For more than 2,500 years, Sun Tzu’s legendary The Art of War military texts have inspired generations.
However, this isn’t because we all deep down want to hijack our own country in a game of real-life War. That’s because the lessons in The Art of War transcend warfare and relate to universal ideas such as human conflict, hard work, and overcoming challenges.
If you’ve never read The Art of War, I’d highly suggest experiencing this incredible classic for yourself. However, if you don’t have the time, desire, or patience to dive into a new book right now– below are the most important lessons from the book which you can take with you and apply to your own life.
The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.
– Sun Tzu
1. Choose your battles
He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.
In The Art of War, Sun Tzu says that nations must only engage in armed conflict when they have a clear advantage, and avoid spreading their forces too thin. This lesson, extended into daily life, has a lot of value.
When we spread ourselves too thin, each of our individual efforts has less power. The truth of the matter is we have a finite amount of energy and time, so we need to be laser-focused. If we’re all over the place, we’ll never accomplish anything and end up wasting all of that effort.
Know what you want, what something’s significance is as it pertains to your larger goals, and seek to narrow your focus to a few major tasks which you’ll be most productive in.
2. Timing is critical
The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.
Timing is a factor that most of us overlook.
Timing is critical for relationships, for life goals, our career, habits, really everything in your life. The right opportunity, at the right time, can be the difference between success and failure. And the same can be said for challenges.
In The Art of War, Sun Tzu says that it’s important to time when you engage the enemy. This is partly because the world is ever changing. And the enemy, or whatever you’re confronted with, is ever changing in just the same way.
There are times in your life when it’s most opportune to put your head down and pursue your dreams. There are also times in your day when you’re most and least productive and when people will be most receptive. Consider the timing of everything you do and you’ll give yourself a natural advantage.
3. Creativity creates advantage
All warfare is based on deception.
The above quote by Sun Tzu references the importance of innovation and creative thinking in conflict. In war, it’s often the creative plan that leads to victory as it throws off the opponent and creates just enough of an advantage to gain control of the entire situation.
However, this same principle applies to everything else in life. Especially professional and business success, where uniqueness, creativity, and innovation drive progress.
One of the most important things you can do to further your professional success is to tap into your own specific skills and talents as this tends to allow for flow and more creative thinking. From there, you can use your own unique perspective to pave a new trail and create advantages.
In the midst of chaos, there is opportunity.
People tend to freak out when the stock market goes haywire. However, Warren Buffett would tell you that this is the best time to invest as it’s when everyone sells out of fear and prices hit the floor, maximizing the value of your investment when the eventual leveling out and proceeding growth occurs.
Similarly, any sort of conflict or change always create opportunity. That is, if you keep a level head and continue to make strongly informed, rational decisions and not decisions based on emotion.
Sun Tzu suggested generals be prepared for anything, and advised them to remain calm and clear-minded during chaos, as he understood that the moment people tend to freak out and stop thinking rationally can be an opportunity and make the difference between winning and losing.
5. No one wins in conflict
There is no instance of a nation benefiting from prolonged warfare.
One of the single most important lessons throughout The Art of War is that, despite being a continuous part of life that humans intentionally engage in, conflict– if prolonged– hurts everyone involved.
Conflict occurs when human emotions run high, cultural and religious differences create a divide, and pride ruptures relations. However, each of these elements is noise and only serves to mask the true desire of a people. No one hopes for war unless they’re deranged and maniacal, and if they are, that’s owed simply to their mental instability — another kind of noise that keeps us from clear thought and pure, unobstructed intent.
The lesson? Don’t seek conflict– seek resolution. Know that, even if you win, you’re coming away a loser in one way another. We get far more from life– personally, professionally, and spiritually– when we work to remain in harmony with the world around us.