Mark Blasini


The 5 questions for taking action


InThe Art of War,Sun Tzu describes five factors for knowing if you'll be victorious at war. I've turned these five factors into questions you can ask yourself whenever you're deciding on taking on a big action.

  1. Why do you want to take action? This is what Sun Tzu callsTao. It refers to the underlying philosophy or mission behind your action. The clearer your why for taking the action, the more likely you'll succeed.
  2. When is the best time to take action? This is what Sun Tzu refers to asTian, or Heaven. In Sun Tzu's time, it refers to the temperature, the time of day, and the seasons. But in a general sense, it refers totiming. As a rule, timing isn't something you can control, but you can foresee it. You want to take action when the overall timing is on your side.
  3. Where are you taking action? This refers to what Sun Tzu callsDe, or Ground. It can be a literal place, but more specifically it refers to your situation. In general, you want to take action in an area where you are protected against failure - a niche market, a narrow field, a competition you excel at.
  4. Who is deciding to take action? This is what Sun Tzu callsJiang, or General. For Sun Tzu, strong generals have multiple characteristics: intelligence, caring, discipline, courage, and credibility. In your case, it has to do with how focused you are on succeeding. The more likely you are to stick to your guns, to see things through, and have faith in yourself, the more likely you'll be to succeed.
  5. How will you take action? For Sun Tzu, this refers to what he callsFa, or Methods. Methods is basically the operations that will allow you to execute the action. In his day, it included the chain of command, logistics, and the control of expenses. In your case, it refers to your skills and process for doing things.

The best way to see the effectiveness of these five questions is by looking at an example. Let's say you want to start your own small business. We can then use the five questions to help you determine how to take this action.

  1. Why do you want to take action? Making money is not a clear enough reason: there are plenty of other things you can do to make money. A strong reason might be: I want to be my own boss.
  2. When is the best time to take this action? In general, the best time to start a business is when you have a clear idea of a solution to a relevant problem. Don't just start a business when you want to; start when people are asking you to.
  3. Where are you taking action? The best area to start a business is one where youknowyou can dominate. A market that is as small as possible so that you can reach your customers as easily as possible. A market that has very, very little competition, if any. A market whose customers you know very well because you are ideally one of them.
  4. Who is deciding to take action? Starting a business is difficult. It requires a lot of uncertainty and the ability to accept failure. It also requires putting yourself out there, promoting and trying to raise funds. If you feel you are not up for it, then either quit or hire someone who would be great at it. Have them make the decisions.
  5. How will you take actions? This will include your processes for developing, distributing, accounting, marketing, etc. The more efficient your business systems, the more smoothly you'll get to your goal.

Those are really the five questions you have to ask yourself. The better your answers, the better your odds of success are. These five questions give you a clear framework for deciding to move forward or hold off.