For the last few weeks I visited my family in Guilin, China. "Gui" (桂) means sweet osmanthus and "Lin" (林) means forest. The beauty of the area -- from its karst topography to its bamboo groves -- cannot be overstated as exemplified by the two quotes below:
"I often sent pictures of the hills of Guilin which I painted to friends back home, but few believed what they saw." Fan Chengda (Chinese Song Dynasty scholar)
"Guilin's landscape is the best among all under heaven." (桂林山水甲天下) Popular Chinese saying
For my birthday, we went to a restaurant known to the locals as having the best chicken dishes. They did! In fact, it might very well be the best chicken dinner I ever had in my life. Everything they offered was spectacular. Whatever decor they lacked, they more than made up for it in food quality. Our other option was to go to a fancy hotel restaurant but the food would certainly not be as good.
Therefore, no matter the appearances, being truly exceptional will always be in style. A business can copy what everyone else is doing or it can ignore the norm and the generally accepted rules and be vastly better.
Such excellence is rare, of course. For every Sun Tzu, there are countless leaders who aren't really leaders at all. They follow policies blindly without ever thinking about the overall goal and purpose. Or simply put, they don't think.
In contrast, Sun Tzu said:
"Give out rewards transcending law, give out commands transcending policy."
China's social and economic progress is clear. There is no turning back. America isn't the only game in town anymore, even in Silicon Valley, the last leg of my trip. My only hope is that, like Messi and Ronaldo, both will raise each other's game as allies and competitors. They don't have to be enemies, especially if both are strong.
Like in a superior army, strength isn't always about sheer quantities but in the soundness of its strategy, whether it can endure through stresses and challenges for decades to come. If it must be the case, let our appearances be worse than what is truly underneath and not the other way around. As individuals, we can learn the same lesson on strength.