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Critical Essay Sun Tzu - the Art of War

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* Critical essay - based on annotated reviews and module material. * * You should critically explore the thoughts, ideas, implications and applications of your chosen ‘thinker’ in theory and/or practice. *

Sun Tzu
Sun Tzu is traditionally believed to be the author of The Art of War. This was an influential ancient Chinese book on military strategy. His work is thought to have had a considerable impact on Asian, and in particular Chinese, history and culture. The recognition of The Art of War grew during the 19th and 20th centuries and has continued to influence not only Asian culture and politics but western society as well (Cultural China, 2010).The Art of War, written during a period of constant war among seven nations seeking the full control of China, discusses how important it is for an organisation, in this case an army, to be controlled, organised and ready to exploit enemy’s weaknesses. The purpose of the text is to demonstrate that structure within an organisation and mutual philosophies shared i.e. confidence, solidity and even patience can give an organisation the best opportunity to succeed in the task ahead, in this case a war. The Art of War perceives that high leadership control is the most influential component to a firm’s success, similar theories can be shown today. For example, Fiedler’s Contingency theory suggests that a good task structure and strong leader-member relations bond forms an environment where a leader has high control of a situation and greater potential to be successful (Ornstein, A 2011).
Traditional accounts describe Sun Tzu as a heroic general of the King of Wu (lived c. 544—496 BCE). Victories for Sun Tzu were what inspired him to write The Art of War (McNeilly, M 2003). When Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War it is believed his intended audience was simply army soldiers and leaders. However, it is extra-ordinary that today the possible audiences range from communist leaders like Mao Tse-Tung, who in 1949 used Tzu’s writing to seize power in China (Handel, M 2012), to business men and women who are looking to take the initiative in their own businesses through control, organisation and the ability to seize opportunities as soon as they arise. A well know example of this in more recent times would be Steve Jobs at Apple where he built the organisation into the world’s most valuable company. Along the way he helped to transform seven industries: personal computing, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, retail stores, and digital publishing (Baale, L 2012). Although Steve Jobs may not have used Sun Tzu’s writing directly, the similarities of actions to gain success are very similar, through opportunisms and exploiting a gap in a market, showing Sun Tzu’s theories of leadership and management can still be taught today.

When assessing Sun Tzu’s theories it is important to recognise the implications and drawbacks from his work when it comes to applying his beliefs in more recent business culture. However it is also important to recognise if the thought processes and principles of Sun Tzu can still be applied today in more than one occasion. The Art of War consists of thirteen chapters each relating to a different tactic of offence. The modern chapters can be associated in today’s business world and this is recognised by business schools across the UK today. For instance, Chapter 6 – Strengths and Weaknesses explains how your opportunities come from the openings in the environment caused by the relative weakness of your competitors in a given area (Yusoontorn, S 2010). This process is often analysed in today via a SWOT analysis where companies use the model as a starting point in formulating strategy. It is a careful evaluation of organisations internal strengths and weaknesses as well as its environmental opportunities and threats. An organisation can accomplish goals by recognising where to exploit its own opportunities and strengths whilst neutralising its threats and avoiding or eliminating its weaknesses (Griffin, R 2010). Another example would be in chapter 8 where variation and adaptability is the focus. Sun Tzu expresses the importance of focusing of flexibility in an organisations responses and decisions whilst explaining how to respond to shifting circumstances successfully. ‘Thus, in the conduct of war, one must not rely on the failure of the enemy to come, but the readiness of oneself to engage him’ (Scribd, 2012). An example of this approach can be found from 1984 via the Los Angeles Olympic Games. Fuji film sponsored the event helping them establish themselves as a leading brand in their target market. The organisers asked Kodak to be the exclusive film sponsor but they refused the $1 million deal. Later Fuji approached and agreed the deal almost instantly and still benefits from the sponsorship today (Yusoontorn, S 2010).
My assessment of The Art of War concludes the topic to be informative as well as eye opening. Sun Tzu’s work is obviously well recognised across the globe and across business eras, in terms of management and leadership techniques, and similar principles can be used as a way of running an organisation today. The influence on Mao Tse-tung during the 20th century was evidence that the scripts were useful and educational in terms of organising large numbers of workers. However when comparing The Art of War to the management of an organisation today some individuals wouldn’t feel the work has such strong influences as the militant approach could be seen as dated.

Baale, L. (2012). Leadership Initiatives For Excellence. Available: Last accessed 7th Jan 2013

Ornstein, A (2011). Educational Administration. Surrey: Cengage Learning. 111.

McNeilly, M (2003). Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare. London: Oxford University Press

Sompong Yusoontorn. (2010). The Art of War. Business World. 1 (3), 19.

Handel, M (2012). Masters of War. Rhode Island: Psychology Press

Griffin, R (2010). Management. 10th ed. England: Cengage Learning. 239.

Unknown. (2010). Historical Figures - Sun Tzu. Available: Last accessed 27th Nov 2012.

Scribd. (2012). Art of War - Sun Tzu. .. 1 (1), 20.

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