Business Classics

How to build momentum (造势 – Zào shì) according to Sun Tzu2 min read

27 February 2021 2 min read


How to build momentum (造势 – Zào shì) according to Sun Tzu2 min read

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I haven’t been to China for eight months. I am getting rusty – in language and dealing with ‘Chinese’ situations. It took somebody quoting a 2,500 year-old Chinese text to me to fully realise this – Sun Zi Bing Fa, (‘The Art of War’).

Even in China’s fast-changing and modern environment, China’s ancient thinkers are still surprisingly relevant and quoted regularly.

Today I was on a call with Chinese colleagues where I made what I thought was a list of five excellent suggestions on how to manage a project more effectively – for anyone who has read “Good Strategy, Bad Strategy”, you would have been impressed!

For those who have read The Art of War, however, you would NOT have been impressed at my performance. “Far too naive”, was the resounding response from my colleagues. The delivery was poor, and the recommendations were not made effectively in a Chinese context – an English solution to a Chinese problem.

After my failed strategy meeting, a colleague quoted this to me from Sun Zi Bing Fa:

善战者,求之于势,不责于人 (Shàn zhàn zhě, qiú zhī yú shì, bù zé yú rén)

The official translation is something like:

“The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and does not require too much from the individual.”

A modern day translation of the above quote from Sun Tzu could read:

An effective strategist makes the environment work for (or at least not against) him/her, and not the individuals involved.

In other words, a better approach would have been for me to create my own ‘energy’ in the group dynamic to support the change – reducing the work level rather than increasing it – by just doing what I was recommending, and demonstrating its benefit on that call.

This would have been a Chinese approach – putting the group before any one individual, and getting the job done more effectively.

Effective communication is a two-way process. Communicating in Chinese is so closely connected to its deep past, and the knowledge and wisdom held within.

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