War. What is it good for ? Absolutely nothing, right? WRONG. Not if the ancient text I’ve just finished reading is anything to go by.
But what can we in PR learn from the seminal and oft-quoted military text from ancient china the Art of War by Sun Tzu?
Probably a question that few have ever posed, but one that I’m determined to try and answer for you anyway.
It can often feel like a battlefield working as an in-house flack and as I picked up a bargain version of the book cited by presidents, generals, coaches, businessmen and Brazilian footballers I wanted to give it a go.
The first thing I discovered was that the quote most often associated with the book wasn’t actually in there:
“Wait by the river long enough & the bodies of your enemies will float by” Is a nice one (even TV show madmen attributed this to the art of war) but it was nowhere to be found.
So what can communicators and PR people take from the book? Here are my seven thoughts to take away from the ancient book of warfighting:
- Be flexible. A topic I’ve touched on before with communications strategy (see here) but even in ancient times it was important: “If a general is ignorant of adaptability, then he must not be entrusted with a position of authority”
- Like most things life it’s all about timing. “Though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been associated with long delays”.
- Management & internal comms are an art, not just in war. “If words are not clear, distinct…not thoroughly understood the general is to blame. But if the orders are clear and soldiers nevertheless disobey them it’s the fault of the officers.” (The longer example of this ends with the emperor’s wives losing their heads!).
- Self-awareness. “If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle”
- Don’t rush straight to tactics. “The victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat fights first then looks for victory.”
- Always have a considered answer. “To begin by bluster, but afterwards take fright shows a supreme lack of intelligence.”
- Be original and have plenty of ideas. Sun Tzu tells us “tactics are as inexhaustible as heaven and earth. There are no more than 5 primary colours yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever be seen.
So there you go, march onwards to victory.
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