“The clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him.”
This quote comes from General Sun Tzu’s thirteen-chapter treatise, referred to as The Art of War. As one of the most revered military figures of ancient China, Sun Tzu, [circa 400 – 320 B.C.] is widely recognized for the strategies and formalized principles he codified in this volume, written for Ho Lu, King of Wu. Today, Sun Tzu is often referenced in business texts as a source of inspiration for competitive strategy techniques.
This particular quote produces images of a young warrior who diligently sizes up the opposition prior to trying to conquer it. In many ways this is the challenge that HBS presents to its students.
We arrive on campus eager to begin a new life and to extract all of the benefits that business school offers. Shortly after arrival however, the sheer number of events becomes almost unbearable and “drinking from a firehouse” takes on a new meaning. Indeed, we must sail these treacherous waters with the focused eyes of navigators, lest we allow siren songs to lead us astray.
We must prioritize our activities to avoid being swept away in the current of possibilities. We must maximize our enjoyment of this momentary opportunity, while minimizing our stress. We must, as Sun Tzu says, impose our will, our desires on our environment and not allow the environment to envelope us in its multi-patch quilt.
And so you ask, how can I achieve this balance? How might I attain this level of existentialism? For you who search, I have two words…
Somehow over the last several years, corporate America had managed to erase from my memory one of the greatest joys in life. Then, during the second week of classes, I decided to skip the review session on how to travel from Spangler to Aldrich and took a nap.
How quickly the joy returned.
Waking up from a full nap in the middle of the afternoon is as affirming as a professor replying to your cold call with, “That was absolutely perfect! Truly there is nothing else that anyone could add to that response. Class dismissed.”
Please note that I wrote “full nap.” I’m not referring to those second-rate “power naps” that we sneak in between or during classes. A full nap is an all-out, drool-on-the-pillow, lines-on-your-face, crust-in-your-eyes lucid escapade.
I’ve discovered after taking these naps on a daily basis, that prioritization of events becomes a very simple thought process.
Suddenly, the challenges of the environment seem miniscule, as relaxation replaces apprehension. You’re ready to impose your will rather than be imposed upon.
As the core curriculum begins this week, it becomes even more vital that we have an anchor, which prevents us from drifting and that helps to put this phenomenal opportunity into perspective.
Sun Tzu also said that making plans is “a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin.” Wouldn’t you feel better about making such decisions after a nice long nap?