Or how not to jump to hasty conclusions in just one step
A few days ago, I came across a piece on Bnet on which there was a mention of Sun Tzu‘s “the Art of War” in not very favourable terms. I therefore asked the Vincent Berthelot, who is very well versed in Oriental culture (he is even fluent in Tai), to write something up for us. Here is his comment, 100% devoid of political correctness.
By Vincent Berthelot, translated by visionary marketing
photo cc (some rights reserved) by AlphaTangoBravo / Adam Baker)
Very often, I have been annoyed by the tendency to superficially squeeze management tips into constrained lists such as “five key marketing techniques”, or even “how to succeed in social media in 12 steps”. Alas, this is a gimmick which has being quickly imported from America by many a Continental blogger. Let’s admit we all wrote at least one piece in that manner, but abusing this method leads to stereotypes and facile conclusions.
When Yann asked me to review a BNET article which falls into that category, I could not resist the urge to stop everything I was doing in order to write something up on that subject. The incriminated piece is won by Geoffrey James, subtly entitled “seven vastly overrated business books”.
In that blog post, James puts together in the same basket, some of the bestselling US management books of the past 20 years and celebrated writings such as Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” and Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”. This very list shows the seriousness and hindsight behind the author’s methodology.
Reading that piece online will force you to click on as many internal links as possible so as to maximise traffic; after all, this is serious marketing stuff, don’t get mistaken! Geoffrey James also adds profound comments such as that Adam Smith could not possibly surmise the invention of the modern multinational or of computers and that Sun Tzu’s book is mostly useful if you are planning to play computer or board games only.
Of course, I admit that business and war, at least on the surface of it, have little in common and that Sun Tzu’s advice belong to another time.
I would in fact recommend that James’s list be updated to include his point of view on Marcus Aurelius, Clausewitz, Machiavelli and a few others. Books such as Sun Tzu’s are not meant to be utilitarian, just like your average management book, and they have to be read with different eyes too. They aren’t meant to deliver “recipes”, and since his words cannot be directly applied to your marketing strategy either.
Works like Sun Tzu’s make it possible for readers to embrace a different culture and benefit from the hindsight provided by this historical text of reference. Sun Tzu, for instance, cannot and must not be read in one stretch. You must take time to get to grips with its fundamental philosophy and forget about those military tactical tips which are grossly outdated.
What matters is the strategy; Sun Tzu’s very statement that one must try everything to win a war without fighting it, his words on influence, the analysis, the hiring of the right people at the right place, the tactical levers, the management of people, the management techniques and how to adapt to particular circumstances. The Art of War is about conquest with ROI in mind, based on the principle of Tai Chi, i.e. that one should use as little energy as possible in order to deliver the best possible result: not brute force, but adaptability and subtlety.
Certainly, those who don’t want to make the effort of understanding Sun Tzu’s legacy, should go on reading classic writings such as “how to be a marketing Pro in 12 steps” and leave the rest to others.