I started listening to Sun Tzu's "Art of War" on audiobook recently. I'd tried to get through it before, but the translations I picked up were a little too dry, or I wasn't in the right state of mind for it.
Listening to the narrator speak out Sun Tzu's strategy made me realize something - the fundamental judgment errors people make are independent of any particular field. Going on tilt in poker or attacking immediately with exhausted troops after it's taken three months to build siege engines - are these not the same thing? Overpursuit past objectives in war, and deviating from core investment strategies after a short term win or loss - certainly, this is a similar judgment flaw.
This particular audio version includes commentary written by other Chinese military strategists, and one story is how one commander and his officers were at a neighboring kingdom trying to convince them to make an alliance against the barbarians they were fighting. After a week of great treatment, the neighboring king grew more cold and distant to the commander.
Being perceptive, the commander guessed that the barbarians might have also sent envoys, and now the king was choosing which side to support. The commander captured and interrogated one of the palace attendants, who said yes, the barbarians did send envoys.
The commander's party was less than 30 men, it was him and some of his officers. The barbarian envoy had over 100 men. But, in the cover of night they snuck to the barbarian camp, lit it on fire, played war drums to make their forces look larger than they were, and shot down barbarians with bow and arrow and crossbows, and completely destroyed the enemy forces.
The next day, they presented this to the king as a great victory for their new alliance, and seeing the boldness, the king chose to join the commander's side of the war. Isn't that sort of attraction to boldness the same thing that makes a woman choose a man, or a person choose a business partner?
It seems like the basic psychology and emotions that drive us to make decisions, rational and irrational, is the same for most people. With immense amounts of training, you can overcome your own psychology and emotions to an extent, and don't count on a well-trained person caving to their emotions. But the vast majority of people are not well-trained, and will likely follow normal patterns - whether is be on a battlefield, playing cards, investing, love, making alliances, or choosing business partners.
There is tremendous synergy - learning about human nature in a particular field must make it much faster to understand human nature in a second field, even faster in a third, until a quick overview of a field lets you make intelligent guesses as to how people will react.
Here's the version of Sun-Tzu I'm listening to, I quite like both the narrators:
The audio version is quite engaging and they're reading from Lionel Giles' translation which is good, very straightforward and not dry. Here's the paper version:
The year is 204 B.C., and Publius Cornelius Scipio stands, blade and standard in hand, over now-conquered Utica. The numerically superior forces of Hasdrubal and Syphax almost completely annihilated in a nighttime assault by the Romans, and the Carthaginian field forces were entirely out of commission in Northern Africa.
The Carthaginian Empire is the verge of ruin, with Scipio's forces clear to take the capital -
And lo! Envoys appear.
Not just any envoys, but 30 Members of Carthage's Council of Elders, the highest and most respected spokesmen for the state.
The Costa Concordia was Europe's largest-ever cruise ship when it launched in 2006, however, not a lot is being said about that now with the ship being on the rocks. Considering the age with high tech GPS and mapping systems,it is pretty hard to believe something like this could happen. Furthermore, it is more than tragic the lives that have been lost in something attributed to human error. So what could leaders learn from this awful tragedy?
Before we get into that, let's address one of the major leadership issues of this particular tragedy. The captain. What does this captain's actions after the crash say about the state of leadership today? It seems with not only this tragedy, but the more recent business "crashes" that gone are the days when leaders/captains stayed with the ship to ensure everyone is taken care of before worrying about themselves. I would have been ok if he darted from the ship to go for help, but from most estimates, he didn't even send a mayday call. What is going on here? What has happened to the leadership today that whether it be large cruiseships or large companies, no one sends mayday messages or helps their passengers/associates get to safety before bailing themselves? Now that the soap box is done, let's talk about some of the lessons.
Lesson 1: Stay the course. From the reports, we have have learned the captain went off of the normal course and right into a patch of rocks which took the ship to its doom. So often, leaders get brazen and neglect to follow the standard instruments used to keep the business in the "right lane". Of course, there are times when following your gut could lead to tremendous success, but you have to weigh out the costs of those decisions on those on the ship with you. Unfortunately, there are also times where staying the course, as boring as it may seem, is what needs to be done for the safety of your passengers.
Lesson 2: Be sure to use the mayday signal. I am not sure whether it is pride or stupidity that prevents a lot of leaders of companies to admit they need help. A true leader leans on the experience and knowledge of their team and is willing to be open to asking for help when it is needed. There are a number of resources available to leaders who need help with a particular problem in their company. Everyone experiences bumps or potholes in the path, the smart thing to do would be to lean on help from those who may have already tracked down a similar path. Wisdom is often as easy to obtain as learning from the mistakes of others.
Lesson 3: Make sure everyone knows the directions for the lifeboats. If you've heard any of the accounts of when the ship went down, you heard the mass chaos which ensued once everyone on the ship was aware of the scale of the tragedy. As a leader, you must make sure everyone on your ship knows the necessary directions for when trouble arises. Mass hysteria can add unneeded noise to a tense situation. If everyone on your team is aware of the "disaster recovery plan," things will go a lot smoother. Additionally, if you take the course most commanders do in the army, be sure you have a statement of "commander's intent." As a leader, you cannot possibly be there to help your team think through every single dilemma they experience, but through the use of the CI statement, you can at least arm them with what they need to know.