Modern Interpretation of Sun Tzu’s Art of War: Chapter 1: The 5 Factors That Determine Outcome of a Battle
Over time, people have treasured Sun Tzu’s Art of War not only for military purposes, but also for the tremendously insightful principles it describes about general strategy and leadership. This outlined a modern interpretation of the first chapter, ‘the five factors’, that you can use in managing yourself for battlefield on a personal level.
Understanding the five factors is the first step for ones to truly understand the Art of War. The five factors are – the commander, heaven, earth, the moral law, and method and discipline. An important way to look at these points is to break them into three groups.
First, the commander is you, or the leader of your team. Second, heaven and earth, make up the external factors. They’re equal to the both sides of the conflict. Each sides can plan and accommodate for them, but they cannot be changed. Third, the moral law and method and discipline, are the two internal factors. Unlike the external factors, each side can control what they mean and how they will be executed.
So let’s look at each factor.
First, the commander. The commander stands for leadership. In most cases, the leader are you and your opponent. Sun Tzu said that the commander must have the following traits – wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness. These characteristics can be found in great leaders in history with the likes of Mahatma Ghandi and Winston Churchill. Although not every great leader fought battles, they all have the qualities of a good commander. When looking at these qualities, you must foster them in yourself, but also find where your opponent is deficient.
Second, external factors, heaven and earth. These two factors are the reason why you must always observe and question the world around you. While the two factors are similar and work together, there is a big difference. Think of heaven as the variables and earth as the constant. Heaven could be fashion trends, the weather outside or the current state of the economy. Whatever things are changing, you must be willing to change with them. Always look for patterns. The earth could be geography, roads or laws. Make sure your plans work under any constraint you face. These two factors, together form the full picture of your current situation.
Third, internal factors, the moral law and method and discipline, are within your control. The moral law is what makes you and your allies believe what you’re doing is right. For Sun Tzu it was the entire army believing that their causes is worth fighting for. For individuals, it is asking yourself for a gut check. Before entering the conflict, you should ask yourself, ” Do you believe you are right? Do you have a purpose? Do people agree with you?”
Method and discipline is the last of the five factors. It is probably the most universal factor. Another title for it might be ‘organization‘. For Sun Tzu it meant who can supply troops the best and control expenses. For you it may mean work ethic and time management.
Sun Tzu commands that all five factors should be examined before going to war. This means DO YOUR HOMEWORK! If you know these five factors and the strength of each side with regards to each, you can know who will win.