Chapter 8 - Variation of Tactics | The Art of War by Sun Tzu

1. When in difficult country, do not encamp. In country where high roads intersect, join hands with your allies. Do not linger in dangerously isolated positions. In hemmed-in situations, you must resort to stratagem. In desperate position, you must fight.

A Roman Consul (Lucius Aemilius Paullus) once led his army into the enemy territory of Liguria. As soon as he had established a camp, some ambassadors came to see him with an offer of peace. In reality, these men were spies and after they agreed to surrender, instead the Ligurians returned a few days later in great number, attacking every gate of the Roman camp at once.

Do not stay in a dangerous place for too long. If you are in a particularly vulnerable position, it gives the enemy a greater opportunity to find and attack you. In business, being stagnant allows competitors to push you out.

2. There are roads which must not be followed, armies which must be not attacked, towns which must not be besieged, positions which must not be contested, commands of the sovereign which must not be obeyed.

The French Marshal General of the seventeenth century, Turenne was considered by Napoleon as one of warfare’s “Great Captains”. He once said:

It is a great mistake to waste men in taking a town when the same expenditure of soldiers will gain a province.

Don’t fight battles you can’t win. As well as missing out on victory, you will also lose the opportunity to succeed elsewhere. Show patience until a better opportunity can be created or emerges. It may take more courage, but can prevent catastrophes.