All warfare is based on deception


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One of the classic lines from Sun Tzu in the Art of War goes something like this:

“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.”

One of the classic examples of this type of success in real warfare is the story of how confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest was able to feign his way into prompting the surrender of a much larger Union force. The story comes from author Chet Richards in his book Certain to Win:

In May 1863, Confederate cavalryman Nathan Bedford Forrest was chasing a regiment of Union cavalry across a wide swath of northern Alabama, finally cornering them a few miles west of the Georgia border near the town of Cedar Bluff. Forrest demanded surrender, and the Union commander, a colonel named Abel D. Streight, refused. At that point, one of Forrest’s men rode up and asked for orders for his regiment, which was coming from the north, followed shortly by another requesting orders for a regiment approaching from the south. Streight, who could also hear sounds of large amounts of equipment moving in the distance, figured the game was over and honorably surrendered his 1700 men to what turned out (to his horror) to be Forrest’s 350, less than one-quarter of one fully manned regiment. He was still demanding his guns back when Forrest put his arm around him and uttered those immortal words or strategy, “Ah Colonel, all is fair in love and war, you know.”

Here’s the takeaway:  The best strategy in warfare (as in business) is to sometimes mystify, mislead and surprise. In the end, it’s all based on deception.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Patrick Lefler
Patrick Lefler is the founder of The Spruance Group -- a management consultancy that helps growing companies grow faster by providing unique value at the product level: specifically product marketing, pricing, and innovation. He is a former Marine Corps officer; a graduate of both Annapolis and The Wharton School, and has over twenty years of industry expertise.


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