Straits Times Book Club discusses strategies of ancient Chinese general Sun Zi

Company director and former envoy Soo Kok Leng wrote the book to help lay readers translate Sun Zi's strategies into business practices and negotiation tactics.
Company director and former envoy Soo Kok Leng wrote the book to help lay readers translate Sun Zi's strategies into business practices and negotiation tactics.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

SINGAPORE - Many books have been written about the strategies of ancient Chinese general Sun Zi. But most leave the reader none the wiser as to how to apply them in real life, says company director and former envoy Soo Kok Leng.

Thus the 67-year-old decided to write a book to help lay readers translate Sun Zi's strategies into business practices and negotiation tactics.

"I don't just explain to you this phrase and then the translation, I use a lot of real-life examples from people who have carried out business in this way," said Mr Soo, who has been giving talks and workshops about Sun Zi for 20 years.

About 131 people gathered at the Straits Times Book Club on Wednesday (Aug 31) to hear him discuss his book, Think Wits Win: How To Use Sun Zi's Art Of War For Success, with Straits Times Press general manager Tan Ooi Boon.

Mr Soo began his career at tech giant Hewlett-Packard and retired from full-time work at age 50, but still holds directorships ranging from CapitaLand Commercial Trust to Sheares Healthcare Group. He was formerly Singapore's non-resident ambassador to Austria.

At the session, he spoke about the importance of dialectical thinking in Sun Zi's strategies. It recognises that contradictions or opposites both co-exist and exist in each other in a holistic system and that they are all interconnected, constantly changing one another and the system.

To illustrate Sun Zi's strategies, he used existing business successes, such as how the humble Cabbage Patch Kids dolls carved their own niche despite the juggernaut of Barbie and how Indonesian instant noodle brand Indomie broke into the Nigerian market even though Nigerians traditionally did not eat noodles.

 
 

Women tend to be better at dialectical thinking according to studies, he said, adding that more women are needed in the workplace.

"The world is so complex, so volatile. Men thinking alone is not good enough; Chinese (people) thinking alone is not enough. You cannot only have one kind of thinking - we need greater diversity in the workplace."

Ms Bernice Boo, 27, attended the session because of her interest in the subject. "I work in human resources, which means working with people, and I hope to apply some of these lessons from Sun Zi at work."

At the next Straits Times Book Club session on Aug 27, Ms Ow Kim Kit will discuss her book Delicious Heirlooms, about 10 famous family-run restaurants in Singapore, with STFood online editor Hedy Khoo. Readers can register for the talk at str.sg/oy6A