The ultimate skill in the deployment of troops is to ensure that it has no fixed or constant formation and disposition. Without ascertainable formations, even the most infiltrated and observant spy will not be able to probe and comprehend, and the wisest strategist will not be able to uncover your plans or plot against you. The victory gained as a result of adapting to the circumstances of the enemy will never be understood by the troops. Everyone may know the formation that I used to secure victory. However, no one will know the ways, methods and reasons behind how I went about creating that victory. Therefore, the victory gained from each battle comes about because strategies and tactics are never repeated. Rather, they should vary according to the circumstances, with infinite possibilities. Chapter Six, Sun Tzu Art of War.
From the above sentence we can extract one extremely valuable business lesson. Let us break the sections into parts and look at them individually to have a good understanding of the lesson.
From the first two sentences, we can interpret it as a business owner should not provide any amount of certainty for your rivals. As mentioned in my article Sun Tzu Art of War – Preempting Rival’s Strategies, the part about preempting strategies, I have already mentioned that you can use the past reaction or strategies your competitors has used as a guideline for formulating your preemptive strategy. But do note that what I say here can be used by your rival as well. So do you have a fixed way of handling situations or fixed time of having promotions and so on?
These ways of doing business can provide relatively ease for your rivals to formulate their preemptive strategy. So try your best to create as much uncertainty within your control, so that your enemy will incur a high costs and also slow down their process of formulation as further illustrated by the second sentence, if there is no certainty, it would render your competitors’ spy useless and their wisest strategist not able to uncover your plans. Another important point to note is when you create uncertainty; take note that you do not annoy your customers.
Let’s look at the last part of the paragraph.
“Everyone may know the formation that I used to secure victory. However, no one will know the ways, methods and reasons behind how I went about creating that victory. Therefore, the victory gained from each battle comes about because strategies and tactics are never repeated. Rather, they should vary according to the circumstances, with infinite possibilities.”
Human beings have such tendency that once you found something that works for you, you tend to stick to it and use it again and again. But in business, you cannot do that. You have to keep on formulating new strategies and tactics, because your rivals will learn from past engagement with you and formulate their counter strategy to score a win over you. If you keep on using the same strategy on them, sooner or later, they are going to overtake and win you. So your strategy be it for marketing, Research & Development and other areas in your business, you have to be like what Sun Zi said, vary them according to circumstances and strategies with infinite possibilities.