutemen were settlers who organised themselves forming militia groups. They trained themselves in weapons, strategy and tactics during the American War of Independence. Their name came from their capacity to be ready at a minute’s notice, providing highly mobile, rapidly deployed units.

When you bend a bow, it has potential but static energy. When letting go of the bow, it releases dynamic and kinetic energy. The bent bow represents the readiness of your fighters. The release of the bow leads quickly to them flowing rapidly over the enemy. Your decision when to release the arrow determines whether it hits or misses its target.

11. Amid the turmoil and tumult of battle, there may be seeming disorder and yet no real disorder at all; amid confusion and chaos, your array may be without head or tail, yet it will be proof against defeat.

Battle of the Bulge, Belgium, 1944

At the Battle of the Bulge, German armoured divisions secretly assembled near the German border smashed through American infantry divisions in a Belgian forest. Large tanks rolled down wooded roads the allies considered unfavourable to armoured warfare, so they were barely defended. Despite many believing the enemy was nearly defeated, the Americans experienced the power of a German blitzkrieg (“lightning war”); a coordinated manoeuvre involving coordination between air and land forces.

True chaos occurs when there is a loss of control. Apparent chaos occurs where patterns cannot be distinguished. Complex sequences of quick movement mean patterns are hard to detect.

Control amidst disorder comes with skill. This comes from learning, training and preparation.

12. Simulated disorder postulates perfect discipline, simulated fear postulates courage; simulated weakness postulates strength.

Battle of Hastings, England, 1066

In the Battle of Hastings, the Anglo-Saxon force consisted of many working men called up to form an army for their kings. During the combat, the Normans pretended to run away, then turned and cut down the Saxons when the inexperienced men chased them.

You display control if you act in an unvarying way. To show disorder, each person must be acting differently. If your rival thinks you have lost control, they will make mistakes.

Fear leads to disorder but the risk in showing fear is that it may spur your opposition on. To put yourself at a disadvantage takes bravery, but by misleading the enemy in this way, you can lead them into mistakes.

13. Thus one who is skilful at keeping the enemy on the move maintains deceitful appearances, according to which the enemy will act. He sacrifices something, that the enemy may snatch at it.

Gaul, 52BC

During his conquest of Gaul, Julius Caesar used deception in his tactics to achieve the crossing of a river. The enemy (Vercingetorix) shadowed Caesar’s force from the opposite side of the river, challenging any attempted crossing. Camping in a wood one night; when leaving the next day, Caesar left a third of his army behind, dividing the remaining men to appear at full strength. Once safe to proceed, the hidden army rebuilt a damaged crossing and established a bridge.

Wars can be won with little fighting using the skill of deceit, if it is highly developed. Business can also be won using this same method.

14. By holding out baits, he keeps him on the march; then with a body of picked men he lies in wait for him.

Battle of Arcola, now Italy, 1796

In 1796, a Baron commanding Austrian forces (Joseph Alvinczy) attempted to remove the French from Verona. However, he was drawn forward by Napoleon and in doing so, exposed his force’s flank, letting Bonaparte surround and then defeat him.

There are many forms of deceit, including baiting and ambushes. Lure the enemy into traps to increase the chance of achieving an easy win.

15. 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 utilise combined energy.

The Mongol armies used several different tactics which, when combined, made them extremely successful in battle. They used units that would charge the enemy and then retreat, trying to draw the enemy onto more favourable terrain. The Mongol leaders used trickery by spreading rumours about the size of their armies. They also tried to deceive their opponents visually by keeping several spare horses in their cavalry, mounted with dummies made of straw. On the battlefield, the Mongols used many other tactics to deceive the enemy, including lighting fires to act as a smokescreen and enticing enemies into traps.

Using numerous tactical methods so that their potential is multiplied causes the enemy to be quickly overwhelmed. Combined energy provides synergy, where the effect is greater than if the various tactics were used independently.

Understand the power both of the army as a whole and of talented individuals, and how these are best combined. This will ensure success.