Contemporary Relevance of Sun Tzu's Art of War Term Paper

Pages: 10 (3534 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Military

Sun Tzu -- the Art of War

There are numerous ways to benefit from Sun Tzu's brilliant narrative, so many diverse and worthy interpretations and applications, and this paper will -- through the literature -- critically analyze the relevance and the references appropriate to The Art of War.

"There is a reason Sun-Tzu's The Art of War is popular among management and law students, but not among medical interns and engineers. The former are preparing for professional roles within institutions that have important adversarial features [but] the latter are not…"

(Heath, 2007, p. 359)

Jason B. MacDonald and Kent E. Neupert (writing in the Journal of Strategic Marketing) use their scholarly article to point out that the poignant phrases and messages in The Art of War fit right into the correct strategies for marketing professionals. The writers are quick to point out that the very first Western translation of The Art of War was done in 1772, in France, and the first English translation appeared in 1905. That is a long time for this powerful story -- that was written around 400 B.C. And contains advice and strategies that are so relevant and applicable in 2010 it is stunning -- to languish unseen by anyone but the Chinese people. Around 716 A.D. The Japanese translated The Art of War into their language, "over a thousand years before it appeared in the English and French-speaking West" (MacDonald, et al., 2005, p. 293).

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MacDonald asserts early in the article how Sun Tzu's ground and terrain can serve as a "parsimonious typologies of competitive market situations" that can certainly be used by anyone working a marketing position. Just as Tzu emphasizes again and again in his story, marketers should avoid direct "battle with a competitor" if they can win another way. But above all, a marketing person, like the general going to war, should "Know the enemy, know yourself," and "your victory will never be endangered" (Tzu quoted by MacDonald, p. 294).

TOPIC: Term Paper on Contemporary Relevance of Sun Tzu's Art of War Assignment

One thing Tzu addresses quite often is the importance of knowing the "terrain," the lay of the land, the geography where the battle or strategy will be taking place. On page 295 MacDonald references terrain and gives credit to Tzu for the adroitness of his narrative in regard to terrain. "Accessible" is one aspect that Tzu references and MacDonald jumps on that, pointing out that markets that are as equal to you and to the enemy are "accessible markets" and because of that no one producer of goods or services has "a large enough hold on the market" to keep another out of that market (p. 295).

When a company -- like Priceline, for example -- rushes in to establish a market where there are few competitors, it has carved out a terrain and defined that terrain. However, Tzu's book suggests that in these kinds of situations, "the invading army needs to focus on securing the most advantageous ground (or market segment in this context)" (MacDonald, 2005, p. 295). Did Priceline heed Tzu's advice? MacDonald doesn't think so. Priceline spent "much of their early capital on broadening their product offering to other markets" like garage sales and even "gas sales," MacDonald points out.

Hence, rather than securing its terrain, Priceline allowed other companies (Travelocity and Expedia in specifics) to "…come in and take the most profitable sector of the market, online air tickets to business customers," the author recounts (p. 295). In MacDonald's opinion, Priceline lost its edge by spreading their "army" too thin and allowing the competition to come in and seize some of the ground Priceline had initially controlled.

When the terrain a company enters is "…equally advantageous for the enemy or me to occupy" MacDonald then believes that ground is considered "key ground" (p. 299). Key ground is essential ground to defend and going by Tzu's theory that terrain should be fought "to the death to defend it," MacDonald asserts (p. 299). His example of a company in this context is Goodyear Tire Company; the U.S. market is "key ground" for Goodyear in the same way that the European market is "key ground" for Michelin, and hence, "in both cases, it makes little sense for one to attack the other's key market" because the incumbent company will likely have "greater resolve to protect it," the author continues (p. 300).

