1) Trying to impress or intimidate by stating they read Sun Tzu's Art of War
More of a faux pas than a technical mistake. It is also the elephant in the room. Nobody openly admits it but I see people do this frequently to puff themselves up. It's always subtle. When people blurt out they read The Art of War, you have to understand why they do so in that specific circumstance. I compare this to someone who readily proclaims he or she is a Christian without prompt. No. Let your actions speak for themselves. Like body odor, your character would be quite noticeable.
2) People hating The Art of War because it is about war
This mistake is almost always coming from someone making an opinion based simply on reading the title only. Yes, Sun Tzu's The Art of War is about war. But much like a book about cancer that doesn't promote the spread of cancer but its prevention and abatement, so also Sun Tzu's The Art of War is a book about war that doesn't promote the spread of war but its prevention and abatement. I believe most people reading this would already know that Sun Tzu advocates winning without fighting, ending battles quickly, treating enemies well, taking "All-Under-Heaven intact." In essence, it is about making war as harmless as possible. Don't even think about going to war without knowing its full cost -- money and lives -- and making the monumental effort to create a sound strategy and clear path to victory.
3) People hating The Art of War because it is about deception and lying
An understandable mistake since Sun Tzu himself said, "War is the way of deception." However, have you ever seen a statement taken out of context and be made to sound not only terrible but also the opposite of its original intent? Well, this mistake is just that. Sun Tzu's promotion of deception here is specifically to win with strategy and not with careless and mindless brute force. This is analogous to a basketball player going to the rim by deception and thus avoiding contact instead of knocking everyone over. Also, would you condemn someone for lying to protect the lives of innocent people? Can you think of times in world history this applies? Ultimately, Sun Tzu's general is someone who is "wise, trustworthy, benevolent, brave, and disciplined." A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, no matter how antagonistic someone looks especially from an uninformed observer.
4) Attributing to Sun Tzu this misquote: "Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."
One of my few pet peeves. Little do I mind when people make honest mistakes. But whenever people use this misquote, it just screams, "Look at me, I want to show off that I know Sun Tzu but really I didn't read him at all." Why am I being so critical here? Because this misquote or any concept close to it was never within the pages of Sun Tzu's Art of War. Worse, I even see this misquote in well-regarded published works where astute editors should have caught it, deleted it, and rapped the writer's knuckles with a ruler. Alas, this travesty of a mistake has been multiplying to this very day, cited by ignorance from ignorance. James Gimian, the publisher of Shambhala Sun magazine and co-author of the Denma's translation of The Art of War, emailed me one day asking why so many people use this misquote. The answer, I'm quite certain, has to relate to why lemmings do what they do.
5) Using The Art of War on your family instead of for your family
A few readers might take exception to my view here, believing that if you apply Sun Tzu's battle strategies to your loved ones, you will see positive results. Sorry, I don't believe that for a minute. There are even dating strategies using Sun Tzu's Art of War. What is this all about? To me it is thinking small. It is also short-term thinking. It is about tricking the other side. I don't believe you should trick someone you love. You might want to trick your enemy until he or she becomes someone you love, but not for someone you already care about. Why? For loved ones, they are your everything. They are your life's purpose. Therefore, it would be perfectly fine if you lose if it means they win. For you see, this is what love is about. If you truly love someone, you're not thinking about yourself but about him or her. A real gift doesn't have strings attached. As long as they are happy and you do everything in their best interest, you have done your duty. This is why Sun Tzu said, "The general who does not advance to seek glory, or does not withdraw to avoid punishment, but cares for only the people's security and promotes the people's interests, is the nation's treasure."
So there you go, the top five mistakes I've seen from readers of Sun Tzu's Art of War. Rather, as I stated before, most of these mistakes are coming from non-readers. However, now that you are aware of them, you are less likely to make them. I hope you found this article useful.
Just as a curiosity, I would like to ask what other mistakes have you seen people make about Sun Tzu's Art of War? Comment below.