Chapter 13 - Use of Spies | The Art of War by Sun Tzu

1. Sun Tzu said: What enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge.

Genghis Khan ruled his Mongol Empire with the help of his primary military strategist, Subutai. Subutai was one of the most successful commanders in history thanks in part to ensuring a combination of scouting and spying in advance of any invasion.

Before the invasion of Europe, Subutai spent a decade sending spies deep into the continent. He made maps of the Roman roads, established trade routes and made well-educated guesses on the ability of each principality to resist capture.

Foreknowledge is the knowing of future events. When this is not possible, learn to forecast the likely behaviour of opponents. Seek out their strengths, plans and positioning. Real intelligence beats guesswork and at the heart of all good decisions is knowledge.

2. Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any deductive calculation.

Battle of Trenton, USA, 1776

George Washington led his men across a river in a surprise attack to capture a group of Hessian mercenaries. After the Hessian commander was killed, an unopened letter was found in his pocket, written by a loyalist, giving him advanced warning of the attack.

If you make your decisions using boldness and gut-feeling, rather than reliable information, you are gambling. Making decisions based on bad knowledge will also prove ineffective.