Though MacDonald didn't use Tzu's poignant passage in the first paragraph of Chapter Six, it is very germane to the marketing strategies that MacDonald alluded to. "Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight," Tzu explained in that first paragraph. That would be like Michelin in Europe, there first, fresh for any challenge from Goodyear. Tzu went on: "…Whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to the battle, will arrive exhausted," and again that would be Goodyear, a "Johnny-come-lately" into the European tire market milieu.

Kenny Ratledge writes in the journal Coach & Athletic Director that a smart football coach will use Tzu's theories to his best advantage -- and Ratledge asserts that some great coaches have in fact used military strategy (Woody Hayes, Bobby Knight, for example). Ratledge quotes Tzu -- "If the enemy is in superior strength, evade him" -- to point out that if a football team knows its opponent is superior offensively, "It would be prudent to avoid taking him on man-to-man" (Ratledge, 2003, pp. 24-25). Ratledge takes Tzu one step farther, suggesting that if your opponent's defense is superior to your offense, it would be wise to "run an option-oriented attack" that allows your team to run away from "certain defenders" and leave them "ineffective" (p. 25).

Any football coach knows that disguising formations and strategies is a practical and smart way to keep the enemy off balance. Ratledge likes the Tzu passage about deception: "When near your enemy, make him believe you are far away; when far away, make him believe you are near." This passage is another example of how the philosopher Tzu can say a great deal with just a few words; less in this case is more, and breaking it down into simple concepts is a winning strategy when a coach is building a case for victory with his players.

Based on a thorough reading of The Art of War it would seem logical and practical for a military person in 2010 to pay attention to what Tzu wrote 2,500 years ago about military strategy. That connection is made by author Check Teck Foo. writing in the journal Chinese Management Studies, Foo draws a "metaphorical parallel between a pilot in the cockpit of the latest, ultra-modern U.S. fighter F22" and a CEO in the driver's seat of a corporation (Foo, 2009, p. 178). Yes, Foo explains, there is a huge difference between the pilot's cockpit in a fancy and high-tech fighter plane and the laptop of a chief executive officer; however, the need for "deadly accurate…reflexive decisions is the same" (p. 178), and tapping into Tzu's strategy can work for both the CEO and the fighter pilot.

Foo writes that his article was inspired by the "system of systems thinking" (SoS) in The Art of War, and he embraces the wartime strategies of an F22 using Tzu's ideas. "If we extrapolate the approach of Sun Tzu and if he was to design a fighter jet," he likely would have designed "specific actions by the pilot for a given dogfight scenario," Foo explains (p 180). And by using Tzu's examples of military strategies, a corporate CEO or the pilot in the cockpit of an F22 will be doing what Tzu did 2,500 years earlier -- "organizing for flexibility by observing and thus grasping the essential nature of water."

Dr. Gregory Evans has written an editorial in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (Evans, 2004, p. 252) that embraces The Art of War in a different context than previous authors in this paper. Evans bemoans the fact that he retired early due to "…years of diminishing reimbursement for surgical procedures" as well as "the rising cost of malpractice insurance" and the high overhead of keeping an office (p. 252). Evans is also upset that due to the $38 billion deficit in California's economy, there wasn't much opportunity for a doctor whose specialty is reconstructive surgery to become involved in education either. He was recalling in the editorial that the two groups he is affiliated with, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) and the Plastic Surgery Educational Foundation (PSEF), have currently launched a series of challenges that cry out for attention because the reimbursements for surgical procedures has been dwindling down to very little in terms of doctor compensations.

With that attitude in his mind he took a long plane flight to Asia and read The Art of War during the flight; in planning the latest advocacy actions that ASPS and PSEF are launching, Evans equates their strengths to those presented by Tzu's book. "One who cannot be… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Contemporary Relevance of Sun Tzu's Art of War.  (2010, November 1).  Retrieved January 16, 2022, from

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"Contemporary Relevance of Sun Tzu's Art of War."  1 November 2010.  Web.  16 January 2022. <>.

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"Contemporary Relevance of Sun Tzu's Art of War."  November 1, 2010.  Accessed January 16, 2022.