1.1.2 Defending Positions

October 30, 2014
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Description: 
Sun Tzu's six keys to understanding the basic ways that we defend our current positions until new positions are established.
"You are sometimes unable to win.
You must then defend." Sun Tzu's The Art of War 4:2:2-3
"You are sometimes unable to win."
You must then defend."
Sun Tzu's The Art of War 4:2:2-3
Perspective: 

 "If you are not prepared to use force to defend civilization, then be prepared to accept barbarism."   Thomas Sowell

Situation: 
At its heart, Sun Tzu's strategy is based on simple economics. We get resources from our current position. We can use these resources to defend our position, advance, or extend it. These resources are limited. We must make choices about how we use them. The problem is that we can only advance our position when an opportunity presents itself. Until we discover that opportunity, we must maintain our existing position. We need our position because opportunities arise from our environment within the reach of our existing position. If we do not protect our existing position, opportunities cannot come knocking. Everything that has been part of our position in the past need not be defended forever, but we must always defend the parts of our position that touch on future opportunities.
Opportunity: 

The more ground our positions control, the more resources we can access to advance our position. However, the more ground we control, the more resources we need to protect and maintain those resources. Defending positions competes for resources with advancing a position, but if we fail to defend our position, we lose resources and the connections needed to advance position. As the source of all our resources except for time, the ground that we control determines many of our basic capabilities (1.3.2 Element Scalability). The minimal ground that we can control is our own body. The minimal climate is our own attitudes and time. We extend our position by controlling more ground. We must defend our existing ground to hold onto our existing resources in order to have the resources to extend our position.

Key Methods: 

Like so much in using Sun Tzu's methods, we are looking for the right balance. We need just enough defense, not too much or too little as expressed in these six keys.

  1. We know what we need to defend and what we do not need to defend. This means knowing what is worth defending. The basic standard is that we must defend the aspects of our ground that generate the most resources for the least effort and the most opportunities for the future (9.2 Points of Vulnerability).
  2. We must avoid doing too little to defend our existing position. This usually means taking certain aspects of our position for granted. The most common mistake is taking our current position (and its resources) for granted. As we explained in the last post, positions naturally decay over time. If we are not maintaining that position, it can weaken to the point that its suddenly breaks. We can visualize an under-defended section of a position if we think positions as a path. Imagine just a part of that path is weakening, growing thinner, and more fragile. If that part of the position is unimportant and unnecessary, outliving its value, this does not matter, but if that link ties together key parts of our current position, its loss can be devastating. In our practical wisdom, we recognize that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link (5.6.1 Defense Priority).
  3. We must avoid defending every aspect of our position all the time. Being too defensive consumes valuable resources and creates strategic weakness. The other most common mistake is the opposite of the first: developing a defensive posture where we try to defend everything that has ever been part of our position all the time. The most extreme form of this defensive posture is a state of paranoia. This state of mind, while it is certainly defensive, can actually destroy the position that it seeks to defend. People that are too defensive find it impossible to let go of anything, especially the past. The position that they maintain (at least in their own minds) trails so far back into the past that it becomes a drag on moving forward. When we defend areas that do not require defending, we eat up the resources we need to advance our position (3.1.1 Resource Limitations)
  4. We must see positions as stepping stones. In moving forward, we must sometimes leave things behind. However, we never give up all aspects of our current position. We never want to start developing a position over from scratch. Again, the key is balance. We must defend our existing position to get any opportunity to advance it. We must not defend it to such a degree that we destroy it or our opportunities to advance in the future (1.1.1 Position Dynamics)
  5. We must move into new positions quickly but out of existing positions slowly. If a strategic position was a single point, this wouldn't be possible. A point cannot be in two places at once. However, since positions are a path, we always have a position to defend even when we are advancing to a new position (1.1 Position Paths).
  6. We must avoid stretching ourselves too thin without abandoning the past. In these situations, we want to maintain and defend everything that is valuable in our existing position. Everything is a potential source of new opportunities (4.6.1 Spread-Out Conditions).
Illustration: 

Let us illustrate these rules with a variety of examples.

  1. We know what we need to defend and what we do not need to defend. Our job, our current relationships, any assets that we control (money, house, car, etc.) all represent parts of our position that we must defend. Certain aspects of our position consist of material property that we can use, but our resource also include all of the relationships that we have with other people. Everything everyone knows about us, that is, our reputation, is a part of our position. In strategic terms, fame is seen simply as an extension of position into more people's minds.
  2. We must avoid doing too little to defend our existing position. For example, people's marriages get into trouble simply because they take them for granted and do not continue to work to defend them. They make the mistake of either taking their marriage for granted or thinking of a spouse as easily replaced. In fact, one of the most common keys to success is having a stable marriage. Divorce is a consistent predictors of failure because it indicates the inability to recognize what is valuable and defend it.
  3. We must avoid defending every aspect of our position all the time. Think about Bogart's character of Commander Qeeg in the movie, The Caine Mutiny. It was his concern about protecting his position that lead to its destruction. Maintaining positions requires maintaining relationships and nothing destroys relationships faster than exhibiting a lack of trust to those around us.
  4. We must see positions as stepping stones. For example, to take a new job, we must usually leave our old one. When we mount steps, one foot must support our weight in the past while the other foot moves forward. Even when we take a new job, we bring as many skills, contacts, and resources with us from the old one as we can.
  5. We must move into new positions quickly but out of existing positions slowly. For example, if we want to start our own home business, we can do so immediately but do it while maintaining our regular employment. We only quit our job when the home business has grown big enough to support us.
  6. We must avoid stretching ourselves too thin without abandoning the past. For example in a business, we can add new customers and products without abandoning old ones.