Category Archives: Risk and Return

Sun Tzu Was Right

In his book “The Art of War”, Sun Tzu (a 5th century B.C. Chinese general) stated “If you know yourself, and you know your competition, you will never lose a battle” – I hope you don’t mind if I have paraphrased a little.


Sun Tzu speaks about the importance of knowing your own capabilities, whether they are personal, corporate, technological, whatever. You must assess if you have the skill and resources to achieve the desired goal. He also speaks about the importance of knowing your competitors (opponents) capabilities, along the same lines.


He also talks about taking into account the terrain, climate and intangibles when preparing for war / competition. These ideas can be roughly analogous to the market, the economy and the morale/status of your team.


What he does not say is that if you take these things into account that you will win. What he does say is that you will not lose. What this means to me is that after these reviews, you need to pick your battles and your objectives. Analyze the risk and the return. If after review you find yourself at a significant competitive or market disadvantage, it may be best not to engage in that competitive environment.


Use the analysis of yourself, your competitors, and the various markets to choose those opportunities where your probabilities of success are highest. It sounds simple enough. It should be simple enough. To use a modern day analogy, it’s like blocking and tackling in football. But as we have seen in football, the basics are not always that simple based on the high level of talent and competition out there, and even then it takes a significant amount of practice to get  the basics right.