Death Ground—Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” and “Top Chef”

“Ground in which the army survives only if it fights with the courage of desperation is called ‘death.'”

“In difficult ground, press him; in encircled ground, devise stratagems; in death ground, fight.”

“Throw the troops into a position from which there is no escape and even when faced with death they will not flee. For if prepared to die, what can they not achieve? … In a desperate situation they fear nothing; when there’s no way out they stand firm.”


I am finally watching the season finale of “Top Chef” and the two finalists could be quoting Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. “This is it. Press forward. Hold nothing back.”

Desperation makes interesting things happen. Sometimes those things are triumphant, sometimes cataclysmic, but if they are truly born of desperation they are rarely boring.

Are you fighting in your business or for your business? If you aren’t fighting, you aren’t really on Death Ground. You might be on Annoyed Ground, Inconvenienced Ground, or even Kinda PO’d Ground. But if you are on Death Ground, you will fight.

What’s your strategy? And how are you going to get out of this alive?

If you need help figuring that out, email me.



Are Business Lies Really Lies?—Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” and Me

I’m a terrible liar. Despite my best efforts, I suck at it. I am really good at keeping quiet, so if I don’t want to spill the beans I usually just don’t say anything. But if I try to deceive with words, my lies come out all mumbly.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

For many reasons, that’s usually a good thing. I would probably be in trouble a lot more often if I were any good at lying.

Is this always a good thing, though? I don’t know. In The Art of War Sun Tzu says “All warfare is based on deception…. When capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity.” He goes on from there, but you get the gist. The Art of War is inextricably bound to the Art of Deception.

That’s tough for me. I would probably be richer if I was good at deception. But then maybe I wouldn’t like myself that much. And maybe, in the end, that’s more important to me. Somedays I like to think it is.

What do you think? Does this part of The Art of War resonate with you? Repulse you? It’s easy to say self-righteously, “Of course I wouldn’t deceive anyone.” And I am not arguing that you should deceive the customer. But what about your competitor? What if winning the business is on the line?